Advent Meets #metoo or Something Like That

Greetings to all in the Kaffeeklatsch!

A recent seriocomic post of JaC’s here, re: the bizarre attempt by the perpetually-offended revisionist niche in our current cultural climate, to both ban and simultaneously recast the delightfully flirtatious winter song: “Baby It’s Cold Outside“, (which dates back to 1944 and was part of a largely-forgotten 1949 film soundtrack), as a cross between a glorification of rape, and an example of female – not feminine – empowerment got my creative juices flowing. Oh, and, the whipped cream on this currently-revamped bowl of politically-correct fruit cocktail is the submissive response of the fella. (See John Legend’s version of the lyrics, for instance.) The Theo-Geek in yours truly didn’t think such cultural revisionism in music could be a merely contemporary phenomenon; and: Surprise, it’s not.

As a case in point, let’s consider the depiction of St. Joseph, the matrimonial/adoptive father of Jesus, in a medieval folk tune [14th to 17th century]: “The Cherry Tree Carol“.

JOSEPH was an old man,
And an old man was he,
When he wedded Mary
In the land of Galilee.
Joseph and Mary walk’d
Through an orchard good,
Where was cherries and berries
So red as any blood.

O then bespoke Mary,
So meek and so mild,
‘Pluck me one cherry, Joseph,
For I am with child.’

O then bespoke Joseph
With words so unkind,
‘Let him pluck thee a cherry
That brought thee with child.’

And then spake baby Jesus
Within Mary’s womb
Bow down the highest branch
That my mother might have some.

Then bow’d down the highest tree
Unto our Lady’s hand:
Then she said, ‘See, Joseph,
I have cherries at command!’

A couple of additional or alternate verses, shown below, will be considered shortly:

[‘O eat your cherries, Mary,
O eat your cherries now;
O eat your cherries, Mary,
That grow upon the bough.’]

[Then Joseph took Mary
All on his right knee,
“My Lord, what have I done?
Have mercy on me.”
“My Lord, what have I done?
Have mercy on me.”]

—The Cherry Tree Carol [c. 1500?] (Lyrics from “Bible History Daily”, Biblical Archaeology Society, and other online sources)

The story behind the carol comes from an apocraphal proto-gospel, attributed to James. It depicts Joseph as a grizzled, grumpy old man, who snipes at – and must ask mercy from God, and forgiveness from his wife – for his churlish behavior. This portrayal of Joseph (on the part of medieval theologians in the West) was meant to reinforce and protect the teaching of the Church regarding the virgin birth of Jesus. (I’m also aware that the Christian East handles this question somewhat differently.)

The Gospel of Matthew – which my faith community follows this year on Sundays – offers us a much different portrait of the ‘tekton’ (construction worker) who chose to accept his vocation as the protector of Mary, and the adoptive father of Jesus (with all that status entails.)

A more contemporary image of Mary and Joseph

Matthew’s Gospel presents us with a multi-faceted portrait of St. Joseph that begins with his genealogy as a son of Abraham, and heir of King David. Joseph’s acceptance/formal adoption of Jesus offers him a line of kingship, as Mary’s line offers the status of prophet, and fullness of priestly authority [Mt. 1:1-17] both Aaronite and Zadokite. More detail is added in [Mt. 1:18-25]. Here, we learn of what’s traditionally called “the ordeal” of Joseph: His facing the questions that surround the parentage of Jesus, when Mary is found to be with child after her betrothal, but before the public witnessing of their marriage.

Joseph’s characteristic justice and righteousness – tempered by compassion – leads him to resolve to “divorce her quietly” (to prevent Mary from being stoned to death for committing adultery). As with his namesake in Genesis, God communicates with Joseph of Nazareth in dreams. In the first of these, Joseph is reassured and encouraged to make a home and a family with Mary and Jesus who will be named “God-with-us.” A vocation he then confidently accepts.

He safeguards them from Herod’s duplicity toward the Magi in fraudulently obtaining information from them about the existence of a (supposed) newborn rival [Mt. 2:1-12], whom Herod intends to kill, by fleeing to Egypt [Mt. 2:13-15] and returning from exile after the tetrarch’s death [Mt. 2:19-23]. All of these potentially life-threatening missions are made known to Joseph of Nazareth in dreams: He is summoned by God, and responds without hesitation. His fatherly affection for – and responsibility toward – Jesus must’ve been fully shown and exercised throughout his life. By the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus, the astonished townspeople in the synagogue at Nazareth describe Him only as “the carpenter’s son” [Mt. 13:34-55]. But we know better, thanks to Matthew’s spotlight on the just, righteous, loving – and, yes, thoroughly masculine man – who has come down to us as St. Joseph. It’s amazing how much more clearly we can see the whole person of Joseph of Nazareth – and of each and all of us – when we have “the rest of the story” – as Paul Harvey would say – available to us. A Blessed Advent/Merry Christmas/Happy Chanukah to all!

Until next time,

Chaps, out.

24 thoughts on “Advent Meets #metoo or Something Like That

    1. I have long believed that both Joseph and Mary Magdalene are probably both the most underappreciated and least understood of all of the central figures in Christendom.

      In particular, the defamation of Mary Magdalene appears to be nearly satanic in how badly it distorts her true role in the early church and her almost divine character. Furthermore, I believe the woman’s place in the church suffers in no small part due to the distortions, propagated intentionally perhaps, that we continue to believe about ‘that woman.’

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agree entirely, ST! I often hear Mary Magdalene referred to as “Apostle to the Apostles” – strong, loving, faithful – a true role model. (She gets lumped together with “The Penitent Woman” and “The Woman Caught in Adultery” all too often: Distorted view, for sure….I can’t imagine the freedom and love she felt after Jesus healed her from being ‘possessed by seven devils’….Oh, wait a minute, yes, I can imagine it precisely.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. We think of all three Abrahamic creeds as…patristic, for want of a better word. But actually Jesus is very involved with women throughout the ministry. There’s mom, then the Samaritan woman, then Mary’n’Martha. The three Marys at the cross. Then it’s to a woman that the resurrection is announced, and a woman is the first person to see the risen Jesus. One of the earliestbChristian sects, the Gnostics, had many female preachers. They believed the entire material world was evil anyway so they didn’t care what gender the physical form was.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Luke’s Gospel-Acts of the Apostles really emphasizes the role of women in the early Church, in particular. Gnosticism hated the Incarnation, and was separatist/exclusivist, sorta like modern feminism….Everything old is still old, don’tcha know.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Re Nanda’s comment on the Gnostics: In their gospels Jesus is laughing on the Cross. He doesn’t really;HAVE a body, so,it’s not hurting him. And some heretics,esp the Knights Templar, (no relation, ST) were accused of trampling a crucifix during their initiatory rites. That is sump’n the Gnostics mighta done to show their contempt for the idea that God could be incarnate, and inhabit evil, corrupt flesh.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. True enough, but the Father never said material creation was evil – (their idea of a good “spiritual” God, paired with an evil ‘demi-urge’ that created matter, has more in common with Muhammed or Siddartha than Jesus…And, if Jesus didn’t physically die on the Cross (and rise in a glorified *physical* body) then, no expiation was made for our sins – and – when we’re dead, we’re dead. Gnosticism’s dualistic view short-circuits the hard work of being meat made of stardust – fully human and partakers in the divine nature here and now. Marianne Williamson and others in the new-age movement are contemporary Gnostics….

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Maybe you know, Nanda: on Rb, one of our devout Baptists has called me a “Neo-Gnostic” along with Elaine Pagels, on of my fave writers on religion. Is that really a thing? ( But it’s for sure I don’t believe the material world is evil and neither does my heroine Elaine! )

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I’d best end this day, and sleep before starting the next one; thanks to all for the inspiration and enjoyment to start the week! I’ll look forward to suggestions for version 2.0 before I let it land at R> – after a Monday at the office – and online Mass for our nation’s patronal feast – in honor of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. I’m taking you all with me. I’ll be back here later on. Until then, Goodnight/Good morning/Good afternoon! Peace be with you, all! Chao for now!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the Cherry Tree Carol. In the Koran, Mary is giving birth alone (Joseph isn’t in the picture; “Yusuf in Islamic lore usually refers to the OT guy) under some tree, probably a palm, and the tree bends down to offer her a snack. The same thing happens in the Greek myth of Leto, l(also impregnated by a deity!) aboring alone on the isle of Delos to birth Artemis and Apollo; the date palm tree bends down and gives her its fruit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you like it – the “Carol”, that is. I’ve long felt that it “disses” Joseph too much for my taste. (Very much appreciate the cross-cultural references, too!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The version I used to sing back in hootenanny days always seemed to me to be about that exact moment when J finds out M is pregnant, and mirrors his first impulse to “put her away privily”. The chivalrous cherry stands in for the angel who tells J in a dream that M is still a virgin. The song doesn’t go on to describe his further rôle.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Ah, as you can tell, it came across quite differently for yours truly….Reading Marjorie Holmes’ “Two for Galilee” probably influenced my perception. (Btw, my next-oldest sister “hates” the song, too. -grin-)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hypatia, re: “Neo-Gnostic” (since there isn’t a convenient reply button nearby). I think the Gnostics (new and old) just make too much work for themselves – and don’t recognize the power and freedom in Jesus’ sacrifice and Resurrection; but that’s just me….Elaine Pagels’ work in *comparative* religion is fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nanda, I love this little study of St. Joseph, with history, music, and a beautiful painting of the Holy Family all rolled together! I understand your objection to the portrayal of Joseph in the carol, but it seems many medieval carols took fanciful liberties with traditional tales of holy figures, and the idea of the tree bowing down to rest a cherry in Mary’s hand is such magical artistry to me – kind of gave me goosebumps hearing it! Poetic license, you know? I think Joseph’s manly devotion remains untarnished, as you note, because of his great sacrifices in shouldering the mantle of fatherhood.
    Thanks for this lovely refection, it adds a lot more to our education than the fluffy song that precipitated it!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. ” the idea of the tree bowing down to rest a cherry in Mary’s hand ”

    I wonder if someone’s painted/drawn that mini-miracle-moment? Maybe there’s an opportunity in that feeling?

    Liked by 1 person

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