<Listen along by clicking here to hear the lullaby for yourself>
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son, and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
And on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what he been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
You’re Never Too Old for a Lullaby
Join me in prayer
Sing to us again tonight, God.
Sing the song of peace.
The song of fierce love.
The song that casts out fear.
The song that is so loud it drowns words of hate.
The song that is so sweet we can’t help but listen.
Sing the lullaby of grace,
The song of the angels tonight,
The song of the Christ child.
Sing it, so that we might know the tune,
And sing along.
I was putting Findley and Alistair to bed a few weeks ago. Being 3 years old and 5 years old, bedtime can sometimes feel like washing a cat: it’s impossible to come out unscathed. And there is much howling.
But eventually they settle in after hugs and kisses and high-fives and fist-bumps, all in that order. And then comes the song request.
And from their birth I’ve had a rotating playlist of songs I’ve sung them, a mix of 60’s folk music, Civil War era bluegrass, and hymns.
On this particular night they’ve requested the hymn Abide With Me,
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens;
Lord with me abide.
When other helpers
Fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, Lord
Abide with me.
I’ve sung that hymn at countless funerals, but it also works just as well for rocking a baby to sleep, because it’s meant to give hope and assurance. It’s a lullaby, really.
I get done with the verse and Alistair says, “Dad, who is that song written for?”
“For babies, when they’re very young. Or for when you’re very, very old,” I say. “It’s a lullaby.”
Finn yawned and then said, “Yeah dad, you’re never too old for a lullaby.”
I’d like to think he knows what he’s talking about. Because every Christmas we gather in here together, young and old, to hear this same story again and again and again, and it is essentially the story of the making of a lullaby.
Because we must realize by now, Beloved, that the God who can calm the waves, and the God who can raise the dead, could surely have shown up in this world in a variety of ways, holding power in the left hand and might in the right, adorned by the blasting of trumpets announcing a royal arrival.
But God does not do that.
No, God knows that if we’re going to have any sort of change in this world that humanity will buy into, God can’t pull puppet strings. God can’t control us. That kind of power and might will last for a while, but will only cause unending rebellion in the end.
We don’t like to be controlled.
No. Instead God’s going to pull the heartstrings. Instead God’s going to hold the finger of his mother in the left hand, and clutch a bit of straw in his right, and the trumpets will be quiet, and the only music in the stable that night will be the sound that we all know, my friends, the sounds that calms our hearts and calms our fears: the sound of a mother or a father humming their newborn baby to sleep.
This, Beloved, this is how God will get humans on board with the divine agenda of love and peace: through a lullaby.
A lullaby that we come to sing tonight. A lullaby that we bear witness to tonight as we sing,
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head…
A lullaby that we bear witness to tonight as we sing…
Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…
Because while we know that not all in the world is calm, and not every corner of the world is bright, we dare not tell that to our baby. Not because we want to delude them, I think, but as a father it is because I secretly harbor this hope against hope that my boys will be able to do what I have not figured out how to do quite yet: live with calming peace that is never shaken and a bright love that is never dimmed.
Because this world is like a fixer-upper with good bones, and I want my boys to see the possibilities that God has put here instead of all the ways it isn’t perfect.
This world has good bones, boys. This world has good bones, Beloved. We can do something amazing with this, by God.
And I have to think, friends, that that hope against hope that I have for my kids is the same hope against hope that God has for each of us.
And so every year. Every. Single. Year. we come here again to be sung that song in the hopes that, this year, a bit more calm and a bit more brightness will infect our world through God’s work in us.
That the lullaby would become true, and we can live as peacefully as a baby sleeps. Because not only unto you is a child born, but within you tonight peace and love and hope are being carried. This is the gift that Christ gives us again every year, so let’s open it and use it again.
You know, I don’t know what brought you here tonight. For some of us, it’s tradition. For some of us, well, we’re dragged here by our parents or partners. For some of us it is, curiosity, or habit, or piety, or devotion.
But one thing I do know: tonight you, yes you, are being held in the arms of God, who, like a mama, is rocking us and humming this beautiful lullaby of love and peace and joy so that it might be true in our lives, in Raleigh, in our world.
Because this place has good bones, Beloved.
Listen to the words. Have your heart moved again, by God.
Because my 5 year old is right: you’re never too old for a lullaby.