One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Away in the Manger.” Perhaps it was the illustrated book I had as a child depicting the cutest barn animals cuddling baby Jesus as they sang to him, “Away in the manger, no crib for his bed,” that captured my fancy. The line, though, that I held onto as child, and as an adult navigating career and relationship moves in New York City, was: Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay, close by me forever and love me, I pray.
“Don’t ever leave my side” has come from my lips many times in my life as a problem or a challenge led to me to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head. And through my tears I would sing, “Be near me, Lord Jesus.”
When in physical or emotional anguish, we often find ourselves crying out to Jesus, praying for God’s son to love us, unconditionally and forever. Yet our Advent Scripture reminds us that while we expect Jesus to remain by our sides, many times we keep a distance. Many times, we will deny knowing the Holy Child because admitting we are friends with him just might jeopardize our current relationships or jobs or even put our lives at risk. But do we want to be Peters?
I was at the fine jewelry trade magazine for a few years and had some seniority. There was a Sunday morning breakfast at a trade show that weekend at New York City’s Javits Center. I had assigned a junior reporter to cover the event. When my boss asked why I wasn’t attending the breakfast, I said, “I have church.” He wasn’t expecting that answer. I wasn’t expecting that answer, either. I often kept my newfound churchgoing activities quiet. “I guess you don’t care about career advancement?” was his reply. I huffed out of his office. Sunday came and I went to church as planned. I wasn’t going to turn my back on what was important to me. My career wasn’t hurt. I eventually became editor-in-chief of the publication, only to leave that post after two years to pursue ministry.
Peter kept a distance. That is a heartbreaking and troubling sentence to me, because I know how easy it can be for us to do just as Peter did. But when the world tempts me to be quiet, to play the game, to not ruffle feathers, I begin humming, “Be near me, Lord Jesus.” I then reach my hand to the skies to let him know I am here by his side as well.
God, your love for me boggles my mind. It is sometimes too much to comprehend that you never let go of me. You are always by my side and for that I lift my thanks to you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Take a look at your schedule, your activities, the time you spend working and the time you spend with family and friends. How much time is carved out for God? What can you do this day to follow your Savior, Jesus, the Holy Child, more closely?