Friday, December 28, 2007

Seeing the Cross through the Coziness

Once again a song that I sang as a child recently stirred me into contemplating matters of faith. This time the song was "Away in a Manger," a carol that I both sang and heard quite often during the past few weeks.

As a child, I liked this song a lot---mostly because the words were easy to learn and memorize but also because it painted a very comforting and cozy picture of Christ's birth (I can see why the song lends itself to children's programs and carol-sings). When I sing this song now, however, I don't enjoy it or appreciate it as I once did. I can't help but feel that it is one of the hymns which can perpetuate a far too cozy picture of Christmas, and so can even paint a false picture of Christ Himself.

For example, take the line "The little Lord Jesus/No crying he makes." If Jesus is fully God and fully human, isn't it likely that he, like all children, cried in times of hunger or discomfort? After all, we know very well that he wept when we was older, at the death of his beloved friend (John 11:35). So why are infant tears so out of the question? Granted, the song is probably only an attempt to capture a moment of peace and not implying that Christ never cried. But still, the line just doesn't sit well with me. I find much more truth and comfort a verse from another popular carol, "Once in Royal David's city," which says: "Tears and smiles like us He knew/And He feeleth for our sadness/And He shareth in our gladness."

Singing the lullaby-like "Away and a Manger" also brought to mind another well-known children's song of a different sort----the nursery rhyme "Rock-a-bye Baby." This is a song I certainly didn't like as a child; I was puzzled, even disturbed, by the lyrics: "When the bough breaks/the cradle will fall/and down will come baby/cradle and all."

What kind of warm and fuzzy lullaby details a terrible accident befalling a sleeping infant? Well, as it turns out, this song was likely written about Native-American women rocking their babies to sleep in birch-bark cradles that were suspended from tree branches. Often these branches would break and...down would go the poor baby.

No one likes to think about an innocent child enduring such a fate. And yet, think about what Christ, the one true innocent, endured. No matter how quiet and content he was in his manger-cradle, the reality is that he eventually grew up to suffer the severest of afflictions, for our sake. And his ‘bough' didn't just break as part of a terrible accident; it was deliberately broken by his own Father in order to accomplish the Lord's redemptive plan.

Now, of course I neither expect nor necessarily want all Christmas carols to be altered to include the graphic details of Christ's sufferings. Songs about silent nights and angelic proclaimations of peace and good will have a definite place in celebrating Jesus Christ---and many such songs do in fact express the whole story of salvation. However, this year I was once again reminded of how easy it is be so swept up in and distracted by the coziness of the Christmas story that your eyes stray from the truest and most important salvific image: the cross.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Fantastic thoughts. Thank you, Adele. You publicaly voiced what has often been discussed in our home. As you so aptly pointed out, the cradle rested in the shadow of the cross. May we live every day the same way.

Glenn Penner said...

Adele really does have a wonderful way of writing her thoughts down, doesn't she? I am proud to have her as a co-worker

Adele Konyndyk said...

Thanks for the kind words. It's a blessing to be able to engage in discussions on the Persecuted Church in this way. And it is always encouraging to hear that the words spoke to someone.

(And likewise, Glenn. It's privilege and a pleasure to be your co-worker and co-blogger!).