For most of us when we think of Christ’s birth we conjure up images formed by singing Christmas Carols like Away in the Manger . Those images are, like the picture above, at least for me, always angelic, peaceful and joyous.
What if I told you there was another version of that same scene? In an earlier post today entitled Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, I read about for the first time a Christmas carol called “This Little Babe”
The text of the carol is a part of the poem “New Heaven, New War” by 16th century English Jesuit Priest and poet Robert Southwell (1561?-1595). Southwell spent a decade or so of ministry as a Catholic priest during the foment of the English Reformation and was finally arrested, killed by hanging, drawing, and quartering.
While most Christmas Carols celebrate the birth of Christ, this one celebrates the reason Christ has come as man. The text explores the apparent contradictions that came with the birth of Christ, with God becoming man and enacting His plan of salvation.
The music is from, Benjamin Britten, what is unique is the where and why he composed it. Having spent a few years in North America he decided to return home to his beloved England, the problem it was 1942 and WWII was underway. Crossing the Atlantic under constant threat of German U-Boat attack was no easy feat in 1942.
I chose today’s bible verses because each reminds me of a part of the story within the poem:
1 This little Babe so few days old
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at His presence quake,
Though He Himself for cold doth shake;
For in this weak unarmed wise
The gates of hell He will surprise.
2 With tears He fights and wins the field,
His tiny breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.
3 His camp is builded in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
The crib His trench, haystalks His stakes,
Of shepherds He His army makes;
And thus, as sure His foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps the charge now sound.
4 My soul with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to His tents, the place of might.
Within His crib is surest ward;
This little Babe will be thy Guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heav’nly Boy!
I hope you enjoy “This little Babe” as much as I did, and reflect upon the incarnate Christ too.