Childhood memories inescapably come to my mind each Christmas. One of my favorite Christmas Carols as a child was ‘Away in a Manger’. This delightful lullaby still soothes my soul in unexpected ways. The term ‘lullaby’ comes from the Swedish term ‘lulla’, meaning ‘an intermission or lull in the storm’. With three lively sons in our family, my wife and I have always been grateful for any lull in the storm. My parents have often reminded me of what a lovely son I was when I was sleeping!
The inescapable season of Christmas is intended to be a lullaby, a lull in the storm of life. So often we wear ourselves out trying to do Christmas right. Without intending to, we spend too much, eat too much, and drink too much. I am more and more convinced that the real key to a joyful Christmas is less, not more; slower, not faster. The heart of Christmas is simplicity. The heart of Christmas is a manger.
When you think about the first Christmas, there was ‘no crib for a bed’. The cattle were LOWING, which is an ancient term for mooing and making a racket! No wonder ‘the Baby awakes’. I wonder how many mothers reading this article have had to give birth in a barn? I wonder how many modern-day Moms ever used a feeding trough as a baby crib? Yet that is what ‘Away in A Manger/Feeding Trough’ meant on the very first Christmas day.
No one actually knows who wrote the words to this delightful carol. I wonder if it was written by a stressed-out parent with several children under the age of three. Personal experience has taught me that sleep is a rare commodity for parents with babies. You just have to snatch a couple of hours in-between feeding, cleaning and crying times. In my early twenties, I said that I would never have children until scientists had solved the problem of children crying! After being stuck in an hour-long traffic jam with my wailing baby nephew Boyd, I started to fantasize about creating a mechanism that would switch Boyd’s screaming into a flashing light on his forehead. My hunch is that the author of ‘Away in a Manger’ may have had the same desires when he wrote ‘But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes’.
The amazing thing about raising three boys is that after a while the crying and wailing doesn’t traumatize you in the same way. I am not sure if that is because you suffer from hearing loss along the way. Either way I am convinced that baby Jesus, being fully human as well as fully God, wailed and cried with the best of them. And mother Mary and Joseph probably suffered from sleep deprivation, but loved the little Lord Jesus regardless.
There is something so amazing about being parents looking at one’s sleeping baby. As our babies lay down their sweet heads, as the stars in the bright sky look down where they lay, something stirs within the most hardened workaholic heart. Babies are worth the sacrifice. Babies are worth the investment. No wonder God became a baby at Christmas. God stole our hearts by turning up ‘away in a manger’. Who cannot love God as a helpless baby?
As a young child I sincerely sang in Sunday School: ‘I love you Lord Jesus, look down from the sky and stay by my bedside till morning is nigh’. I meant it when I sang: ‘Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay close by me for ever, and love me, I pray.’ But as I became older, my heart hardened. I became cynical and jaded towards Christmas and Church. Jesus to me became little more than a swear word. The miracle is that Jesus cracked through my cold distracted heart and showed me real love. My prayer for those reading this article is that the Reason for this Season, Jesus, may ‘fit us for heaven, to live with thee there’.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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