How ‘Away in a Manger’ Ruins the Greatest Story Ever Told

I published this in January 2015 when I first started my blog. I’ve done a little editing and added a photo, but it is essentially the same message, and I haven’t changed my mind about ‘Away in a Manger.’

It’s been a busy Christmas season, and now that I have a little down time I can reflect on Epiphany, which ends the 12 days of Christmas on 1/6/16.

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Epiphany is when the Three Wise Men visited the Baby Jesus. photo by Shallow Reflections

I wonder if one reason Santa Claus flying around on a sled with 8 tiny reindeer is so believable over the birth story of Jesus, is because people sang ‘Away in a Manger’ one too many times?

I know….I know it is a staple Christmas carol and has a lovely tune and is easy to sing. But you have to admit it is far-fetched. “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”

Who can relate to a newborn baby who doesn’t cry even in the midst of a bunch of noisy, smelly cattle? He was born a human but according to that song, not really.

Here is a better line from a lesser sung carol entitled ‘Once in Royal David’s City:’ “Jesus is our childhood’s pattern; day by day, like us He grew, He was little, weak and helpless, tears and smiles like us He knew; and He feeleth for our sadness, and He shareth in our gladness.”

He cried, he peed and pooped in his diaper, cut teeth, toddled around, and bumped his head on the coffee table as he learned to walk. He delighted his parents with his first smile and giggle.

He was like us.

What about those three Oriental kings bearing gifts who trudged to see the baby following a star? Epiphany commemorates their arrival at the birth cave. (He was actually born in a cave not a cute little barn, but the crèche industry would probably go bankrupt if they tried to sell little crèche caves).

Turns out the kings came from Ethiopia so they actually traveled from the west toward Bethlehem. And the gifts they brought were just weird. How many times have you seen Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh on someone’s baby register?

Gold makes sense; it is a precious metal and Mary and Joseph could have used it to start a college fund. Frankincense was resin from a tree and when burned gave off a mild aroma used in worship. Okay, kind of strange, but since Jesus is God, this was an appropriate gift.

But Myrrh! Do you know that back in those days they used myrrh in the embalming process? I can almost see Mary’s horrified expression as she unwrapped that little bombshell.

Here are the words to the 4th verse of ‘We Three Kings:’ “Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

Talk about the ultimate ‘Debbie Downer’ of this gift giving frenzy!

But we’ve read ahead and we know how the human story of Jesus tragically ends. It isn’t popular to mention this time of year during the glorious joy of birth, and presents, and Santa Claus. It’s messy like tears, dirty diapers, smelly cattle and dark, cold caves.

But do not despair.

The words of the 3rd verse of ‘Good Christian Friends, Rejoice’ says it better than I can: “Good Christian friends, rejoice with heart and soul and voice, now ye need not fear the grave; News, news! Jesus Christ was born to save! Calls you one and calls you all to gain his everlasting hall. Christ was born to save, Christ was born to save!”

What do you think of the words of ‘Away in the Manger?’ Do songs like this give a warped view of the Christian Story? Have you had an epiphany recently? Ever? What was it?

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14 thoughts on “How ‘Away in a Manger’ Ruins the Greatest Story Ever Told

  1. This is a great comment on how we often twist the facts to make them more palatable to the stories we tell ourselves. On a similar note, my husband ruined The Little Drummer Boy for me this holiday by pointing out to my that it’s really nothing more than fan fiction. That’s true for both songs really when you think about it. Found you via #blogsharelearn.

    • I HATE the song “Little Drummer Boy,” and wouldn’t feel bad if I never heard it again. Give your husband a high five for me. What I’ve realized in my Christian path is that the words of songs can have some really bad theology in them if you pay attention to what they say. For me, it is important to keep the story straight even though I may enjoy some of the tunes and traditions of the songs. Thanks so much for stopping by Katy, and leaving a comment.

  2. Ps, I remember reading the “pre-edit” version last year! ☺️ My, how time flies. (Flys or flies? I always get confused with those) ?

  3. I agree, Molly. How does one relate to a baby who doesn’t cry during such a time?
    I am sure Mary just about croaked when opening the myrrh. At least the myrrh wouldn’t go to waste in that instance.
    I’ve had an epiphany before. When finding Jesus! 🙂 I like the words to the last song listed much better!

    • Me too Amanda. Thanks for being a faithful reader of my blog for a whole year! Can you believe it! Time does fly. (Don’t do plural and then you don’t need to know if it is flys or flies). 🙂

    • Yes, Marcia, it makes me chuckle and helps me remember he was both human and divine, facing all of the usual human challenges during his stint here on earth. I feel like I can be myself in all my human frailties and still hear the savior call me ‘beloved.’

    • Thanks my dear friend. I’m excited to have a year under my belt. We’ll see what year 2 brings! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, because it makes it all worthwhile when that happens. hugs

  4. All I know is, I still cry when I hear a bunch of 5 year old singing this at Christmas even though I am a cynic. And when my 5 year old grandson stood and sang it right through to the family at Christmas, I cried rivers. It also reminds me of being 5 and wearing a halo in the school nativity – very bad casting!!!!!! 🙂 Great piece for ephiphany by the way.

    • Thanks Roxanne. There really are some crazy lyrics out there if you think about them. I believe congrats are in order to you, too, as I think you started yours one year ago too. Let’s drink a toast to our second year as blogging buddies!

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