Posted by: rcottrill | September 17, 2014

Gentle Mary Laid Her Child

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Words: Joseph Simpson Cook (b. Dec. 4, 1859; d. May 27, 1933)
Music: Tempus Adest Floridum, is the tune for A Spring Carol, music published in 1582.

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Note: Joseph Cook was a Canadian clergyman. He saw there was to be a competition for the best new Christmas poem, sponsored by the Christian Guardian magazine put out by the Methodist Church, in Canada. He wrote and submitted these lines of verse. His poem won, and was subsequently turned into a carol. It was published in 1919. John Mason Neale earlier used the same old tune for his carol Good King Wenceslas.

The Petersen’s Complete Book of Hymns suggests that Pastor Cook wrote his lines out of concern that most carols don’t pay enough attention to Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus (p. 217). This does not seem to be his motivation, for a couple of reasons. First, this is not a carol about Mary. She gets two lines, but so do the angels. The shepherds and wise men are also mentioned. But the Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned, or alluded to indirectly, in almost every line. The hymn is about Him!

Second, there are many of our carols that give as much attention to Mary as Cook does, or more. What Child Is This? refers to her at least twice (in some versions four times). Hark, the Herald Angels Sing tells us specifically that Christ is the “offspring of the virgin’s womb.” Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming speaks of Mary in the second stanza as “the virgin mother kind,” saying “she bore to men a Saviour.” Then, there are newer carols, after Cook’s time, where she is featured, such as Mary, Did You Know? and Mary’s Boy Child.

This is a carol about Christ, not one focused on Mary. Consider what we learn about Him.

¤ His humble birth (CH-1 and 3). He was born in Bethlehem, and laid in a manger, because there was no room for them (Mary and Joseph) in the local inn (Lk. 2:7).

¤ His sinlessness. CH-1 and 3 declare that He is “undefiled,” a word used in the Scriptures. He is “holy…undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26).

¤ His alien status and rejection. These seem to be hinted at with the repeated use of the word “stranger” (CH-1, 3). “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:11).

¤ His saviourhood. This is raised as a question, and answered in CH-2. “Can He be the Saviour?” Ask those who have been saved through faith in Him. In Titus He is called “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13), in Second Peter, “our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18).

CH-1) Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger;
There He lay, the undefiled, to the world a stranger:
Such a babe in such a place, can He be the Saviour?
Ask the saved of all the race who have found His favour.

¤ His glorification by angels. This comes up in CH-2. Whether they actually “sang” or not, a multitude of them praised God for the wonderful birth with these words: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Lk. 2:14).

¤ His visit from the shepherds. This comes in CH-2 as well. Having received the message from the angels, they “came with haste” to the manger (Lk. 2:16), later glorifying God, and going out to tell others what whey had seen and heard (Lk. 2:20).

¤ His visit from the wise men. This also comes in CH-2. Men who came from far away (likely Persia) and clearly announced that their purpose was to worship Christ (Matt. 2:2).

CH-2) Angels sang about His birth; wise men sought and found Him;
Heaven’s star shone brightly forth, glory all around Him:
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight, heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night, all the hills were ringing.

¤ His deity. This is strongly suggested in the final stanza, where He is called the Son of God, and the King of glory. Nathanael, in fact, combines both titles with, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn. 1:49).

There can be no doubt that the Jews considered the title “Son of God” an ascription of deity. It meant to them one having the very nature of God, and some considered Jesus a blasphemer who broke the Law by claiming it for Himself (Lk. 22:70; Jn. 19:7). As to the latter title, David asks, in Psalm 24, “Who is this King of glory?” and he answers that He is, “the Lord strong and mighty,” and “the Lord of hosts” (Ps. 24:8, 10).

CH-3) Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled, but no more a stranger:
Son of God, of humble birth, beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!

1) What other Christmas hymns and carols do you know that clearly identify who Jesus is?

2) What is an appropriate place for Mary in our study of the Christmas story and afterward?

Wordwise Hymns
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