Formation

The Hands That First Held Mary’s Child

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I recently attended A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols at Christ Church Plano. It was a very moving service filled with beautiful music and reflective readings of Scripture. The balcony in the back of the church was filled with a choir and musical instruments that seemed to wash over me as I sat in the dimly lit church reflecting on the magnificent story of redemption. Because the music came from above and behind me, it was not the same as watching a performance. I heard, but I did not see. In some way, this allowed me to see better. It allowed me to see the Christ child more clearly, with eyes of faith.

After the reading of the sixth lesson, in which Luke tells of the birth of Jesus, the choir sang a deeply penetrating song called The Hands That First Held Mary’s Child (words by Thomas Troeger and music by Dan Forrest).

Take a moment to read these words while listening to this performance here…

The hands that first held Mary’s child were hard from working wood.
From boards they sawed and planed and filed
and splinters they withstood.
This day they gripped no tool of steel, they drove no iron nail,
but cradled from the head to heel
our Lord, newborn and frail.

When Joseph marveled at the size of that small breathing frame,
and gazed upon those bright new eyes
and spoke the infant’s name,
the angel’s words he once had dreamed poured down from heaven’s height,
and like the host of stars that beamed
blessed earth with welcome light.

“This child shall be Emmanuel, not God upon the throne,
but God with us, Emmanuel, as close as blood and bone.”
The tiny form in Joseph’s palms confirmed what he had heard,
and from his heart rose hymns and psalms for heaven’s human word.

The tools that Joseph laid aside a mob would later lift
and use with anger, fear, and pride to crucify God’s gift.
Let us, O Lord, not only hold the child who’s born today,
but charged with faith may we be bold to follow in His way.

I felt great joy and hope rise inside of me as I quietly listened to these words. Yes, music has the ability to evoke powerful emotions, but this was something more. It was the joy and hope that I experienced as I identified with Joseph.

Joseph is typically the most forgotten person in the Bible. We remember him once a year as we dust off his figurine in our nativity scenes, but four weeks later he’s packed away and forgotten about until next year. Something about this song made me consider what I had never, ever, considered before—Joseph is likely the first person to have ever held Jesus. Joseph’s hands were the first hands to have ever touched God.

Why does this matter so much? It matters because it means that God is willing to be held by the ones most forgotten.

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The unimportant people in our world, the ones we fail to remember, never hold the important ones, the ones we remember. The important ones live on the thrones of our society. They are far removed. They do not allow themselves to be held by the forgotten ones.

But not in this story.

“This child shall be Emmanuel, not God upon the throne, but God with us, Emmanuel, as close as blood and bone.”

Chances are that you may feel unimportant. This Christmas season you may feel forgotten. You, yes you, are the one that God invites to draw near to him. You, like Joseph, are invited to hold the Christ child in your hands and to gaze upon his face.

He is a gift to the unimportant and forgotten. He is for me. He is for you.

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