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Lessons & Carols 3 – Isaiah 11:1-9; “Away in a Manger”

The Third Lesson: Isaiah 11:1-9

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
 The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

The Greystone Baptist Church Virtual Choir
“Away in a Manger,” Traditional Carol

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,

The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.

The stars in the sky looked down where he lay;

The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

I can recall all the words from this beloved hymn easily from my childhood.  To me it is as familiar as the song “Jesus Loves Me,” and it is the most endearing portrait of Jesus I can think of.  For while Jesus would be born into the world from the royal Davidic dynasty, from the “root of Jesse” as “the son of David,” he is cradled in the gentle words of this hymn as a most fragile, vulnerable and innocent baby.  It is in this context that many of us may feel most familiar and comfortable with Jesus.  

As we sing the first two verses, the baby Jesus seems so much like us.  He needs to be nurtured and treated with most tender care, in a humble stable with lowing cattle and other animals — nothing at all pretentious or “royal.”  Verse three of the hymn takes us from the sweet baby Jesus, who needs to be taken care of by his earthly mother and father, to the great Lord and king that he will become.  Jesus is the one to whom we look for his tender care, as we each ask him “to stay close by me forever and love me” and to become his “dear children.”  

The words of the prophet in Chapter 11 of Isaiah confirm, the greatness that Jesus will achieve, that “the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” and “with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” and that:

 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.

As the child Jesus transitions to the Savior who will reconcile us all to him, the imagery of the animals in the stable hints at these words from Isaiah but takes on a radically different dimension.  And even in this short hymn we see this amazing transformation that Isaiah prophesied and that God has now revealed to all in our Lord Jesus Christ.  

-Steve Rose