What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Words by William C. Dix, 1865
Music: 16th Century English Melody (Greensleeves)
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
Luke 2:15 – 21
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus away . . . to the place called Place of the Skull . . . There they nailed him to the cross . . . when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead . . . One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out.
John 19:16 – 17, 33 – 34
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
1 Peter 3:18
When I grew up, the end of the business day was 6:00 pm. At that time the whole town would shut down. The stores would close, all the businesses were done for the day and everyone would head home. If you would walk through the streets in the evening, unless there was a home ball game or it was church night, you would see little sign of activity.
On the other hand, this meant that when something would happen it caught everyone’s attention. Everyone was curious what was going on. Now Bethlehem was a small rural town similar in size to the one I grew up in, so I find myself wondering if a normal day or evening was not unlike what I knew, where something out of the ordinary caught everyone’s attention. Now even if you do not come from a similar background it does not matter. Even if you are in a suburban or urban neighborhood you know when something unusual happens it becomes “the talk of the town.” It is this disruption to the ordinary that launches the Christmas hymn, “What child is this?”
Imagine what the people of Bethlehem must have been thinking at the commotion caused by the shepherd’s that night. Luke 2:17 – 18 tells us ” When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”
This was no ordinary day as the Shepherds traveled through the streets spreading the news of this child who was sleeping in a manger. Luke tells us the people were amazed. This very out of the ordinary activity caught their attention. Surely they are no different from us. They wanted to know what this was all about. And so William Dix presents a question that may have been on their lips, a question that echoes down through the ages, “What child is this?”
Who is this child that the shepherd’s were compelled to proclaim? Who is this child that people have celebrated, declared and worshipped down through the ages? What child is this?
The response is immediate, proclaimed in power, “This, this is Christ the King.” Christ, Messiah, the anointed one. He is the long-awaited Savior. He is the Light of the world. (John 8:12)
Now if we seemed confused before, how much more so are we now. This is Christ the King? Then why is he in a stable? It is this question that the hymn picks up next when it says “Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?” This is no place for a King. A king should be in a palace where his birth could be heralded to all.
But Jesus is born in a stable. A foreshadowing of the life he would lead. A life that flies in the face of what we believe a King should be. So the hymn continues, “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be borne for me, for you.”
This Anointed King, who was born in a stable, would go on to suffer in our place as Isaiah wrote in chapter 53 verse 5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” He would hang on a cross, nails in His hands and feet, a spear thrust in His side, and die in our place. (John 19:16 – 17, 33 – 34) No, this is not the King we expect, but the King we need. One who would humbly pay our penalty that we might come before God. (1 Peter 3:18)
This truth demands our response. This is why the hymn continues, “So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, Come peasant, king to own Him; The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.” He has given us everything, can we do any less for Him.
The question has been asked and answered. What child is this? He is Christ, the King who brings salvation to the world. When we realize this, our heart will cry out with the final words of this hymn, “Joy, joy for Christ is born, The Babe, the Son of Mary.
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