On Saturdays, in December, we will take a look at some time-proven Christmas carols and reflect on the God-centered theology they contain. I hope these will encourage your heart’s worship of Christ this Advent season and perhaps provide a helpful tool for your personal or family devotional times. Today, we begin with What Child Is This?, which was written around 1865 by the Englishman William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898).
What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherd’s 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 Christian, fear—for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him thru, 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, rich and poor, to own Him:
The King of kings salvation brings—let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high—the virgin sings her lullaby:
Joy, joy, for Christ is born—the babe, the son of Mary!
The carol’s major theme is the humanity of Christ as the lyrics turn our attention to the child who is sleeping on Mary’s lap. Who is this child? It is God who became man: “Hail, hail the Word made flesh—the babe, the son of Mary!” It is the Eternal Word (John 1:1), who broke into human history as the God-man Jesus Christ, through whom God “is pleading” with sinners to repent and be reconciled to Him. As we examine the lyrics there are three aspects to the life of Christ which emerge.
His humble birth
The Son of God was not born in a fancy, sterile hospital, but instead was birthed “in such mean estate.” His humble birth is explained in Luke 2:1-7. Be sure to take time to think about Philippians 2:3-7, which explains the selfless mindset which led to His birth.
His humiliating death
The carol also draws our attention to the cross, which is the reason the Son of God became incarnate: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him thru, the cross be borne for me, for you.” Philippians 2:8 teaches us that the humility of Christ ultimately led to the obedience of death—“even death on a cross.” No more humiliating form of death existed in that day. But our dear Savior “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb 12:2) and humbly trusted His Father (1 Peter 2:20-23).
His heralded worth
The hymn writer is also careful to help us remember that it was a king lying in that manger—not merely a king, but the King. “So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh—come, rich and poor, to own Him. The King of kings salvation brings—let loving hearts enthrone Him.” Here we are reminded of the inestimable worth of Jesus Christ.
The life, death, and resurrection of Christ combine to give us the ultimate illustration of the biblical principle that humility leads to honor (See, for example, Philippians 2:9; Proverbs 15:33; 29:23; and James 4:6). This is the way it is in God’s economy. Those who clamor to exalt themselves will one-day be put to shame, but those who humbly submit to God and wait for His honor will one-day be exalted.
What child is this?
• He is the almighty Creator who humbled Himself and was born of human flesh.
• He is the resurrected Savior who endured the humiliation of the cross to provide salvation for sinners.
• He is the exalted Lord whose humility will be rewarded with praise for all eternity.