“Confessions of a Bad Christian” – The Cattle are What???

One of my contributions with this modest little blog is to continually ask the tough questions.

Recently I listened to  “Away in a Manger” at a Christmas program. You likely know verse three of the song.

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

As I listened an important series of inquiries popped into my head. What noise were the cattle making when they started lowing? Was this normal cow talk? Did lowing just sound better than mooing in the lyric? And then the most important question came to mind…what is wrong with me?

I can’t answer the last question but I can help with the others. Lowing is in fact defined as…

The characteristic sound uttered by cattle; a moo.   –  dictionary.com

So Jesus was awakened by the characteristic sound uttered by a cow. The next part of the lyric is disturbing to those of us who are parents. If any of the babies who grew up in our household were awakened by cattle lowing they would be squalling (the characteristic sound uttered by a ticked off baby; a scream).  I also discovered that this verse was not original to the song. It was added in the early 1900’s by a Methodist minister named John T. McFarland for a children’s program.

I remember as a child singing “Away in a Manger” and picturing the baby Jesus with this beatific smile on his face and a little halo hovering over his head. The animals were swaying and smiling like the campfire scene from the movie “Three Amigos”. Mary and Joseph were awed spectators as the baby Jesus acknowledged the shepherds and welcomed them to his place (the earlier lyrics told us he didn’t have a crib).

My images of the baby Jesus were indeed childish. But I wonder if we don’t carry a little of that into our adult Christian journey. This Christmas I have taken time to think about the implications of the incarnation.

C.S. Lewis called the incarnation “the Grand Miracle.” He wrote: “The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation…. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this…. It was the central event in the history of the Earth–the very thing that the whole story has been about” (Miracles, chapter 14).

By a miracle that passes human comprehension, the Creator entered his creation, the Eternal entered time, God became human–in order to die and rise again for the salvation of all people. “He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still … (to) the womb … down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him” (Miracles, chapter 14).

Take a moment to meditate on the mystery of that. Fully God and fully man. I am sure the little Lord Jesus had the normal response to being awakened by cattle. His swaddling clothes had to be changed just like any baby. Chuck Swindoll described Him as diety in diapers.

How does that affect me this Christmas? When I suffer Jesus understands. He has been there. When I am lonely or feeling betrayed He understands. When I am joyful and laughing He understands. By becoming like me Jesus can empathize with me. He gets it.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.   I John 2

The miracle in the manger was not Jesus ignoring stupid cows. The miracle was God becoming flesh.

Merry Christmas!