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Saturday, December 24, 2016
Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing; the poor baby wakes,
but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus; look down from the sky,
and stay by my side until morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.
“Away in a Manger” (tune: Cradle Song)
from Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families and Gabriel’s Vineyard Songs
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
I always feel a sense of peace and presence when I sing this carol. It cradles me with its words and its sound. However, that adoration shifted a bit when I gave birth to my firstborn child. After that experience, I began to hear this carol differently, with a bit of suspicion. The suspicion came because of the second verse. I had never even paid attention to that second verse until the evening I was trying to rock my crying baby girl to sleep during Advent and began singing “The cattle are lowing; the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” I had to stop singing. No crying he makes? What baby are they talking about? Every baby cries, especially, I imagine, if they are woken up by cows. Why on earth would they imagine Jesus as a baby who did not cry?
My best guess as to why the writer did not want to portray Jesus as a baby who cried was because that made him just so . . . human. The baby Jesus cried? That would mean that the baby Jesus also filled his diaper and nursed and did all of those human baby things. That is scandalous to even consider—that God would choose to be among us as a crying, regular, fully human baby. And yet we trust that is exactly what God did. From that moment on, I chose to skip over verse two or to grin as I sang it. For if we take away Jesus’ crying, we take away the power, the miracle, the gift of incarnation. We deny the immense vulnerable power of Christmas.
Holy God, it is beyond my comprehension as to why you chose to get into the muck and dirt of humanity with us. It is beyond my comprehension as to why you chose to save us like that, why you chose to be God like that—through a real crying, messy, regular baby who was born through a real crying, messy, regular woman. And yet you did. And I now know just how deeply we are loved. Thank you. Amen.
Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor
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