It starts out as a Christmas song. At first, I thought the whole song was a Christmas song, and I got really excited because I like odd Christmas songs (to find out how I feel about traditional Christmas songs [or at least, radio's approach to the traditional Christmas song], click here).
The song is however not merely a Christmas song, and I'm fine with that. The song's territory is one I don't hear explored that often (in song, anyway), and I'm very happy to have my expectations dashed.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, the first part of the song:
the horse's hay beneath his head
our Lord was born to a manger bed
that all whose wells run dry
could drink of his supply
We're in the first stanza, and we're already dipping into the Gospel a little bit. Sweet.
Then we get into "The Friendly Beasts" territory:
to keep him warm, the sheep drew near
so grateful for His coming here
come with news of grace
come to take my place
the donkey whispered in his ear
"child, in 30-some-odd years
you'll ride someone who looks like me
I like what the sheep say here. If I were a sheep, I'd be excited about Christ coming too.
Also note the donkey introducing the concept of the upside down kingdom (makes me think of G. K. Chesterton). This theme is important to Aaron Weiss and central to the song.
Let's keep listening:
the cardinals warbled a joyful song
he'll make right what man made wrong
bringing low the hills
that the valleys might be filled
then "child", asked the birds
"well, aren't they lovely words we sing?"
the tiny baby layed there
without saying anything
Okay. So far we've heard from all the 'normal' (um, except cardinals) or accepted manger scene animals (for the record, I can see cardinals working their way into a manger scene).
And now at the margins:
at a distance stood a mangy goat
with the crooked teeth and a matted coat
weary eyes and worn
chipped and twisted horns
thinking "maybe I'll make friends someday
with the cows and the hens in the rambouillet
but for now, I'll keep away
I've got nothing smart to say"
I identify most with the goat, by the way.
Now the song shifts, it dips into the weird, parable/fable feel of the album overall. It serves as a response to the goat's hesitation
there's a sign on the barn
in the cabbage town
"when the rain picks up
and the sun goes down
sinners, come inside
with no money, come and buy
no clever talk, nor a gift to bring
requires our lowly, lovely king
come now empty handed, you don't need anything"
and the night was cool
and clear as glass
with the sneaking snake in the garden grass
deep cried out to deep
the disciples fast asleep
and the snake perked up
when he heard You ask
"if you're willing that
this cup might pass
we could find our way back home
maybe start a family all our own"
"but does not the Father guide the Son?
not my will, but yours be done.
what else here to do?
what else me, but You?"
and the snake who'd held the world
a stick, a carrot and a string
was crushed beneath the foot
of your not wanting anything