Away in a Manger — Carols of Advent Love

Scripture Focus: 1 John 5:1-5
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Luke 2:4-7
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

From John: Once again, I have been looking forward to Jon Polk’s Advent contributions related to music related to this time of year. Jon has always been a key source through whom I learned about unique music and artists worth discovering. Jon is a music connoisseur and collector with a massive collection of music, both on his shelves and in his heart. This week, please enjoy his exploration of the carols of Advent.

Reflection: Away in a Manger — Carols of Advent Love
By Jon Polk

One of the world’s favorite Christmas songs is the lullaby-like carol, “Away in a Manger.” A 1996 Gallup Poll ranked it as the second most popular of all carols. The simple, saccharine lyrics are beloved by both children and adults alike.

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.


First published in a Boston newspaper in 1882 with the title, “Luther’s Cradle Song,” it was accompanied by a notation which read, “The following hymn, composed by Martin Luther for his children, is still sung by many of the German mothers to their little ones.”

The great German reformer himself, known to be generally rough and abrupt in manner, penned a sappy, sweet Christmas hymn?

Actually, no. The song is nowhere to be found in any of Luther’s hymn collections or theological writings. Furthermore, linguists have compared the English and German versions of the hymn and concluded that the German is the translation not the original. Not only did those German mothers not sing “Away in a Manger” to their children, but they had never heard the song until hundreds of years after Luther’s death.

(Most likely, the song was written for and became attributed to Luther in connection with events surrounding the 400th anniversary of his birth in 1883.)

If its pedigree is not attached to the famous Martin Luther, why is this sentimental little song one of the world’s most favored Christmas carols? Its staying power may be found in the universality of parent-child relationships.

The parent-child relationship is the only human relationship that is unchangeable, permanent, and exists from cradle to grave. Friendships may wane over time, work colleagues come and go, and sadly, even many marriages end in divorce.

However, a parent will always be a parent to their child. A child will always be the child of their parents. The biological relationship is forged in eternity. More importantly, the love of a parent for their child is like no other. Ask any parent of a newborn to describe that love and they will be at a loss for words. It is in a word: indescribable.

Father God has called us his children. God’s love for us will never change. It is permanent, infinite, all-encompassing, unlike any other love. It is in a word: indescribable.

When we sing “Away in a Manger,” we are reminded of a parent’s profound love for a tiny, innocent baby and in turn, reminded of the infinitely more profound love that God has for us, his children.

I love you, Lord Jesus; look down from the sky,
And stay by my side till morning is nigh.


Listen: Away in a Manger by Shane & Shane (familiar US tune)
Listen: Away in a Manger by Lauren Daigle (familiar UK tune)
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org


Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 6.11-42 (Listen – 7:17)
1 John 5 (Listen – 3:00)

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum strives to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

Read more about How Are You Waiting? — Hope of Advent
When we do the joyful work of anticipation and preparation for Christ’s Advent, we may find that it is actually we who are coming home.

Practice What You Preach

Scripture Focus: James 1.22-24
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

From John: We’ve been intentionally focusing on the Old Testament for much of this year, but this 2019 post from Jon Polk is one I felt I needed to see again, so we are resharing it today. The mirror of scripture isn’t intended to flatter us or to flatten us with self-loathing. It is a tool to encourage change, not pride or despair. May we look into it deeply.

Reflection: Practice What You Preach
By Jon Polk

Turning the pages from Hebrews to the letter of James, we notice a marked contrast in content and style. While Hebrews is filled with lofty theological concepts, James is quite the opposite, with little exposition of Christian doctrines, but rather an almost random collection of ethical instructions for Christian living.

The author James is the brother of Jesus, leader of the early Christian church in Jerusalem. It is clear by his emphasis on Christian behavior that James had experienced arguments and conflicts in his congregation. Sadly, James’ instructions on civility are needed as much today as they were two thousand years ago.

Some have noted James’ focus on behavior, not doctrine, and have demoted James’ letter to a lesser place in the biblical canon. Martin Luther famously referred to the letter as an “epistle of straw,” stating that it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.

But this short letter is an exercise in practical theology, the discipline that seeks to align theological practices with theory. Richard Osmer defines the four key questions and tasks of practical theology: What is going on? Why is this going on? What ought to be going on? How might we respond? Reading through the instructions in James’ letter, we find that he often addresses these questions.

Behind James’ admonition to be doers of the word and not merely hearers is a call to a higher level of accountability and responsibility. James compares a person who hears God’s word and proceeds not to follow its instructions as someone who has immediate memory loss upon stepping away from a mirror, unable to recall their own face.

In Disney’s classic Snow White, the evil Queen employs a magic mirror to remind her that she is the fairest in all the land. It is simple flattery at its finest, which aids in masking the deceit lurking in the Queen’s own heart. 

So often we look into the mirror of God’s word and congratulate ourselves for having the right beliefs and purest theology, only to cover up the destructive actions and attitudes that characterize our daily dealings with the world around us.

James encourages us that we have every perfect gift from our Father in heaven (1:17) in order to produce the fruits of faith in our daily lives and to rid ourselves of the sinful nature lurking within.

Mirror, mirror of God’s word, remind us to do the things we’ve heard.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded. — Psalm 64.7

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 13-14 (Listen – 4:13)
James 1 (Listen – 3:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chronicles 15 (Listen – 4:38), James 2 (Listen – 3:32)
1 Chronicles 16 (Listen – 5:21), James 3 (Listen – 2:38)

Read more about The Sojourn of Sanctification
Jesus is our model, our pattern, our leader to follow through the desert as we are changed from one kind of people to another.

Read more about The Cost of Repentance
How far will you go to remove sin in your life? Whatever it may be, the cost is worth it.

An Officer and Four Leper Men

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 7:8-9
8 The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp, entered one of the tents and ate and drank. Then they took silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.
9 Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

Reflection: An Officer and Four Leper Men
By Jon Polk

The city of Samaria was under siege by the Arameans! A great famine overwhelmed the city! Food prices skyrocketed! The people became so desperate that mothers made deals to cook and eat their own children! Oh, the humanity!

But Elisha prophesied, “Hear the word of the Lord! By this time tomorrow, food prices will plummet!”

One of the king’s highest officers scoffed in disbelief. Elisha insisted, “It will happen, but you won’t get any.”

Overnight, God caused the Arameans to hear sounds of a mighty army approaching. Quaking in their boots, the Arameans fled for the hills, leaving food and supplies behind in their camp.

Who made the joyous discovery of the enemy’s empty camp? The king of Israel? His officers and commanders?

No, the heroes of this tale are four unassuming men with leprosy, the definitive social outcasts of the Bible. Four men who sat every day outside the city at the gate, their ‘proper place’ according to tradition. Talk about social distancing.

These men had decided their lives were so miserable that they would rather surrender themselves to the Arameans than to stay put and die from the famine. Four men with nothing to lose but everything to gain.

So they stumbled upon the empty camp and began to feast upon their unlikely bounty. But wait! “This is great news! We cannot keep it to ourselves! We must immediately go back to the city and report this!”

(Sound familiar? Centuries later, in a pasture outside the sleepy, little town of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds, the social outcasts of their day, heard some great news and did the same.)

The king was informed. The people rejoiced. Food prices dropped, just as Elisha predicted. And what happened to the disbelieving officer? He was assigned to the city gate and in a Black Friday style surge, he was trampled to death by the crowds out plundering the camp for food.

One officer did not believe and was left out of the blessing. Four outcasts had nothing to lose and cashed in the biggest lottery winnings of their lives. They were also responsible for bringing the good news to the rest of the city.

Who are the “outcasts” in your world? Who do you consider outside the reach of God’s blessing? Who do you go out of your way to avoid?

As the church, we ignore the voices, participation, and contributions of those whom we call “outcasts” at our own peril. For God does not call them “outcasts,” he calls them “my precious children.” 

Music: “God Help the Outcasts” by Cynthia Clawson

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “The Father loves the Son and has entrusted everything to his hands.
Anyone who believes in the Son had eternal life, but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life: God’s retribution hangs over him. — John 3.35-36

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 7 (Listen – 3:55)
1 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:05)

Read more about The Beautiful Feet of Lepers
Most stories of lepers in the Bible end with them being healed but these weren’t.

Read more about Separateness Not Superiority
Like the coal taken from the altar that cleansed Isaiah’s unclean lips, Jesus cleansed what was unclean.


A King’s Vanity and a Slap in the Face

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 22:6-8
6 So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”
“Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”
7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”
8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”
“The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

Reflection: A King’s Vanity and a Slap in the Face 
By Jon Polk

It’s official. Ahab was the worst king of Israel.

The stinging indictment is made in 1 Kings 16, “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.”

Why does Ahab deserve this dubious distinction? Aside from implementing Baal worship and the shocking murder of Naboth, Ahab was notorious for antagonistic relations with God’s prophets.

Ahab tussled with Elijah on several occasions, but 1 Kings 22 records an encounter with the sharp-tongued Micaiah. The scene opens with Ahab attempting to convince king Jehoshaphat of Judah to join him in attacking Aram to reclaim the land of Ramoth Gilead. Jehoshaphat suggests that they seek God’s counsel, so Ahab calls in all 400 of his official prophets.

Led by the overly dramatic Zedekiah, who had crafted iron horns representing victory, the king’s prophets unanimously proclaimed that the Lord would give the land to Ahab in battle.

Jehoshaphat was not convinced and saw through the blatant pandering of those false prophets. He asked if there were still any true prophets around. 

Ahab’s response sums up his desire to be surrounded by “yes” men. “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me.”

That prophet, Micaiah, is asked if they should go to war. He quipped sarcastically, “Sure, go ahead, attack and be victorious,” prompting Ahab to insist that Micaiah actually tell him the truth from God.

So he did: War with Aram will not end well, Israel will be sacked, Ahab will be killed, and by the way, all those other prophets were filled with a deceiving spirit.

Micaiah’s prophecy of doom earned him a slap across the face from the sanctimonious Zedekiah.

Alas, the king decided to make war anyway, and, lo and behold, everything happened exactly as Micaiah said it would.

Are we any better than Ahab, with our echo chambers of social media reinforcing only those opinions and attitudes that we want to believe? Do we find enjoyment in metaphorically slapping the faces of our opponents, real or imagined? Do we surround ourselves with voices that only tell us what we want to hear?

Let us learn from the foolish Ahab that we must not only be able to discern truth from error but we should also not discount the voice of God simply if it comes to us from sources we may find disagreeable. Let the hearer understand.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 22 (Listen – 7:51)
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen – 2:37)

Read more about “Trivial” Sin
Ahab is notorious for promoting the worship of Baal and Asherah…For Ahab, these were “trivial”

Read more about Kingdoms Breaking Bad
As Israel fractures, each dynasty hopes to be the answer. But each one, especially in the northern kingdom, “breaks bad.”

Let’s Take a Walk

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 5.6-7
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

From John: We look back on this post of Jon’s from 2019 today, as we celebrate that he has finally completed his quarantine after returning to Hong Kong from summer in the US. We thank God for his protection of the Polk family as they traveled in the US during this summer of Covid outbreaks and we walk in faith, believing that through the common grace of science, many will continue to be protected from infection. We also pray that those who still catch the virus will experience the additional grace of God’s healing and divine protection. Walking by “faith not fear” should not mean foolishness or recklessness but humility and graciousness before God.

Reflection: Let’s Take a Walk
By Jon Polk

The classic KJV translation of 2 Corinthians 5:7 is frequently quoted, cross-stitched and memorized: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Jews used this word walk as an idiom relating to how you live your life. We utilize a similar idea when we talk about our “Christian walk” or our “walk with God.” Our lives ought to be dependent on our faith, not on what we can see or comprehend.

Contrary to the popular phrase, faith is not about taking a “blind leap” but rather making steps towards God, following the path he lays out before us. Paul refers to confidence twice in this passage, implying that faith is not blind hope but is grounded in our trust in God.

Faith is confident movement towards the path that God has ahead for us. We may not see the path, but we have faith that the path exists. We may not see beyond the first step, but we take the first step in faith. We may not see all the reasons behind what God is calling us to do, but we have faith that he leads us as he does for a purpose.

On his first journey to China, the great British missionary Hudson Taylor traveled aboard a sailing vessel. As the ship neared the coast of New Guinea, the winds died out for a number of weeks. The ship began to drift dangerously towards the shore, at risk of running aground on the coral reefs leaving the crew to the mercy of the natives rumored to be cannibals.

The captain came to Taylor in desperation, asking him to pray for God to send wind. So Taylor and a few other men began to pray for a breeze. As they prayed, he went up on deck and asked the second mate to ready the mainsail. Initially, the mate resisted, not wanting to appear foolish in front of the crew, but Taylor insisted and he finally agreed. In the ensuing moments, a strong wind indeed came upon the ship and sailors scrambled all over the deck as the wind kicked in.

When you raise the sails in your life before you can even see the wind, you’re walking by faith.
So go take a walk. Not a walk based on what we can see in this earthly life but a walk by faith into the adventurous life God has for us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me… — Psalm 101.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 12 (Listen – 5:25)
2 Corinthians 5 (Listen -3:14)

Read more about Don’t Waste the Waiting
During one particularly long waiting season, after running ahead of God in various ways, I confessed my impatience and frustration.

Read more about Trust and Pursue God’s Promises
Fully trusting in God’s promises gives us the hope, strength, and courage to pursue those promises.