Much of our messed up theology and ideas of who Jesus is may start very early as children and even around the tiny tables of our Sunday school classrooms. Right now, little kids all around the world are participating in Christmas plays at their churches and you can be sure "Away in a Manger" is being sung in their sweet little voices. This sweet, lullaby Christmas carol could be where we all start seeing Jesus in a way that is not accurate to the Bible. Before you accuse me of Christmas carol heresy, let me explain.
The lyrics to the third verse are:
The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes
No crying He makes. The picture is just beautiful, right? It's just like the silent nativities that sit on our shelves, so still and perfectly quiet. But there's nothing in any of the biblical accounts of Jesus's birth that says He didn't cry. I imagine this line was included not just because it rhymes well but because we are told over and over in Scripture that Jesus was sinless - so any good parent would assume that means He didn't cry as a baby, right? Since when is a baby crying a sin?!
Right from the start, preschoolers learning their first Christmas carols are learning Jesus was so good He didn't even cry. I can't think of a more inaccurate portrayal of the Savior and one that might damage our relationship with the Lord. How can we approach the Lord, confess, and be open about our shortcomings and need for Him if we think deep down, "This guy never cried, how could He understand my pain?"
The Bible gives us many accounts of where Jesus not only cried but was tempted, agonized, felt angry, and displayed frustration. When Jesus's friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept upon reaching his home and encountering Lazarus' grieving family. He would later raise Lazarus from the dead and display one of His most memorable and joyous miracles, yet He cried and mourned with those who mourned. Jesus hates death more than anyone. So much so, He died on a cross so you and I would never have to die.
One account of Jesus preparing to enter Jerusalem says that "He set His face like a flint" towards the city. This means He was determined to carry out His purpose to be the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world but as I pondered this I wonder if "like a flint" means there might have been burning tears of determination in His eyes reflecting the light of His father. Sometimes our tears are not sadness but our will welling up.
Lastly, prior to the crucifixion, Jesus spent a night in the Garden of Gethsemane, crying out to the Lord in emotional agony over what was about to happen. The biblical account says that Jesus's sweat was mixed with blood because He was in such distress. Yet, He continued to carry out His Father's perfect plan to bring eternal life to all who would believe. This does not sound anything like a sleepy lullaby - it has all the makings of a dramatic, painful orchestral score.
We grow up with the mindset and understanding that this Savior in whom we place our trust for well-being and ultimately salvation didn't make a peep upon entry to the world. Not so. Hebrews 4:15 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." Our Savior not only cried but He soiled His diapers, He felt the discomfort of the straw in the manger, and He needed to be consoled and rocked in the night.
Later, He would experience ravenous hunger and exhaustion. He would face the ultimate demon and decide to stick by His father's word rather than give in to empty promises. Jesus would experience being misunderstood and threatened - He would be chased and cast out. His own friends would turn on Him and leave him for dead. Sounds like someone I could sit with to share my own problems.
This Christmas, as you hum your favorite carols, remember what the Bible says about Jesus. The songs are all beautiful and are a wonderful way to pass on our Christian heritage but sometimes they misinform and get in the way of a real relationship with the Savior. A Savior who identifies with you in your struggles, in your pain and yes, in your tears.