St. Joseph’s Hymn of Praise

Matthew 2: 10-15: “And when the Magi were departed,
behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a
dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his
mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I
bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to
destroy him. When Joseph arose, he took the young child
and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt and
remained there until the death of Herod.“

O Gracious Lord, You’ve comforted my tears
And soothed my sighs since we left Galilee!
Your blazing light has pushed aside all fears
So I could help my wife whose pregnancy
Meant all—this precious babe who is not mine
Yet also is. You led us through the wild—
Away from bandits with intent malign
Who might have hurt her and her unborn child.
Your light then led us past Jerusalem
And safely to the gates of Bethlehem.

We kept our faith when none would lodge a guest.
With our last shekels we asked every inn
To give us shelter, sustenance and rest,
But none was vacant. Time was growing thin!
Despite her worry Mary’s face stayed mild
While I beseeched You for a hopeful sign,
Else how could I protect this coming child
Who is not mine and yet is also mine?
I knocked at every stall, from door to door
And told them of the burden Mary bore.

You then brought forth a man who saw our plight
And lent his stable. Lord, I bless his name!
There Mary lay with all the beasts in sight
Upon clean straw. And then the child came!
I hoped to place this babe on linens fine
But there was just a manger on a cart
To cradle this fine son who is not mine
Yet also is according to my heart!
I laughed and wept with joy, then closed my eyes
To see such beauty and to hear his sighs.

O Father, tell me—is this babe our king?
This little child who I am proud to claim;
Who swells my chest and makes my spirit sing;
Who is not mine and yet now bears my name?
His solemn smile… I’d give my very breath
To keep this little baby safe and warm!
I hoped to take him home to Nazareth
But in a dream Your angel warned of harm
From Herod whose dark heart is made of stone,
And, pharaoh-like, would kill to keep a throne.

And so to Egypt we prepare to flee—
That land where you raised Moses and the Law
And taught us how to be both just and free.
One day my son—Your Son—born without flaw
Shall teach us how to have eternal life
And share Your peace with brotherhood and love.
How deeply You have blessed me and my wife!
We’ve always known You watched us from above—
But now Your Love reveals a human face
Which shines with strength and Your amazing grace!



A Shepherd’s Christmas Villanelle

Rejoice, my brothers! Jubilate and pray!
Glad tidings come to Earth and every nation:
A king is born in Bethlehem this day.

The stricken shall find faith—they soon shall say
That God is love and offers inspiration!
Rejoice, my sisters! Jubilate and pray

That misery and hate will slip away
From us and every future generation.
A king is born in Bethlehem this day

Of wonders! See the stars shine in array
As angels sing with joy and adoration!
Rejoice, dear friends! Let’s jubilate and pray

With grateful awe as Heaven’s trumpets bray
And all of Nature joins in our elation.
A king is born in Bethlehem this day—

A Shepherd who has come to guide the way
To mercy, charity and our salvation.
Rejoice all people! Share good will and pray!
A king is born in Bethlehem this day!



Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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27 Responses

      • Sally Cook

        Brian, your carefully crafted re-telling of the old stories is just beautiful.

        Your faith shines through a crowd of stars. Merry Christmas !

  1. Jeff Eardley

    Well done Brian. These are a joy to read today. Thank you for a reminder of the Christian message that is often absent these days. Hope you had a lovely day.

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, as I’ve said before, you have a gift for writing from the first-person perspective and bringing characters to life. “St. Joseph’s Hymn of Praise” is a prime example of this. I can see the miracle of Christmas through Joseph’s eyes – eyes that shine with the wonder and awe of God’s great gift to us. I particularly like the variances of the repeated fact that Joseph had a son who was and wasn’t his. This variation brought tears to my eyes… it’s as if Joseph fell in love with Jesus at that exact moment… “But there was just a manger on a cart/To cradle this fine son who is not mine/Yet also is according to my heart!” Written with sensitivity, beauty, and awe that is tangible.

    I love a good villanelle, and yours is a joy that taps into the spirit of Christmas and makes me want to sing it out loud. I am rejoicing, I am praying, and I am celebrating… this melodic villanelle hits the perfect note and I love it!! Brian, thank you and a very Merry Christmas to you!

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you so much, Susan. I’m especially pleased that you were touched by the repeating thought about Joseph’s emotions regarding Jesus and how he absolutely fell in love with the Son of God who was entrusted to his mortal care. I’ve long felt that Joseph was an incredible hero: magnanimous and brave to take on the earthly fatherhood of the young Jesus. Having been a stepfather I relate to him quite strongly. And thank you for the kind words regarding the villanelle. I felt it to be just the right vehicle for expressing the joy I feel in my faith — especially at this time of year! Merry Christmas to you and Mike!

  3. Joshua C. Frank

    Brian, they’re both great! Your gift for first-person poems has inspired and influenced my own work.

    As a Catholic, I have a devotion to St. Joseph, so it’s nice to see a poem written from his perspective! One must admire a man who’s willing to raise a child who doesn’t share half his genes. St. Joseph undoubtedly assumed that God would give him many biological children… but because all Christians in a state of grace are mystically part of the body of Christ, he ended up having millions, if not billions, of children as olive plants round about his table (bonus points if you get the reference) in this way.

    The villanelle is great too. It’s not an easy form to work with, but you executed it admirably. I love the French forms, especially with (again) your skill in writing the first person. I like the perspective of the shepherds… it makes sense that the Good Shepherd would want to be announced first to shepherds.

    I hope you had an enjoyable Christmas.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, Josh! I’m pleased to hear you have a devotion to St. Joseph because I think he was a man of enormous character. I can’t specifically place your olive plants reference — is it one of the Psalms? And, yes, the Good Shepherd is one of the best metaphoric descriptions of Christ. I wrote a poem about a year and a half ago called “The Good Shepherd” which you might enjoy (about a very young Jesus) and this image of Christ remains one of my favorites.

    • Margaret Coats

      Children as olive plants around the table are in Psalm 126 (Hebrew numbering used in most translations today) or Psalm 127 in translations based on the Latin Vulgate. I get the points for answering this because my poetic translation career began when I translated this psalm and the previous one from Hebrew, to serve as the responsorial psalm for my wedding!

      • Margaret Coats

        Excuse me! I don’t deserve credit after all. The Hebrew number is 128 and the Latin 127.

      • Brian Yapko

        Brava, Margaret! Thank you for the citation! I had no idea you know Hebrew. Toda raba!

  4. jd

    What Susan said and I love them both. Perfect for
    the day too. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  5. Margaret Coats

    Brian, these are two truly substantial Christmas poems, both with considerable thought and art to appreciate. My favorite words from the Saint Joseph poem are, “Time was growing thin!” Jesus was born at the point where the long era of the past became the present, and indeed pre-Christian time was running out as Joseph sought a place for Mary to give birth. Also, I like very much the refrain of sorts that you make from the idea and repeated words that Jesus is and yet is not the son of Joseph. You know from law that any child born of a married woman is legally entitled to her husband’s name, support, and inheritance, even if biologically the child has a different man for father. I think you bring that up in stanza 4, where Joseph asks God whether the baby is our king. The king would need to be descended from King David in the male line. The two differing genealogies in the Gospels are interpreted as those of Joseph and Mary, both descendants of David, but Mary’s child would have no right to kingship by descent. Your Saint Joseph wants to know if Mary’s Davidic blood is enough, or whether God wills Jesus to be king through the legal fiction that Jesus is David’s descendant by blood through Joseph. The ultimate answer is what Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” but that’s in the future at the moment of Saint Joseph’s question. The question reveals Joseph as a man of “blended worlds” (an expression from Daniel Kemper’s 2020 poem “Stepfather” here at SCP). Daniel’s poem is also a magnificent contribution to the literature on Saint Joseph, but yours, Brian, belongs specifically to Saint Joseph and Christmas. Joseph literature has been developing along with devotion to the saint, and for the most part, that’s during the past two centuries, after it was promoted by Pope Leo XIII.

    My comment on your Christmas shepherds poem will come later!

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Margaret, for your detailed and insightful comment regarding St. Joseph (and sorry for the delay in offering a proper response!) The points you focus on are spot-on and I’m glad to be able to discuss them further. I will start with the actual role of St. Joseph in the life of Jesus, for he has been entrusted with an enormous responsibility – one which involves his highest level of faith in God, loyalty to his betrothed, and generosity of heart and spirit concerning the son who is not his but who his heart claims nonetheless. I think of Joseph as offering the very best attributes of fatherhood and am glad to know that devotion to him is robust. I am quite interested in reading more Joseph literature. The geneological issues are quite interesting and tie into this. The way I’ve always interpreted events is that Jesus is indeed from the House of David, traceable through His connections to both Mary and Joseph. You are quite right about the legalities of having a father raise the son of his wife, even if they are not connected by blood. This is the case in American law and probably most Western countries. But in Jewish law it is even deeper: a child’s Jewishness is imparted solely by the mother and not at all by the father. For this reason, despite the OT focus on genealogies in the male line, I believe that Mary’s lineage would have been enough. That being said, Joseph’s lineage is also important because (at least as I see it) his adoption of Jesus is complete, irrespective of whether or not there is a blood connection. Jesus has two fathers and I believe God, the Father, chose very carefully in selecting Joseph as the righteous male figure who Jesus would also call “father.” Adoption in the Old Testament is compelling: it happens with Samuel and Eli, who is his spiritual father. And it happens with Esther and Mordechai.

      This leads to another biblical adoption and one of great significance not only to my poem but to the connections between Jesus and his forebears and to the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Moses. Moses, the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, was adopted by Pharoah’s daughter and became a prince of Egypt. This does not negate his Hebrew parentage, but adds interesting psychological, thematic and theological layers to the history. Your reference to “time growing thin” does indeed present a reference to the fact that not only is Mary’s labor and delivery imminent – but the Old Testament world is about to give way to the New. Moses has long been seen as a foreshadowing precursor of Jesus and, for me, it was irresistible to set this poem – not immediately after the birth of Jesus but as the Holy Family is getting ready to flee to Egypt, for Egypt-lore is so important to the New Testament. The land where Moses was raised, where he discovered himself, where the Hebrew nation was truly born and brought to freedom and then to the law. All of these things are crucial in the development of Jewish and then Christian thought. For Jesus, Mary and Joseph to reverse the Exodus by fleeing TO Egypt for freedom turns everything we thought we knew in the Old Testament on its head. And the focal point of everything in both Old and New is the incarnation of Jesus Christ who fulfills the law and prophecy but now adds something even more compelling; His amazing grace.

      Thank you again, Margaret, for letting me address these points regarding St. Joseph and related biblical matters!

  6. Margaret Coats

    “A Shepherd’s Christmas Villanelle” has medieval touches that make it resemble some of the finest early Noels. One is the arrangement of short stanzas into successive groups, here addressing (by means of the first refrain) men, women, friends of the speaker, and the whole world. The second refrain then proclaims the reason to address these groups, namely, the birth of a king. But the really striking feature is the use of the archaic and literary word “Jubilate.” This hearkens back to the Psalms, where Psalm 100 (99 in Latin numbering) is the Jubilate, named for its first word, an imperative plural. Literate persons in the Middle Ages were usually clerics or religious, who would recite this psalm and others like it as part of their choir duties once or more each week, and more often on special occasions such as Christmas. Brian’s speaker and his form recall and demand this kind of communal repetition, similar to that in “Jubilemus Salvatori,” one of the most popular poems by Adam of Saint Victor, one of the very greatest medieval poets. Brian’s speaker discovers with delight that the king to come will be a shepherd like himself. Adam (himself representing mankind!) can exult in similar fashion, and clearly call the world to join him. Good work, Brian.


      Thank you, Margaret, for this beautiful comment! I have much more to say but it will have to wait till I get back. Happy New Year!

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Margaret, for these kind words about the villanelle. To be honest, I did not consciously realize that I was invoking Medieval touches regarding this poem, though I can now see what you mean. Concerning the refrain which calls out to men, women, friends, all people — I was aiming to bring a message to an ever-increasing circle which would finally encompass the whole world. Your phrase “communal repetition” is exactly right, although I did not recognize that this is what I was aiming for at the time! I’m also glad that you noticed this essential aspect of my poetic intent.

      I also appreciate your mentioning the word “jubilate” because I did indeed hope to invoke the Psalms and the word “Jubilate” seemed ideal. One other important point with this word-choice, however. The word derives from “Jubilee” which is a hugely important Old Testament concept — in some ways analogous to the Sabbath as it occurs every 7 years as a time of rest. But, for my purposes, the most important aspect of Jubilee is that this is when the slaves are set free. (You may be familiar with the old Civil War song “Day of Jubilo” or “Kingdom Coming” which is relevant.) So when I say “jubilate!” I’m both invoking the Psalms and I’m celebrating the freedom from bondage (sin, death, etc.) we all get to experience as a result of Christ’s incarnation. And, as you point out, who better to announce this good news than a shepherd who does, indeed, bring a foreshadowing of Christ’s role as the Good Shepherd.


    Thank you, Margaret, for such a thorough discussion of the poem and Christ’s lineage. I will have more to say in response next week. In the meantime, Happy New Year!

  8. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Such an excellent rendering of the quavering, yet faithful thoughts of Joseph under conditions of which he had no control and struggled with acceptance of what was transpiring. Beautifully done! Then the thoughts of the shepherd are presented in elegant and meaningful fashion.

  9. Yael

    I just got around to reading these poems and what an amazingly delightful treat they are, especially the first one! Thank you very much for elevating my thoughts on this most important of all subjects.

  10. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree with those who find the echoes of Joseph’s sense of the Christ child being not his, yet his, to be a profound aspect of the poem. Paul and I adopted both of our children; and so the Book of Common Prayer’s Collect for Christmas Day is especially meaningful to us: “Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit, through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.”


      Thank you very much, Cynthia! I’m glad you shared the Collect. There’s a special place in Heaven for those who adopt.


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