My Advent Playlist Day 6: No Crying He Makes

So last year I blogged through the entire month of December to celebrate Advent season, and all in all it was a pretty successful venture! I felt very much plugged into the spirit of the season, and learned a thing or two about myself along the way. On the other hand, it almost killed me, so this year I embark on the same quest with no small amount of trepidation. I figured I could mitigate some stress, though, by messing with the formula a little. So this year I'm using Christmas carols as thematic springboards for my Advent blog posts. Each day I will pick a line from a Christmas carol and reflect on its meaning in the context of my/our experience with Christmas this year.

No Crying He Makes

A little idyllic if you ask me.

So I really love the song "Away in a Manger." It's a beautiful old song that really sucks you into the nativity story in an evocative, sensory way.

I have a few issues with its lyrics though, from a theological perspective. For one thing, it ends with the line "take us to heaven to live with thee there." Which is not biblically inaccurate per se, but it certainly smacks of the same escapist rhetoric which infects much of contemporary evangelical theology. Whereas our Scriptures tell the story of the consummation of all creation and the redemption and rebuilding of heaven and earth at the eschaton, we tend to, with our pseudo-biblical mythologies, paint a picture more akin to the Greek, disembodied spirits of Platonic thought. That or else Dante's model of eternal life, of hell beneath the ground and heaven in the clouds.

Our theologies affect our spiritual practices and living disciplines in very tangible ways, so when we have such unhealthy ideas regarding God's ultimate plan for His creation, believing "it all will burn anyway" or "we'll all just float off to heaven," the result is often a disengagement with God's beloved world and children here and now.

We are not placed here on earth just to "check out" and spend our whole lives fantasizing about this a-biblical cloud heaven. Eternal life starts now. This is the point of the incarnation, that God's redemption starts now, and will be consummated at the end of days. Now and then. Already and not yet.

Speaking of the incarnation, this is another of my complaints about this song's lyrics. It has to do with the line, "the cattle are lowing [lowing?], the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes."

What kind of baby doesn't cry through its first night? Just because the infant Christ was God incarnate does not mean He would not have fussed and hollered throughout that night in the manger. Granted, perhaps some babies sleep peacefully through their first night (I really wouldn't know), but to assume so of Jesus simply because He was God is to believe His humanity was in some way tempered by His Godliness.

But this is not good incarnation theology, friends. As Christians, our core doctrines of faith teach us that Christ was not half God/half man, or God in a human shell. The council at Chalcedon in the fifth century BCE clarified that proper Christology considers Christ fully God and fully man, in a mysterious blend which compromises neither identity. One hundred percent God, one hundred perfect human, though the mechanisms by which this is possible are a mystery to us.

All of this is to say, if we believe baby Jesus was anything less than fully baby in any respect, including His propensity towards caterwauling, we are painting only with rose-tinted hues, dampening the humanity of Jesus in favor of overemphasizing His divinity. Even look again at the picture at the beginning of this post. Does it look like any birth you've ever heard of or seen?

The humanity of Jesus is a non-negotiable, central tenet in the Christian faith, but we so often in practice cast it aside because it is easier to imagine Jesus just as a triumphant deity, without pain, doubt or messiness in His life.

But isn't it better to believe that God actually experienced all those things, for us and with us? Even that He still experiences them with us today? This is the story I'd rather believe.

Lucky too, because it's the story of Scripture and of Christian tradition. It is the Jesus story, and it's lasted this long for a reason.

This Christmas let us see in our Christ not just His godliness, not His idyllic nativity-scene style birth, but His humanity. His precious humanness. For it was in His incarnation, His becoming human, that He pronounced, once and for all, the worth of the human experience.

Let's leave on a positive note. For me, the most poignant line in this song is, by far, "be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay, close by me forever and love me I pray." What a beautiful notion. Let this be our prayer tonight, and every night. Be near us Lord Jesus.


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