Who Are We in Yonder Stall?

Over the past few Christmases I have developed a fondness for the song, “Who is He in Yonder Stall?”  It was written by Benjamin Russell Hanby, who in addition to being a composer was also an educator and a pastor. He is said to have written about 80 songs in his brief 33 years, including “Up on the House Top” and “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” In 1866, a year before he died, he penned the words to his final song. Often sung as a musical response to a series of questions, each is followed by the answer in this refrain:

’Tis the Lord, O wondrous story!  ’Tis the Lord, the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall, Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all!

In years past the hymn was often utilized by those who taught children in the church, because it so visibly outlined the key aspects of the life of Jesus. If like me you escaped remembering this hymn while growing up, no doubt you were exposed to Christmas pageants – most of them ending with a nativity play. As a child, you would perhaps feel honored if you were chosen to represent one of the main characters.

But what if as an adult you were slotted into a live nativity based upon your personality characteristics, your contributions in life thus far, or the role you have assumed in society? Who might you be? Would you be Joseph?  In these scenes he usually stands quietly next to the manger, almost playing a secondary part in the story. Far from being a minor character – he was a silent hero demonstrating courage, despite facing personal embarrassment and societal ostracism. He believed God and thus cared for his young fiancé who was carrying a child that was not his own. Joseph “did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24). He was a rugged and brave man whom God chose to lead her safely along the dangerous roads to Bethlehem, to Egypt and eventually back home to northern Israel. God selected Joseph to protect the infant Jesus in the dangerous first years of his life.

Might you be Mary?  Mary gives us a wonderful example of how to respond to the seemingly impossible circumstances of life. She was a young ordinary Jewish girl, looking forward to marriage. Suddenly her life would forever change. As a virgin who is told she will give birth to the “Son of God” (Luke 1:35), she demonstrates a willingness to listen, believe, and be used in a situation in which she found “favor with God” (Luke 1:30).  Her response: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Although Mary’s calling held great honor, it would demand great suffering too. There would be pain in the privilege of being the mother of the Messiah. So if not Mary, you might decide to portray one of the Magi. What we know about them is that they came bearing precious gifts (Matthew 2:11). They had seen an unusual star in the sky and knew that it told of the birth of a special king in Israel (Matthew 2:9). As ‘wise men’ indeed – they traveled a great distance to worship the One about whom they would have gained knowledge from religious prophecy. Although their presence is depicted in most nativity scenes, Biblical scholars believe that they caught up with Jesus and His parents sometime later. They are however a somewhat fascinating addition to the Christmas story, because their presence indicates that Jesus wasn’t born as Savior only for the Jews. Rather, He had come as the Savior for the entire world.

That leaves the shepherds who are included in every nativity display. Today, we embrace them as key characters in the story of Jesus’ birth, yet at that time they would have been viewed as culturally insignificant. Unlike the Magi, they did not have exquisite gifts to offer the Christ-child. Receptive to the good news delivered from an angel, they decided to go immediately and see for themselves (Luke 2:16). Later they become God’s messengers, for “when they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). You might identify most with the shepherds for they represent those who are frequently overlooked, whom Jesus would later refer to as “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). They are those who often times come to understand Him the best.  For they know the answer to the question: “Who is He in yonder stall . . .  at whose feet the shepherds fall?”  

REFLECTION: How does Joseph’s decision to please God rather than men give you pause for consideration in your own life? Can you be like Mary and accept God’s plan for your future, knowing it could cost you dearly? How could you be more like the shepherds through sharing the story of Christ’s birth with others? 

1 thought on “Who Are We in Yonder Stall?

  1. Tomasz Michałowski

    Hello 🙂 nice information, many thanks to the author. it is incomprehensible to me now, but in general, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming. thanks again and good luck!


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