Yesterday we sang two Christmas carols with opposing views on redemption. Joy to the World rightly proclaims the goodness of creation, the tragic destruction of sin (“no more let sins and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground”), and God’s plan to save the entire earth, “far as the curse is found.” This is my favorite Christmas carol, both for its jubilant melody and sound theology.
Then we sang Away in a Manger, which, while quite touching (“Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care”), seems unduly influenced by Plato’s low view of creation. Why would someone think that, “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”? All waking babies cry, especially if they’re human. The notion that the infant Jesus, startled awake by lowing cattle, would just lie there in blissful serenity sounds docetic. If baby Jesus isn’t fully human, then he could not save you or me. For the sake of your salvation, let the baby cry!
Away in a Manger ends with the Platonic line, “And fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.” How can this fit with Joy to the World’s triumphant promise that God will redeem the entire earth? Why bother redeeming the world if no one will be here anyway? Reflective Christians will find it difficult to include both Joy to the World and Away in a Manger in the same worship service. If someone is paying attention to what they are singing, they’re bound to wonder how both songs can be true. They’re not.
Update: Dave asked for a revised version of Away in a Manger. Here is one way to do it. I’ve italicized my changes.
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes
The little Lord Jesus, some crying He makes.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And return from Heaven to live with us here.