Christian Christmas songs and carols come in many musical varieties and explore the diverse aspects of the Christmas story. We can think quickly of pondering the prophecies about the Messiah, (“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”), the announcement to the Shepherds (“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”), or the visit of the Wise Men (“We Three Kings of Orient Are”). Our traditional carols range from the regal pomp of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” the drama of “O Holy Night,” to the meditative quiet of “Silent Night.” In some of the songs we rejoice (“Joy to the World”) and in others we sort through the theological mystery that Christmas represents (“I Wonder as I Wander”).
Among my favorites since a was a young boy have been the lullabies. These have always been accessible to children, the love songs of a mother for her newborn child. Perhaps the first carol I remember learning was “Away in a Manger,” whose words are attributed to Martin Luther. There are two tunes used for this carol. One of them starts very high and works its way down the scale. I like this one, but my favorite uses the tune “Cradle Song” written by William Kirkpatrick in 1895.
The fourth Sunday of Advent may be seen as the most intimate, a celebration of the mother of Jesus and her love for her son. The circumstances of birth were difficult. Mary and Joseph had been married in what their little village surely saw as cloudy circumstances. When the time for birth came, the young couple found themselves far from home, in the village of Bethlehem. They were without the normal support network and they seem to have been without funds, for the sparse details given in the Gospel of Luke describe very humble circumstances. This is traditionally interpreted to have been among the animals in a stable, for Luke describes the first bed for Jesus as a “manger,” meaning a food trough for animals. The baby was wrapped in “swaddling clothes,” as the famous KJV translation renders it. These were not special Christmas blankets. They were rag-like pieces of fabric, scrounged from what was available for the humble parents.
No matter how rich or poor the mother of a newborn, there is a normal, natural bond of love between mother and child, an instantaneous connection that transcends the noise of stable animals or the cacophony of a hospital. There was doubtlessly a village midwife attending Mary. Imagine that glorious instant, when the newly-birth babe was wiped clean a bit, wrapped, and handed to his mother. His first cradle was not the manger, but his mother’s arms. She looked down in love and the little baby saw his beautiful mother for the first time. Love at first sight! And then she sang her first lullaby:
Lullay, mine Liking, my dear Son, mine Sweeting,
Lullay, my dear heart, mine own dear darling.
Joseph, like all fathers, watched in wonder as this emotional transaction was sealed, forever to be a little outside the circle of mother and child. This is the essence of Christmas in many ways: deep, deep love. It was the love of God that brought his Son to be our Savior. It was the love of a mother that protected him and nurtured him as a baby. And it was the love of Jesus himself that caused him to willingly die for us, so that we might be saved.
Our hearts’ joy reclineth, in lowly manger blessed.
And like a bright star shineth, upon his mother’s breast.
Oh that we were there! Oh that we were there!
Nebraska Christian College