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Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven

Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven

How motherhood changed my Christmas—and my songs

I have always loved to sing Christmas carols that tell of Christ's birth and Easter carols that tell of his death and resurrection. I have often thought of Jesus as a baby and then, though I had followed the biblical account showing him briefly as a young boy in the temple, I had quickly jumped to Jesus as a grown man, never giving much thought to imagining the journey from the manger to adulthood. That changed when we had our first child.

After months of painstakingly counting and recounting the days till her arrival, Eliza Joy came on March 2nd. A lasting memory for me that day was the cutting of the cord as this little, very real, independent person nestled so dependently upon me. But I think the scariest moment for us was putting her in her bright, shiny new car seat and walking out of the hospital with her. I thought, What now? I don't know anything about babies! I can't remember anything I heard in the prenatal classes. Will she survive the night?

This experience really opened my eyes to see Mary in a new light. I had seen her by the manger, but not two days later; not learning to feed Jesus; not comforting him during his first fever; washing him and dressing him; spending sleepless nights with him; teaching him to walk; not helping him sound his words; protecting him from the sun; keeping him warm in winter … the wonder and work of all this is immense for any baby, but to know that this baby was the Son of God and that Mary was bringing him up to be her Savior—our Savior—is an astounding thought!

My husband Keith wrote the melody to our children's carol "Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven" while I was pregnant, but I couldn't finish the lyrics until a few months after Eliza was born, partly because sitting down to write was a laughable suggestion when I was onboard the runaway train of new motherhood, and partly because I wanted to see how having her might change or add to my musings! I had thought of writing the first line as "Softly, softly is Jesus coming," but after giving birth, "softly" didn't seem quite appropriate, so I changed it to "Jesus, joy of the highest heaven!"

Over the first few weeks I was often overcome in putting Eliza down for the night, thinking how small and vulnerable she was in a world full of dangers, knowing I couldn't protect her from them all. I wrote, "Jesus, laid in a lowly manger/Facing a world of dangers/come to turn me a stranger/Into a child of God." Over the first months I was amazed at how she learned to hold her head up and then began to press down on her chubby legs and make funny sounds with her little gummy mouth! I wrote, "Jesus, King of the highest heaven/Learning to take his first steps/That He might bring us life."

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