There are some things that often seem more sacred than God. One of these is the ‘children’s favourite’ Christmas carol. Just as I sang it seventy years ago, and probably my parents sang it nearly a hundred years ago, still today Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without little children singing ‘Away in a manger’ to the delight of their admiring parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts.
Lovely, if you don’t stop and think of the words. But if you do, are we sure we want our children to be singing this kind of thing?
The first line is obscure. Where is this ‘away’ in a manger? The point of the Christmas message is that God has come close to us, so why give the impression that it happened far away? And what’s a ‘manger’ anyway? I suppose most of us know that it is a feeding trough for cattle, but even when I was a child the word didn’t belong in everyday language. To most people, ‘manger’ is just a special name for whatever it was the baby Jesus lay in. And what does ‘no crib for a bed’ mean? Even I as a child had no idea what that meant. What we call it is a cradle or a cot. A ‘crib’ is something you use to cheat in an exam!
Then there’s this ‘look down from the sky’ business. Do we really want children to think that Jesus is up there among the stars and the planets? Even worse, do we want them to think that only up in heaven will they be able to live with Jesus, and even then only if they are ‘fit’ to live with him?
But the worst bit is in the second verse: ‘but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes’. What an unnatural baby! I suppose the lesson of this is supposed to be that Jesus, being perfect, never cried because crying is wrong and children must always be like Jesus and never cry. What sadistic Victorian thought that up?
Perhaps the day will come when parents and teachers will suddenly wake up and realise what an awful song this is to teach to children. In the meantime, we can only hope that the children of today and tomorrow have no idea of what it all means anyway!