Daft carol lyrics

Mon, 23/12/2013 - 12:21 -- James Oakley

I love Christmas carols. Really I do. We had a great night yesterday, with about 20 from our church singing carols in lots of the public spaces in the village, joined in each place by some who live nearby.

But sometimes, honestly...

In second place is the second verse of Away in a Manger. It's a complete clanger, so it only gets second place because I'm sure most readers of this blog would have spotted it many times.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

No. How else did he let his mother know he was hungry, when he hadn't learnt to talk yet. Babies cry. I don't know what motivated the author of this popular, but anonymous, carol to write that line. If it was trying to preserve Jesus' sinlessness, then it's misguided. Jesus did never sin, not even as a baby or toddler. But if a baby cries because it is hungry, that is not a sinful thing (even though most parents of newborns are probably protesting inwardly that it must be). Jesus was human. As a human, he had to grow up like all the rest of us do. So he cried as a baby.

But in first place is the second verse of Unto us a Boy is Born.

Cradled in a stall was he,
watched by cows and asses;
but the very beasts could see
that he the world surpasses.

No. Really, they couldn't. The miracle was that the baby was also the eternal Son of God. The second person of the Trinity had taken a real human nature, and been born with a real human body as a real human baby. But he was so really human that he looked indistinguishable from any other baby born that night. This is why Herod had to kill all the toddlers of the right age - he couldn't just ask the soldiers to find the one with a halo.

The miracle did not extend to giving farm animals sentient powers. This is the birth of Jesus, not Doctor Dolittle, Animal Farm, or Babe - the Sheep Pig.

What does it matter?

Some readers may be wondering whether it matters. Does it really hurt to have a little vague sentimentality in our Christmas carols.

It matters because it dilutes and waters down the real wonder of Christmas. The birth of Jesus, God's Son — as a baby, so that he could live a perfect life and then die to save us — is a most amazing miracle. It's an awe-inspiring gift to us from God the Father.

As we tell the story, we do it a dis-service by adding in other hard-to-believe components that just didn't happen. We focus people's attention away from the truly wonderful event onto incidental details that capture the imagination but are totally fictitious. We also make the whole story even harder to believe than it needs to be. Yes, a virgin conception and the birth of the divine creator as a human created baby are hard to get our heads around. They required God to suspend the way he normally acts in the world (what we often call the "laws of nature") and do something totally one-off. But we don't need to ask people to swallow several other pills as well - what God actually did is amazing enough, without asking people to believe things that didn't happen.

So merry Christmas to you all. I hope that you are filled with fresh wonder, this year, at what God did in Bethlehem just over 2000 years ago. And please don't let some of the silly things that get written into the songs we sing distract you from wonder, from worship and from living in the light of it all.

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