The secret words of the manger


As I lie in bed this night my heart and mind are tuned to the words that caught in my throat during tonight's Christmas Eve service. Who knew "Away in a Manger" could be so powerful? This beloved carol, so often ridiculed for espousing an un-crying Jesus, as if God incarnate wouldn't wail with hunger or the need for sleep, held words for me tonight. 

It's the first half of the last verse: "Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray," that broke me open. If you've known the song for years the tune comes easily, without effort. Those last five words, though, have slid by me for decades. 

"And love me, I pray".....I pray that you love me, Jesus. 

When I was in a college ministry I first heard the term "Jesus is my boyfriend music," which referred to a whole genre of worship songs that was singer-centric. "I love you, God. You are the best, Jesus. Hold me close, never let me go. Whisper sweet nothings, etc., etc., etc. After becoming aware of this trend the words started to creep me out a little bit. Not that there isn't precedent for it, some of Christianity's most beloved mystic-saints had rather erotic visions/experiences of Christ. Yet it can seem a little far-fetched to sing country-esque lyrics to the Creator of the Universe, especially when I don't often feel romantic love toward God.

A hymn that asks Jesus to love me seems rather extraordinary. First, it's not expressing that God already loves me. That God loves this earth and its inhabitants is often sung (probably to help us believe it), but not many hymns or songs ask God to love us. Second, it's incredibly vulnerable. To ask someone to love you is putting yourself on the line. What if they say no? To state that God loves me is one thing, to ask God to love me is quite another. 

As extraordinary as the words are, though, this plea seems more congruent with my inner world than either blathering about my undying love for God, or God's steadfast love for me. In my heart of hearts I just really want God to love me. That meek, squeaky, desperate request, "Lord Jesus, love me, I pray," is my inner cry, my inner desire, and is too oft unspoken. The words tonight allowed me to get in touch with this soul-level angst. Hearing my voice break at this phrase gave me the opportunity to actually ask God to love realize I needed to ask.

candle stock image.JPG

In 44 minutes, on Pacific time, it will be Christmas Day (I could add some wonderful humor about Jesus being born at 12:01am on Dec. 25th, but I'll resist). This is the day that light came into the world. Not that light wasn't already here! But this light was in the form of an infant, born into a lowly social position, in a lowly cave, in a lowly town, in the presence of lowly shepherds. God didn't come with a lot of fanfare (simply compare Jesus' birth with this year's royal baby), and so God became accessible to all life. It became possible for me to ask Jesus to love me.

A few days ago thirty-five people gathered to recognize the coming of the light in a ceremony that honored both Solstice and Advent. We acknowledged the reality of darkness, and looked toward the coming of the light. It was a beautiful, sacred time (even with the labyrinth being too dark to see the path clearly enough!). Participants were asked to reflect upon where they hoped to see light in the upcoming year, and since I was leading I didn't do much reflecting.

Tonight, though, it's pretty clear: I want to acknowledge that inner whimper, that holy longing that just wants Jesus to love me. I don't even need to hear back that God does, indeed, love me. I just need to recognize and speak the request, and find God in the asking. 

Merry Christmas, my friends.