O my deir hert, young Jesus sweit
Prepare thy creddil in my spreit
And I sall rock thee in my hert
And never mair from thee depart
But I sall praise thee evermoir
With sangis sweit unto thy gloir;
The knees of my heart sall I bow
And sing that richt Balulalow!
Balulalow” is the Scots word for “lullaby,” and several versions of this lullaby have circulated since the 16th century.
A simple lullaby, such as any mother (or father) might sing to a child, hoping that they will not have to sing it too many times before the baby falls asleep. As parents wait for the birth of their child with anticipation, rather as in Advent we are waiting expectantly for the feast of Christmas, they might be thinking of what it will be like, and part of those imaginings will be the joy of holding a tiny baby in their arms, as the baby lies still, and calm, perhaps listening to a favourite song, or even, a simple lullaby that they sing. Except –more often than not, trying to get a crying child to sleep is the part of parenting that seems hardest and most stressful, especially at two o’clock in the morning, which is so often the hardest time of all. So if we talk about the birth of Jesus bringing peace, are we talking sentimental nonsense? Mary and Joseph are far more likely to remember a crying child than one peacefully sleeping, whether in hay or their arms.
But if we read this lullaby again, and with care, we discover that it is, like so much of Advent and Christmas, turning our preconceptions upside down. For a start, most of the year, we naturally think and talk about ourselves being held in Jesus arms. We pray to be sheltered, supported surrounded by the love of Christ. Yet here, together with anyone who sings this lullaby, we find ourselves in the place of Mary, the mother of newborn Jesus. Instead of being held, we are thinking what it might be like to cradle Jesus, like a tiny baby, in our arms; and yet we will also bow before this vulnerable child.
Peace is one of the messages brought by the angels, but it is not a message of “be calm and don’t worry”. Peace on earth is the peace that is linked to God’s justice, God’s love for all. Wondering how to be one of God’s peace-bringers might sometimes wake us up at 2.00am. This old lullaby and carol can remind us that God’s peace is brought through our vulnerability, and our dependance on God’s love, whether we find that love in our prayers and times set apart for God, or through other people we meet, and the events of our day. We may find peace when we allow ourselves to be held in God’s arms like a child; but we also can find peace when we act to offer justice, care and love to others.
Rosalind Rutherford has PTO in the Diocese of Oxford.