No doubt you have sung that much-loved carol, “Away in a manger”, this Christmas.
The traditional words offer a heavily romanticised, sickly-sweet, unrealistic take on the infant Jesus. Who ever heard of a baby that made NO noise??
I have been collecting rewrites of this carol. Each version reworks the carol so that the realism of the day is evident — especially highlighting the plight of the family as refugees, seeking safety in another country.
That part of the story resonates so strongly with our contemporary world: the number of refugees across the globe is the largest it has ever been, and it continues to grow as warfare afflicts country after country.
In the midst of this despair and turmoil, I wish for the traditional greeting to become a reality through acts of justice and compassion for all who are displaced, homeless, seeking the safety of refuge in another country: Merry Christmas! May it be so!
How ancient and lovely
Words by British writer Rebecca Dudley
(Shine on Star of Bethlehem, Christian Aid)
How ancient and lovely, this news of a star,
a baby, a mother, the kings from afar.
Come close now, Lord Jesus, we ask you to stay
and show us your face in your people today.
What star shall we follow but one that leads here
to a baby born homeless and a family in fear?
What heaven shall we long for but one that starts there
for all the world’s children in your tender care?
We thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth;
for the light in the darkness that shone at your birth,
for life in its fullness that you promise today,
and the hope of a baby asleep in the hay.
Away and in danger
Words by Shirley Erena Murray
Away and in danger, no hope of a bed,
the refugee children, no tears left to shed
look up at the night sky for someone to know
that refugee children have no place to go.
The babies are crying, their hunger awakes,
the boat is too loaded, it shudders and breaks;
humanity’s wreckage is thrown out to die,
the refugee children will never know why.
Come close, little children, we hold out our hand
in rescue and welcome to shores of our land –
in *aroha, touching your fear and your pain,
with dreams for your future when peace comes again.
*aroha is Maori for ‘warm embracing love’
alternative line “in touching, in healing’
If I saw my toddler
Words by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.
If I saw my toddler with hands in the air
In fearful surrender to someone, somewhere,
I’d search for a people in some other place
Who practiced their preaching and showed love and grace.
If I had to flee from the madness of war—
From terror and violence and things I abhor,
I’d search for a nation with arms open wide,
With safety and beauty and friendships inside.
Be with me, Lord Jesus, as I seek to be
A friend to the stranger and poor refugee,
And as I remember you once had no bed,
May I give up fear and give welcome instead.
This hymn was inspired by a photo of a small Syrian child, hands in the air, fearing that a camera lens was a gun: www.snopes.com/syria-refugee-child-surrender/
Biblical References: Leviticus 19:34; Matthew 25:35; Luke 2:7; Hebrews 13:1; 1 John 4:18
Tune: James Ramsey Murray, 1887 (“Away in a Manger”)
Text: Copyright © 2015 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
See also https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/resonating-with-christmas-a-story-of-restless-travel-and-seeking-refuge/# and https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/19/what-can-we-know-about-the-birth-of-jesus/#