Lully, lulla, Thou little tiny child, by-by, lully, lullay. O sisters too, how may we do, for to preserve this day, this poor youngling for whom we do sing, by-by, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging, charged he hath this day, his men of might, in his own sight, all young children to slay.
In the midst of our joy for the arrival of the Christ-child, we often forget that there is a much darker chapter to this tale. In the second chapter of Matthew, following the arrival and subsequent hidden exit of the Magi, King Herod flies into a rage and orders that all the infants in Bethlehem under a certain age be slaughtered. This forces the holy family to flee to Egypt, becoming refugees themselves.
We do not like to talk about this part of the story. It is heart-wrenching and devastating. However, when we do not, we forget all of the children, throughout human history, that have born the blood of our rage, arrogance, and self-concern. This narrative in the gospel is not alone – for it has happened before and since. Not only in Egypt, when Pharaoh feared another child. But around the world, there have been many occasions when children have been slaughtered.
There is also the step below (or perhaps more rightly to the side) of this ultimate choice: for far too often in our world today children are abused, sold as slaves, and are exploited in a thousand different ways. It is very easy in the first world to forget that this continues to occur. We think of our own children, but dare not think of the horror awaiting others.
If we truly want to welcome the Christ-child, to honor all those for whom this Coventry Carol was written, we must not only think of children who are in danger. We must join the fight, in any way possible, to ensure that one day all children will be free from fear, hurt, and despair. There are countless ways to do this. Just remember these wise words: the easiest way for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.
Act. Speak. Work for justice for God’s own children in danger this day, even as you join this lullaby’s lament: then woe is me, poor child for thee, and ever mourn and say, for thy parting, neither say nor sing, by-by, lully, lullay.