Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Caroling the Gospel V: Sweet Little Jesus Boy

[NOTE:  This is from a 12-part series I did on another blog.  Hence the tardiness.  I promise, it was timely when I first wrote it.  The rest of the series is available here.  Enjoy!]

Another lesser known carol--dating not from 18th or 19th century Europe, but from the 1930s in this very country.  Composed by Robert MacGimpsey in 1934, it was written in the style of an African American spiritual, and some versions even include the non-standard grammar and spelling associated with the genre. 

Sweet little Jesus boy
They made you be born in a manger
Sweet little holy child
We didn't know who you were
Didn't know you'd come to save us, Lord
To take our sins away
Our eyes were blind; we could not see
We didn't know who you were

You have shown us how
We are trying
Master, you have shown us how
Even when you were dying
It just seems like we can't do right
Look how we treated you
But please, sir, forgive us, Lord
We didn't know it was you.
A sweet and simple song, not necessarily meaty or prone to high language, but it still gets the message across.  Right off the bat, we see that Christ came to save us and to take away our sin.  And later on, the death of Christ is specifically mentioned, as is humanity's responsibility for that death.  The singer directly associates himself with those who failed to receive Christ as Lord--it is not they who ignored and murdered God With Us; it is we.  We did it all.  And the song rightly points to sin as being first and foremost against God, not other men--the example used is how we treated Christ, not one another.  Sin is ultimately against God.  We committed heinous acts of treason and rebellion against Him and deserve hell.

The song does harp on the ignorance of man, possibly as a mitigating factor in our culpability for our failure to acknowledge the Messiah.  To the extent that the singer is arguing that he 'didn't know any better', this is an very unpersuasive basis for forgiveness.  We are responsible for our sins, and cannot use ignorance as an excuse. (See Romans 1)

Then again, the mention of blinded eyes and ignorance could be seen as an allusion to our spiritual blindness (see John 12:37-40, referring, in turn, to Isaiah 6) and our inability to understand the things of God (which ignorance is decried over and over and over again in Scripture).  In the Bible, blindness and ignorance are further grounds for judgment--another reason why we deserve hell.  Therefore, the fact that we 'didn't know it was [Him]' is yet another sin that needs to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.

And just as a blind man cannot heal himself, nor can an ignorant man increase his understanding alone, we cannot become spiritually alert on our own strength--it is a gift from God.  Only those who have the mind of Christ can discern the things of God (see I Cor. 2:7-16).  We wait for God to open our eyes and minds to His truth, and when He does, we praise Him for His mercy in showing us things we could not hope to perceive without His divine grace.  The same God who made the lame to walk and the blind to see can open our spiritual eyes to our own moral bankruptcy, our need for a savior, and the identity of the savior we so desperately need.

This powerlessness apart from Christ is echoed in the line 'it just seems like we can't do right'--practically a direct quote from Romans 7.  Despite all the trying we do, we cannot defeat sin's power over our lives.  The only solution is the gospel--'forgive us, Lord'. 

Praise the Lord that He does forgive, that He sent His only Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins--not because of any merit or worth in us, but so that He might bring glory to His name by displaying His mercy and justice for all the world to see.

To read the next entry in the series, 'Caroling the Gospel VI: We Three Kings', click here.

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