Ready-to-use Discussion: Go Away (in a Manger)

It’s Christmas, and century-old carols are suddenly omnipresent. You can barely move for renditions of ‘Hark! The herald angels sing’, ‘In the bleak midwinter’, and that other one with the weird chorus that has no words, but requires you to hold your breath for ages. You know, that one…

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By far the worst Christmas carol of them all is also the most familiar: ‘Away in a manger’. This may sound controversial, and be greeted with a steely glare and a sharp intake of breath, but it’s true. The tune is far too high-pitched for any male over the age of seven to make any serious attempt to sing, but that’s far from the most problematic aspect. The lyrics of ‘Away in a manger’ aren’t just twee nonsense, they seem to completely change the Christmas story. Just look at these:  

‘The cattle are lowing, The baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus, No crying he makes.’

What do you think about these lyrics? Is there a problem with them?

Which is your favourite Christmas carol? Do you pay much attention to their lyrics? 

These lyrics portray Jesus as an angelic baby who causes his parents no stress and is a delight to be around. That misses the point. The Christmas story tells us something amazing about Jesus: he became fully human, not part-human, part-perfect child – fully human. This means that he most certainly would have cried. More than that, he’d have pooed, he’d have wet the bed, he’d have kept Mary and Joseph up at night and done all those things that real, actual human babies do. The miracle of Christmas isn’t that a perfect child was born, but that God became any kind of child!

This isn’t just one Christmas carol, so many of them present a slightly skewed version. Perhaps the reality of the Christmas story just isn’t exciting enough to take a week off work for…

Are you comfortable with Jesus being ‘fully human’?

Does this change the way you think of the Christmas story?

Why do you think Christmas carols present this ‘idealised’ depiction of the story? 

What is the real Christmas story like? Read Luke 2:1–21 and then discuss these questions:

How does this differ with the accounts of the story that we sing about?  

What is the same?

Where is the emphasis different between the two versions?

What impact do you think this has on people who may only hear the Christmas story via the medium of Christmas carols?  

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