Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 22, 2008
Away in the manger soothes today's wee babes
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
One of my favourite Christmas carols is Away in a Manger. When my children were babies, I often played my guitar and sang it to them as bedtime drew near. It’s a beautiful and tender lullaby to calm babies before sleep.
Away in a manger, No crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
My babies would eventually grow sleepy and lay down their sweet heads in their cribs. And as I quietly tippy-toed out of the room and turned out the light, I prayed with assurance that the Lord Jesus would look down from the sky upon where they laid “till morning was nigh.”
Each time I sang that venerable old carol to my babies, I knew that countless other parents throughout the years also sang their restless little ones to sleep with lullabies like Away in a Manger. That’s why it’s my favourite carol.
Although the first and second verses of Away in a Manger were written anonymously and appeared in an Evangelical Lutheran children’s songbook in 1895, the third verse was written by a Methodist minister named John Thomas McFarland (1851-1913). For more than a hundred years Away in a Manger has been a beloved part of the Christmas repertoire.
My children are grown now and have their own little ones. Perhaps they sing lullabies including Away in a Manger to their children (my grandchildren) — or at least they should.
Singing Christmas carols is part of the richness of the Advent season and can serve to introduce children at the earliest ages to great Christian truths we celebrate, such as God sending his Son to earth (the Incarnation). It is one of the central tenets of genuine Christianity that even small children can celebrate.
A child’s innocence
Am I saying little children understand the Incarnation? No, but I am saying they know real love and that is what was behind the Incarnation. Although babies and very small children cannot express it, they know the experience of divine joy. I am increasingly convinced that the natural joy we see in babies is ancient in its origin.
Why would this be? Perhaps it is because babies and small children are not yet jaded by the world. They are still open to God’s joy more so than most adults. Why wouldn’t they be? God was present in their tiny world even as they were developing in the womb.
The Bible is very clear on this point. The unborn child can respond to God’s presence. John the Baptist leapt with joy in his mother’s womb at the sound of the Virgin Mary’s voice (Luke 1.44).
Very young children are capable of profound spiritual experiences. C.S. Lewis commented about this:
“From our own childhoods we remember that before our elders thought us capable of ‘understanding’ anything, we already had spiritual experiences as pure and momentous as any we have undergone since. . . . From Christianity itself we learn there is a level in the long run the only level of importance on which the learned and the adult have no advantage at all over the simple and the child” (The Problem of Pain).
Seeds of faith
It is this level of early spiritual experiences that provides the foundation for elders to plant seeds of faith in a child and encourage proper Christian development. The natural spiritual yearning that resides in every human soul can either be satisfied through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ or frustrated by the worldliness.
The latest crop of anti-Christian secularists has tried with only limited success to rid Christmas of its Christianity. To anti-Christians, the dirty word of Christmas is, well, Christmas.
After all, Christmas contains the word “Christ.”
But take Christ out of Christmas and all that’s left is vulgar consumerism sprinkled with sappy, superficial and unfocused sentimentality.
The secular mindset may still have the excitement of the season, but the possibility of Christ’s deep and abiding peace and joy is beyond their reach. What a terrible loss that is!
Anti-Christian secularists do not understand the internal poverty of the world they seek without Christ. The peace and joy of Jesus, experienced by Christians throughout the last 2,000 years, has prompted an outpouring of human expression that produced the world’s greatest art, music and literature.
The peace and joy of knowing Jesus Christ extends well beyond Christmas and can change human hearts and minds forever.
It sure did that for me.
When my time comes to leave this world, I hope my children will sing to me the last verse of the carol I sang to them shortly after they entered the world:
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 take us to heaven, to live with thee there.
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