This Advent season I am going to reflect on a hymn or carol daily as part of my spiritual practices. I am not sure where all these reflections will take me, but in conversation with my spiritual director, I am going to leave room for both “the head stuff” and “the heart stuff.” Some days might be more of one or another. I invite you to join me, as together we make space to listen, and be present, to sense what God might be up to.
I am a little behind because of internet outages and a staff retreat. So today is catch-up day, including catch-up day on my Advent devotionals.
As I mentioned earlier this week, my congregation had its Sunday School Christmas program on Sunday morning during worship. One of the things that struck me though after the program, was the way the congregation as a whole sung their hearts out during one hymn during communion in particular, “Away in a Manger.”
Away in a manger, no crib for his 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.
As the first verse concluded, the congregation’s voices just seemed to get louder. What may have started as a lullaby, turned into something more.
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 cradle till morning is nigh.
There are times in worship, like in life, where things don’t go as expected or planned. These are opportunities for us to admit that we aren’t in control. They are also opportunities, I think, to remember that worship isn’t really about us. It’s about God. It’s about the people of God gathered together, to come to God and offer our praise and thanks, prayers and hopes, fears and pains, joys and sorrows. It’s about the people of God, being renewed and grounded in the Word and Sacraments, and then being sent out with both, to love and serve.
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask you to stay
close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care
and fit us for heaven, to live with you there.
As the congregation continued to sing, the third verse almost sounded like a confident and direct prayer. Voices I never hear singing any hymns during communion, were singing on Sunday. It was beautiful. It mattered.
These words and this melody transcend time. I am not meaning to wax nostalgically here, but much like “Silent Night” can transcend time and space when sung by candle light on Christmas Eve; “Away in a Manger,” can help us reflect and remember God in Christ, as God took on the most vulnerable being, that of a baby, to be with us, and for us. It can also open us up, to memories and stories. But perhaps most importantly, it can help us name our need and hopes to be close to God. It can help us name too our hope, even though we often lose sight of it, that we (and all our neighbors and strangers) are, “the dear children in your tender care.”
I have been sitting with this, this week. I am not sure what if anything it means, but I am grateful for the experience on Sunday when I sensed something was a little different. I wonder what else God might be up to this week?