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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Seven Good Joys

Bible reading

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”…

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2. 4 – 19)


‘Seven Good Joys’ is a traditional carol about Mary's happiness at moments in the life of Jesus, probably inspired by the Seven Joys of the Virgin in the devotional literature and art of Medieval Europe. I’ve come across this carol only recently, as it is included on Kate Rusby’s excellent Christmas album While Mortals Sleep.

The carol has a simple, repetitive but beautiful structure:

“The first good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of one
To see her blessed Jesus
When He was first her Son.
When He was Her first Son, Good Lord;
And happy may we be,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity”

That structure is repeated for all seven joys. There are different British and US versions of the carol which taken together give more than seven joys but the basic joys of Mary of which the carol speaks are to see her own Son Jesus: suck at her breast bone; make the lame to go; make the blind to see; read the Bible o'er; bring the dead alive; upon the crucifix; and wear the crown of heaven.

These seven joys take us from the nativity of Christ (suck at her breast bone) through his ministry (make the lame to go; make the blind to see; read the Bible o'er; bring the dead alive) to his death (upon the crucifix), and on to his resurrection and ascension (wear the crown of heaven).

Part of the reason this carol resonates, besides its beauty, is that it links Christmas with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It even dares to list the Crucifixion as one of Mary’s joys, an incomprehensible idea unless viewed with the eyes of faith.

So the singing of a carol like this can help us more fully explain the meaning of Christmas and save it from mere sentimentality because, as the carol describes, Christ is born into our world to save us by his life, death, and resurrection. That is the ultimate lesson of every true Christmas tradition and the source of all our joys as Christians, as well as those of Mary. May that be our experience this Christmas as we sing carols and hear, once again, the Christmas story told.


God our Father, the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary that she was to be the mother of your Son. Though Mary was afraid, she responded to your call with joy. Help us to do your will even when it is difficult. Help us to be like Mary and respond YES to what You ask of us. Help us, whom you call to serve you, to share like her in your great work of bringing to our world your love and healing.

Mary was the Mother of Jesus. May we also bring Jesus into the world for others.

Blessed are you, sovereign Lord, merciful and gentle: to you be praise and glory for ever. Your light has shone in our darkened world through the child-bearing of blessed Mary; grant that we who have seen your glory may daily be renewed in your image and prepared like her for the coming of your Son.

Mary was the Mother of Jesus. May we also bring Jesus into the world for others.

Almighty God, you make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as we joyfully receive him as our redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our judge. Help us, who greet the birth of Christ with joy, to live in the light of his love and share the good news of your love.

Mary was the Mother of Jesus. May we also bring Jesus into the world for others.


May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ child be yours this Christmas; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.


Kate Rusby - Sweet Bells.

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