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Christmas peace and quiet

December 4, 2012

I was putting my outside Christmas decorations up today and took time to make sure that my nativity scene was in a place of prominence.  I mean, after all, that is what the season is about, right?  I ought to at least make sure that, amid the rest of the decorations out there, everybody sees that, shouldn’t I?

In any event, the whole thing was so very much an “in the holiday spirit” sort of thing that I was actually humming Christmas songs as I worked.  In getting the nativity set up just right, I was humming “Away in a Manger” as that seemed the most appropriate song for the occasion.  Then I came to this line:  “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”  Hmmm.  I wonder.  Could it be true that baby Jesus didn’t cry?

I did some research on the song.  While most attribute the song to Luther there are some reasons to doubt he wrote the lyrics.  In fact, nobody can say for sure who wrote them so, if you want to stick with the Luther theory, go ahead.  But there was no evidence one way or the other on the crying.  For some reason I was really hung up on this “no crying” thing.  And it has me thinking about our impressions of the entire incarnation.

There is a second vote for the no crying idea, at least sort of, in the song “”Silent Night.”  Obviously if baby Jesus was crying the whole idea of a silent night goes out the window.  I’ve tried to think of all the Christmas plays and movies I have seen, those who depict the infant Jesus, and, again, he seems to be a quiet baby.  I can’t remember a one that has him squalling.

In the Bible Luke is, well, silent, on the silent theory.  I am not sure we can take an absence of mention of crying as proof that there was no crying but at the least it doesn’t answer the question.  You might make the case that, had Jesus been screaming his lungs out, Mary might not have had the time to “ponder” anything.

My nativity set shows Jesus lying there in silence.  So does every artist’s image I can recall.  Frankly, every image I’ve seen presents an image of holiness and sacredness.  At the very least all these lyrics and images tell me that it is unlikely that the composers and artists had ever actually given birth themselves and probably had never been there when anyone else did.

I am OK with wanting to present the image of the birth of Jesus as a stylized holy thing.  But I can’t help but think that it really wasn’t like that.  Perhaps Mary was screaming in pain.  Perhaps a frantic Joseph was doing his best but was completely clueless.  Perhaps it was one massively messy event.  Perhaps Jesus did in fact scream his lungs out.  Perhaps God became man in an event that was no different than the millions of births before or since.  When I think about that, I am OK with it too.

In any event, if someday you see me smiling as I sing “Silent Night” or ‘Away in a Manger” now you know what I am thinking about.  I’ll be thinking about what it might have been like the night the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.


From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. Joseph Justice permalink

    Great points Tom. Though I do not personally care to see an artistic rendition of the manger with a crying baby Jesus, I think that most likely he cried on that night…at least some. You are right, though the Bible does not say anything about him crying or not crying at his birth, we know from Scripture that Jesus “became like us” in order to share in the human experience, ALL of the human experience (except for sin). With this in mind, it seems more likely that he did cry at the manger (or cave).

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