I love all the Christmas carols. I often set a cd to playing while I’m knitting or baking. I found a good station on the car radio so I hear carols wherever I go. They are all special, not only for their message, but for the memories I recall when I hear them. But I’ve chosen Away In A Manger to feature today because of two things.
First, recent renditions of that carol. My precious Charli (my youngest great-granddaughter, aged seven) sang Away In A Manger last week with the children’s choir at my church. It was so sweet it brought tears to my eyes. And today her little brother Kaison sang and did motions for Away In A Manger with our preschool choir. They were very active and cute pantomiming sleeping, rocking a baby in arms, and then with wonderful volume shouting the name of Jesus.
Second, I heard on the radio a new Christmas song in which the line “Away in a manger” is changed to “A way in a manger.” In other words, God made “a way” for us to claim a place in heaven through sending His Son Whose first night on earth was spent laid in a manger.
These two things led me to recall an early memory I have of feelings, imaginings, wonderings about what all Away In A Manger was about.
We had a stable at Pinedale, the home where I grew up. 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 stately 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. 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 or hay.
The manger was in one corner, and it was a generous one, plenty big and worn smooth on the inside by the licking of many rough tongues. I examined it while Scamp the current cow was out grazing on a grassy slope. I ran my fingers over the boards where, between cracks, I found bits of sweet grain clinging. I squinted my eyes to picture hay cushioning the 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 learned the cloths were strips an expectant mother prepared in order to wrap them around and around the baby’s body, confining his limbs so they would not be crooked as he grew. With arms imprisoned, He wouldn’t be free to curl His fingers around mine as my baby sister did. But He’d smile even as a very tiny infant, I was sure, and His eyes would gaze into mine with recognition. Because He was Jesus, not just a baby.
Then I’d feel Mary’s warm hand on my shoulder, hear Joseph clear his throat, and there would be the soft thud of many feet approaching. I’d slip out the door and imagine the shadowy flapping of shepherd’s plain wraps as they approached up the hill. The stars would be so bright in the dome of night sky as to be almost touchable, even though in reality the sun was shining and there was Scamp 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. And maybe it’s not really surprising that I met the risen Savior myself at a very young age sitting on a rock just up the hill from our 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’ knees after he scolded his disciples and told them to “let the little children come unto me.”
Today, Christmas Eve 2018, as I contemplate the dear old story of His birth, the tune we’re familiar with, Away In A Manger, hums through my mind. The significance of His birth is overwhelming, compelling, and so full of hope. He came once as a baby, He’s coming again as a King!
Lord Jesus, born in a stable where Your tiny limbs were secured in swaddling clothes, I thank You and praise You for becoming the Man of Sorrows on Calvary. Your little boy legs must have flashed so fast as you, when a young boy, ran just as our grandsons’ do. Yet then You, as a man, God/man, let soldiers nail Your feet to a tree. I can’t understand it. But I believe. Please accept my tiny grain of faith as I worship You this Christmas. Amen.