Advent reflection: “the Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”?
I am pretty sure you must have already heard this beautiful Christmas carol a thousand times this Christmas season, yet, here it is one more time for your ready reference and listening pleasure.
No doubt this lovely carol is one of the most popular Christmas songs around the world. It was first published in the late 19th century. Some attribute it to Martin Luther as his “cradle song” for his children, but there’s no evidence to believe it. This carol doesn’t appear anywhere in Martin Luther’s writings. It is, in fact, difficult to trace the precise composer of this song. However, my purpose is not to find the original author, but the point is to show something more important: the message it conveys. When it has been sung and heard a zillion times, it creates a picture of Jesus Christ in our minds that’s far from reality.
First of all, it is probably not true that “the little Lord Jesus [was] asleep on the hay.” While it’s true that it was difficult for Mary and Joseph to find a place to rest in Bethlehem because there were so many people in a small town due to the census decreed by the King Herod. Nevertheless, the couple must have found a place in the house of a relative rather than in an “inn” or motel as is often believed. There were hardly any hotels or inns in that little town of Bethlehem about 2000 years ago. The Greek word “kataluma” which has often been translated “inn” could also simply mean a “guest room” or “guest chamber,” which was part of most houses in the first century Bethlehem. It’s quite possible that Jesus and May stayed in a private house of a relative but due to lack of enough space, they were placed outside near the animals. The animal quarters were part of the private houses in the first century and it does not suggest a barn or animal shelter away from the living quarters like in our day.
Secondly, it’s not true that “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” when he’s troubled by the lowing of the cattle around him. This might suggest Docetism or the belief that Jesus only seemed to have a human body and he was somehow not fully human because he was supernatural and divine. This is far from the truth in the New Testament. According to Apostle John (I John 4: 1-5) Jesus had a real body and soul. While on earth, Jesus was subject to everything that you and I feel and go through as human beings including temptations to sin. The only difference being that Jesus overcame those temptations rather than succumbing to them and thus remained sinless.
From his birth onward, Jesus did cry, was scared alone, and longed for his mother’s nourishment as well as being playful as an ordinary child. As he grew up, Jesus suffered in his ministry and felt rejection, disappointment with his relatives, and disciples. He was physically subject to all kinds of pain and suffering for the redemption of mankind. Unless Jesus Christ in human form knew our sorrows and completely related to our fallen humanity, he could not be the only savior who carried our suffering on the cross and completed redemption. Jesus Christ is the only savior because he’s the only one who knows what it means to be fully human and fully divine all in one body. He’s the only one who has suffered for our salvation. He’s the only one who has carried our sufferings and pains in his body. He’s the only one who has not only permitted the evil to come near him, faced it squarely, and defeated it through his death and resurrection by coming out alive from the grave. Therefore, this Christmas, let’s see Jesus Christ not just as a beautiful, lowly, helpless infant Jesus, but as the Savior of the world who has overcome suffering, pain, death, and evil in his life and death. I close here with the words of N. T. Wright, a great biblical scholar, who put it succinctly:
“Jesus doesn’t explain why there is suffering, illness, and death in the world. He brings healing and hope. He doesn’t allow the problem of evil to be the subject of a seminar. He allows evil to do its worst to him. He exhausts it, drains its power, and emerges with new life.” ~ N. T. Wright, from Simply Good News.