By Brandon LaReau
I love song titles which ask a question. A question mark in the title means the lyrics are full of story, the best songs tell a story. If the best story is that of Jesus’ birth, then it follows that all songs about His birth should be titled with a question.
“What child is this?”
More than any other year, 2020 and I have asked each other more questions than I was prepared for. Will I serve my community? How can I help? How can I help those I usually look away from? What are my responsibilities? Who do I vote for? What do I believe? Why do I feel guilty for still having a job? What do I say to my friend whose mother is in the hospital? What parts of my ‘routine’ have to change? These questions, of course, all have answers. Answers found in the Bible. Answers found through prayer. Sometimes the answer is laughter, sometimes tears, sometimes surrounded by those you love, and sometimes completely alone.
“Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?”
While not usually thought of as the theological lynchpin of the song, this question carries an important message. Jesus could have been born anywhere, to any wealthy family, by the warmth of a fire, in any palace. For me, it is His manger birth which reminds me of the earthly side of Jesus. It is easy to think of Him in brilliant white robes and to picture Him in Heaven. It is much harder to imagine Him stubbing His toe on a rock He didn’t see, getting sand in His mouth while playing in Egypt, or scraping His knee chasing a dog down a side street. Why lies He in such mean estate? To remind all of us that the King of Kings started His earthly life in a small wooden structure, open to the elements, full of animals and their waste, under a bright star, “whom shepherds guard and angels sing”. As we contemplate all of the carnage of 2020, and struggle to make sense of it all, the clearer it becomes that we cannot make sense of any of it. That, family, is the point. That is faith. That is the manger birth. Despite being unable to see any of you for months on end, the church is more alive now than ever before. Grad student peers of mine who have never prayed a day in their lives have asked me to pray with them. Charitable donations are skyrocketing nationwide despite people having generally less money in their pockets. Hope and faith are alive and well in 2020. The struggles of humanity, the pain and suffering, the unanswerable questions, THAT is why Jesus had a manger birth. That is why He lies in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding.
“The King of Kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone Him.”
The lyric is clear: loving hearts. Not Republican hearts, not Democrat hearts. Not ‘Boomer’ hearts, not Millennial hearts. Not gay hearts, or straight hearts, or cis hearts, or trans hearts, or non-binary hearts. Not black hearts, or white hearts, or Latinx hearts, or Middle Eastern hearts. Not rich hearts, or poor hearts. LOVING hearts. Jesus brings salvation to every loving heart, despite any of the labels and walls we attempt to build in secular society. Let loving hearts enthrone Him. Whether you have gold, frankincense, or myrrh to offer; or all you have to offer is a song. The lyric is very clear here as well: peasant or king. With so many uncertainties in our future, 2021 promises to be a year of equal change and turmoil. Through all the upheaval there is a constant, the salvation brought by Jesus. His manger birth. Let Jesus be the hope you are seeking. Wise men still seek Him. “Haste, haste to bring Him laud”, “Hail, hail the Word made flesh”, “Joy, joy for Christ is born”.
“The babe, the son of Mary.”