Behold the Lamb: Labor of Love

Track 1: Gather Round, Ye Children, Come
Track 2: Passover Us
Track 3: So Long Moses
Tracks 4 & 5: Deliver Us & O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Track 6: Matthew’s Begats
Track 7: It Came to Pass

Today we come to another beautiful ballad, called Labor of Love. This song is sung by Jill Phillips, both on the album and on the BTLOG tour. It’s a good reminder for us that the actual act of Christ’s birth was a very human event. It was not as sanitary nor as simple as many of our beloved Christmas carols make it sound.

Joseph and Mary were a young couple, far from home, probably very scared. Though Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral hometown, they could find no one who would provide a room for a mother about to deliver a baby. Jesus’ lowly birth is the epitome of condescension and humility. Not only did the Messiah fail to arrive in power and might as the Jews expected, but He came in as unlikely a manner one could imagine: As a helpless baby born in a stable amongst the livestock.

This video, which pairs the song with scenes from the movie The Nativity Story, gives us a sense of what it might have looked like that night:

Labor of Love

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyway that night
On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph by her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David’s town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love

If you’re like me, when you hear the words “Mary, full of grace”, the first thing that comes to mind is a Catholic prayer to the mother of God. Here are the words of that prayer, from the Rosary:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The first half of this prayer comes from two verses in Luke’s gospel: Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42. The first of these is from Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. Most modern English translations say some version of “highly favored one”, but older translations said “full of grace”. The second verse is the greeting of Mary by her cousin Elizabeth, whose child (John the Baptist) leaped in her womb at the joy of being near Jesus.

There is a problem with the Catholic understanding of Mary being “full of grace”, which results in the rest of the prayer. Catholics believe that Mary herself is full of grace which she is able to bestow upon those who pray to her. They believe that by praying to her, she will make intercession for them to her Son, who will then be more inclined to make intercession before the Father.

But this is an unnecessary step, not to mention a heretical one. There is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). He alone is our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1), and our great high priest who mediates a new and better covenant (Hebrews 9:11-28). Because of this, those of us who are saved by Christ’s blood may come before him with confidence, in full assurance of faith, holding fast to our confession of hope because we know that he is faithful to keep his promises (Hebrews 10:19-23). No one else — not even Christ’s own mother — is worthy of our veneration, and no one but Christ Jesus receives and answers our prayers.

When the Bible says that Mary was “highly favored” or “full of grace”, this is not referring to a condition of holiness that she possessed in herself (Acts 6:8 uses similar wording to describe the martyr Stephen). She was a sinner, totally unworthy of any blessings God might bestow; much less the unique blessing of carrying God Himself in her womb! Luke 1:30 says that Mary “found favor with God”, which is the same thing Genesis 6:8 says of Noah. Like Noah, Mary was a sinner upon whom God lavished His unmerited favor and appointed a special task.

It was the child Mary carried who was and is full of grace and truth, possessing a glory within Himself (John 1:14). He was the maker of the moon (Hebrews 2:10), the Author of the faith, and the one who would perfect our faith through his death on the cross (Hebrews 12:2). He bore the sin of His mother on that cross, along with my sin, and the sin of all who had or would ever believe.

Andrew Peterson follows this song with the second instrumental track on the album. It is an arrangement of The Holly and the Ivy, a carol steeped in Christian symbolism, though the use of holly and ivy in winter celebrations has pagan origins. After you start this video (I have no idea what it is but it has Peterson’s arrangement playing in the background), click over to this page to read some of the fascinating history behind this Christmas carol!

Go on to Track 10: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night

2 comments on “Behold the Lamb: Labor of Love

  1. donnyhink says:

    Thank you so much for the great post. I also posted this song on my blog. While I absolutely do not believe in the deification of Mary, I have come to believe that as a person, we do not hold her in high enough regards. I think we as protestants don’t honor her enough and Catholics honor her too much. To me, she holds the same status as any of the patriarchs of old. Her fate will be the same as mine, through the blood of Jesus Christ, I am saved. She didn’t get a free pass.

    Once again, thanks for the great post. Behold The Lamb is one of my fav Christmas projects!

    • John Gardner says:

      Absolutely she should be considered a “hero” of the faith! Her response to God is one we should seek to emulate: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” ~ Luke 1:38

      Thanks for the comment!

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