Because I love singing hymns and love my children very much,  I  prefer to share a hymnal with them while singing in church, rather than look up at words on a screen.  It enables me to  hold the hymnal with one hand, and when they were smaller,  I cuddled their little shoulders with my other hand.  Even when they have grown, and we are just standing side by side, it seems to connect us more with each other when we wonder together at the path of the bass or descant line in relation to the melody line, and ponder the words  the writer chose to convey his heart in poetic form.

“Away in the Manger” is hands-down the most common song heard at children’s Christmas pageants.  It is a cozy little song about  baby Jesus being wrapped and snuggled in, well…laid in a manger.  Dress a bunch of kids  in some home-made costumes and one can easily pull off another heart warming stage production of how things were when Jesus came to earth so long ago.  And while we’re busy making everything cozy,  lets change the words a bit to make the song more comfortable to sing;  after all we should sing what we mean and mean what we sing, right?

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head,
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
I love you, Lord Jesus; look down from the sky,
And stay by my side until morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
Close by me for ever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care,
And fit us for heaven. to live with Thee there.

“And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there,” makes me a little uncomfortable when I think about the actual meaning of becoming “fit for Heaven.” I hate to admit it, but I am rather like a demanding child  who  would rather sing the newer version of this sweet song; “And take me to Heaven to live with Thee there.” In my mind I pray, “If You really love me, Lord, you would bless me by just taking me there. And how ’bout we skip the getting fit part.”

Before we were married, my resourceful, soon-to-be husband, crafted a sit-up bench for me.  It was a long board  he had carefully sanded, stained and attached loops of braided bailing twine at one end for my feet to fit through.  Being such a thoughtful young farmer, he felt  I could increase the benefits of sit-ups as I hung with my head lower than my feet on this slant board of torture.  The gift even included a sticker chart with little foil stars to chart my progress.

Okay,  I can say it now, 20 some years later;   I thought it was the most horrible gift I had ever received.  In fact, I thought it was  an all-around winner for “The Worst Christmas Gift EVER” award. Not only was it ugly, it was cumbersome and implied that I needed some improving, some tightening of my core muscles, and some increasing of my overall fitness before I could become his wife.  Not only was I offended at the inference,  I was lazy and lacked the discipline to endure the daily pain of sit-ups required to make me physically fit.

Now, in my fifties I realize: “No pain; nothing gained.”

Becoming “fit for Heaven” as the little children sing,  means becoming like Jesus.  Just as getting physically fit may entail pain; becoming like Jesus may require some suffering and that is not the Christmas gift I would like to find under my tree this year, thank you very much.

Many years ago, there was another cumbersome, unwanted, home-made wooden gift, but this one was left rough and splintery, not carefully sanded.  It  was on this instrument of torture that Jesus’ ripped-to-shreds-back shifted up and down as He tried to fill his lungs with air, dying to Himself in our place.  The hideous cross was actually a loving gift that in turn gave us the “Greatest Gift EVER,” the gift of eternal life.

This Christmas, I may find an unwanted gift under my tree. In fact, I might find something that doesn’t even resemble a gift, but because I  do not look like Jesus, (I am not naturally prone to be loving,  patient or kind any more than I am prone to be self-sacrificing,) I may be given a very loving gift; for God, in His unfathomable love for us, invites us to know Jesus, to be like Jesus, not only in the power of His resurrection, but also in the fellowship of His suffering. (Philippians 3:10)

So I ask You, Lord Jesus to be near me through any trials you carefully choose for me.  Please stay close by me forever and love me;  I so desperately need  your tender love and care.  Thank you for blessing me by making me fit, no matter what it takes.

And thank You that someday, You will take me to Heaven to live with You there.

Away in a Manger


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