Day 25: Coventry Carol

by Dec 25, 2020Christmas 2020, Devotional, Songs of Christmas

Lullay, lullay
My little tiny child
By-by, lullay, lullay

Oh, sisters two how may we do
For to preserve this day?

This poor youngling of whom we do sing

Herod the King in his raging
Charged he hath this day

His men of might in his own sight
All children young to slay

Then woe is me, poor child for thee
And ever mourn and say

For thy parting nor say nor sing
By-by, lullay, lullay


Most Christmas carols look at the Christmas story from the perspective of the angels, the shepherds, the wise men or Mary and Joseph. As we’ve spent time looking at them this month, themes of peace, joy, hope, comfort, glory, longing, good news and Jesus’s humanity have all been explored. But these are not the only aspects of the Christmas story.

The final song of this series comes from none of those places. The Coventry Carol is a song about loss, pain, death, and mourning.

After the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are visited by wise men from the east, who come expecting the birth of a new king of the Jews. When they stop at Jerusalem before being directed to Bethlehem, King Herod learns of their quest and asks the wise men to bring back news about the baby. After the wise men are warned by God to not return to Jerusalem, Herod issues orders for the slaughter of all the baby boys in Bethlehem ages two and younger. Fortunately, Joseph had also been warned, and his family was able to escape to Egypt, saving the life of young Jesus. But the other Bethlehem families were not spared. Coventry Carol is a lullaby sung by the mothers of these murdered babies, as they mourn their sons.

We don’t typically hear this story included in the Christmas narrative. It feels out of place, jarring against the messages of peace, joy and hope. It makes us ask uncomfortable questions. God, why did you allow this to happen? Why couldn’t you have stopped Herod and spared the lives of all the babies? How is it that such an unspeakable tragedy is part of the Word becoming flesh?

There is a reason that my gut churns at atrocities like the Bethlehem slaughter. We are supposed to feel outrage at despicable acts like human trafficking, or racial injustice, or abuse of power. From the moment that sin entered the world, it was in complete opposition to God’s goodness, His kindness, His love, His glory and His justice. Sin wasn’t part of God’s original plan for creation. It should make us feel angry and uncomfortable.

But before sin even entered the world, God already had a plan in place to eradicate it. In Genesis 3:15, He tells the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

At Christmas, we celebrate the fulfillment of this prophecy, when Christ entered the world in human form to save us from the power of sin. On the cross, He dealt the final death-blow to sin for all time. Horrific acts like Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents, or the innumerable atrocities committed throughout history since then, give us a better appreciation of just how desperately we need saving.

As we open gifts today and celebrate the incarnation of our Messiah, let us give thanks to our God who mourns with us when we experience the pain and anguish of living in a fallen world. Let us celebrate knowing our debt of sin is paid solely because of a God who loves us enough to have sent His only son to save us.

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