I so enjoy listening to Christmas music the whole month of December. Of course, one of my favorites is “Away in a Manger.” How could God send His Son who was with Him at the creation of the world to be born as a helpless baby? How could He? Only because He loved us that much!
Now that we’ve wound pre-lit garlands around the porch railing, I think we have signs of Christmas almost everywhere. I admit I did contemplate not asking for everything to be pulled down from the attic–so much work to put it out and then in January to put it away again when I can do little myself. But Charles and the children said of course we’d have a tree and all the decorations. So here we are again celebrating with twinkling lights, stockings hung, manger scenes proclaiming the reason for everything.
Our niece, Evelyn, and her two teenage children, along with Ulysses, our gardener, helped Charles set up the life size nativity scene on the lawn. Will and his two tall sons put the Christmas tree up with glowing star on top. We had a chance to talk about many of the ornaments as they hung them on the tree, including hand crocheted snow flakes by my Aunt Emma and our friend Juanita, a cardinal on its nest which was our first Christmas tree ornament, handmade candy canes and tiny brass instruments. Charli and Kaison helped me set out the manger scenes inside. I told them they could arrange the shepherds, the wise men, the angel, even Mary and Joseph, where they wanted in each set, but I asked that Baby Jesus be in the center of each scene.
I never cease to be amazed at the wisdom of children. Charli considered carefully as she placed the figures, disturbed when she discovered that one set had no Baby Jesus. We found another one that would be beautiful in place of the lost one, though it is ceramic in a wooden manger. We agreed it was perfectly fine. Then Kaison expressed all our feelings when he said, “Without the Baby Jesus we’d just have a group of people here.”
As the children arranged the figures, including the creche made of olive wood from Bethlehem, lines of “Away in a Manger” began to play in my head.
What memories and thoughts play through your mind as you sing or listen to “Away in a Manger” or contemplate the Babe in the manger? Here is one of my childhood reflections lifted from my book Christmas Carols in my Heart:
We had a stable at Pinedale. It was a small gabled building with stone walls and a slate roof–a tiny imitation of our own big house but with no windows and, of course, no chimneys. Inside the stable was a manger. We didn’t have donkeys or sheep or camels. But we did always have at least one milk cow.
Though the Bethlehem stable Luke described was probably not stone, my image when we sang “Away in a Manger” was of our own stable, its interior dark as a cave even at midday because there were no windows. I imagined it as it was on Saturdays when my brothers had just shoveled out the muck and laid down a thick layer of fluffy, dry oak leaves.
The manger was in one corner and it was a generous one worn smooth as silk on the inside by the licking of many rough tongues. I examined it while Scamp, our cow, was out grazing on a grassy slope. Here was a deep wooden box, rough on the outside, smooth on the inside. I ran my fingers over the boards where, between cracks, I found a vestige of sweet grain clinging. I squinted my eyes to picture hay cushioning a baby wrapped tightly in swaddling clothes. For a while I thought swaddling clothes were thick, bunglesome things like some of our heavy quilts, wrapped around and around the baby until he almost smothered and would have “waddled” had he tried to walk. Then I was told the clothes were strips of cloth that a mother wrapped around and around her baby’s body to confine his limbs so they would not grow crooked.
With arms imprisoned, He wouldn’t have been free to curl His fingers around mine as my baby sister did. But He’d have smiled even as a very tiny infant, I was sure, and His eyes would have gazed into mine with recognition. Because this was Jesus, not just a baby.
As a child standing before a real-life manger, I could feel Mary’s warm hand on my shoulder, hear Joseph clear his throat. Then, the soft thud of many feet approaching. I imagined the shadowy flapping of shepherds’ plain wraps as they approached up the hill outside. The stars were so bright in the dome of the night sky as to be almost touchable, even though, in reality, the sun was shining, and there was Scamp the cow lifting her head to look at me curiously as if to say, “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost. Somebody step on your grave or something?”
I could smell hay the instant we began to sing “Away in a Manger.” Maybe it’s not surprising that I met the risen Savior at a very young age sitting on a rock just up the hill from our little stable. An older sister, Ginger, explained to me how to become a Christian and prayed with me. I felt right then that I was one of the children sitting on Jesus’ knee after He scolded His disciples and told them to “let the little children come to me” (Matt. 19:14)
Back to the present: I wholeheartedly agree with Kaison. Without the Baby Jesus we’d all be just a lot of people, lost people. Without the manger and the cross, we’d be a hopeless people. But good news! The Baby Jesus did come, grew up a perfect Lamb, and died for us on a cruel cross, then was raised again on the third day by the power of God, ascended into heaven after being seen by hundreds of witnesses, and sits now at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.
The Baby Jesus, the grown Jesus, the sacrificing Jesus has been found! Because God loves us that much!
Away in a manger no crib for a bed the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head…