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I expect you may have heard your pastor complain about the line in “Away in a Manger” that proclaims, “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” I admit that I have been one of those pastors. Though I did not ban this song from Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I pastored for sixteen years, I did sometimes remind my congregation that the baby Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood baby, and therefore he surely cried in his first day of life because that’s what real, flesh-and-blood babies do. The true miracle of Christmas is the Incarnation of the Word of God. In Jesus, God became fully human, even as Jesus was also fully divine. This is a marvelous, mysterious miracle. And it means that, among other things, Jesus fully participated in human experience, including crying.
Yet something happened in my life that made me wonder if the baby Jesus did indeed receive some special help to keep him from crying in the manger. Surely his parents needed the sleep!
My daughter, Kara, was born in November 1994. Though she was a delightful baby most of the time, in her first weeks she did have a habit of crying uncontrollably in the early evening. This was not a major problem for my wife and me, except that Irvine Presbyterian Church wanted us to play the holy family in the Christmas Eve children’s pageant. The timing was perfectly wrong. We would be in front of a sanctuary full of people at precisely the time Kara would be bawling. Not exactly conducive to a celebrative Christmas Eve service! How would we be able to sing “Silent Night” with “the baby Jesus” howling away?
Nevertheless, my wife, Linda, and I agreed to give it a try. See the photo below for the proof. We formulated various contingency plans, fully expecting Kara to cry. Yet, when it was time for us to make our grand entrance, Kara was wide-awake, but strangely silent. We stood before the congregation for many minutes, ready to try and comfort Kara when the inevitable crying began. But Kara rested in Linda’s arms, happy, peaceful, and miraculously quiet. In fact, she never once made a single peep while she played her crucial role as the baby Jesus. And, if you can believe it, that was the end of her evening crying episodes. She never again had them.
Now I can imagine young parents, upon hearing this story, rushing to try and get their infants to play the role of baby Jesus. Unfortunately, however, I don’t think there’s anything magic about what happened with Kara, so I wouldn’t recommend this strategy. I’ve sometimes wondered if God simply wanted to play a gracious trick on me, the one who had so often complained about the “no crying he makes” line in a beloved carol. It’s as if God was saying to me: “See, I can do whatever I want! And, yes, I can even help a little baby to stop crying . . . your baby!”
I’m not sure about this, however. But what I do know for sure is that God really became human in Jesus. The little baby who may or may not have cried on the night of his birth was the Word of God Incarnate. And, as a real human being, he felt the joys and sorrows, the delights and pains of human life. More importantly, because he was fully human, Jesus was able to take our sin upon himself, thus breaking the power of death and offering true life in him. When we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior, then the miracle of Christmas takes place in us.