Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head;
The stars in the sky look down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
This little verse is probably quite familiar to most of us. Although the tunes have varied and some of the words have been tweaked over the years, “Away in a Manger” is one of the most recognized Christmas carols, often sung by cute kindergarteners not too far removed from their own cradles. You probably know all the words by heart. But have you really thought about that first little word of the song—Away? That little preposition is almost as cute as the kids who sing its high notes, but it is an important word.
Away. The word implies utter distance. That very first Christmas, there was a lot of “away-ing” going on. Mary and Joseph had to go away from their home and ended up having a baby in a barn (not exactly what Mary drew up in her birth plan). The shepherds went away from their fields to see what the angels had told them about this baby who would also somehow be their Savior (not exactly how they thought their evening would go). The wise men traveled many miles away from their land to worship a toddler king (not exactly in a palace like they had pictured). And Mary and Joseph had to run away to Egypt for a few years because King Herod wanted to kill their son (not exactly the childhood they had planned for him). But the ultimate “away” in the Christmas story was a much greater distance, and it was exactly what God had planned and pictured. He sent his Son, Jesus, away … away from heaven to be born on earth. Whoa. Now that’s away. Away from glory. Away from perfection. Away from God’s side. To be born in a barn. Sleeping in a manger. Growing up in danger. Away.
Why? Well, because of us. Because we fell … away. We distanced ourselves from God when we sinned all the way back in the Garden of Eden and every day since. We created a chasm, a huge gap of away-ness, and there is nothing we can do to jump that gap or close the distance ourselves. So God had to close it for us. He had to send his very own Son away so that he could do more away-ing. In living a perfect life, dying on a cross, and rising from the dead, he could take our sins … away.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:11,12)
Jesus closed the gap between God and sinners, and he has removed our sins so far away from us that we are seen as sons and daughters of the King. What a crazy plot twist! Our King was born in a barn so we could live in his heavenly courts.
Aside from our Christmas story characters in the Bible, there are a lot of other Bible people who really understood the meaning of “away.” Joseph. Daniel. Moses. Abraham. Paul. They knew what it was like to move around or be taken away or kept away or willingly walk away from something. Think of their stories and how God used them. We too have a deep sense of away built within us, even if we’ve lived in the same place our whole lives, and God will use us too. We are pilgrims here on this earth. We are away from our heavenly home, and we feel it in the brokenness of this world. Pointing us to our Savior, to the One who willingly went away from his Father so that we could be brought near to him. Near. Another important little preposition with great meaning.
On the cross, Jesus called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus endured separation from God and bore the sins of the world so that we would never again be away from God.
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)
What a promise! Nothing can take away our near-ness because of him who loved us enough to leave his Father’s side and be away so he could take away our sins. As you listen to the kids singing “Away in a Manger” or as you sing it yourself, I pray you really hear those little prepositions and think of the deep meanings those little words have. Merry Christmas.
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray,
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11,12).
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And take us to heaven, to live with thee there.