No Christmas would be complete without hearing children sing Away in a Manger.* Their sweet voices tell the story of the baby Jesus in a stable bed, not making a sound, with the softly lowing animals by his side. It’s a perfect picture…until it’s not.
A child stands still, without singing, furious that his parents make him participate. Another sings too fast or too slow, but just loud enough to make the choir director distracted and the congregation laugh. Others, dressed in their finest Christmas clothes, smile and wave at their parents or grandparents, who are busily snapping pictures or taking video to post on Facebook during the sermon.
Is anyone worshiping? What’s the purpose of the show, anyway? Will it make any eternal difference?
How many of the children, who sang Away in a Manger year after year, are in church this Christmas? How many have forgotten the words to the song, especially the last verse?
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray; bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.
How many of the children who’ve sung this carol are fit for heaven? Why is it always the few, and not the many?
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”*
He doesn’t care whether they wiggle or squirm, sing too high or low, fast or slow. Jesus just wants them to sing, because in singing hymns and carols, our children are instilled with the truth of the gospel. Jesus did come as a baby; he was laid in a manger, surrounded by animals. It may not have been as idealistic as the song conveys, but for a child, it is a marvelous thing.
I wonder how many adults, who’ve been years in rejection and denial, find themselves strolling up an aisle in Target or Walmart singing the words to this song. Does it stir something in their spirit? Does it stir something in yours?
Let the the children sing and, even with the distractions, worship. Jesus accepts their praise, because, after all, he calls us all to come to him as little children. May you and yours be drawn to him this Christmas season as a child, his child, and find a warm welcome from the Father.
The children are blessed.
*WORDS: St. 1, 2, anonymous, 1885; st. 3, John Thomas McFarland, 1851-1913. MUSIC: James R. Murray, 1841-1905.
*Matthew 19:14 NIV.