What Child is This? (Advent 12-2014)

What Child Is This? is proof positive of the old Sunday School joke that the answer to every question is “Jesus.”  It’s the next carol in our Carol Me, Christmas (2014 Advent Devotional Series).  The lyrics are actually select verses from a poem by William Chatterton Dix entitled The Manger Throne written in 1865.

Born in Bristol, England, Dix was given a middle name that was not a family name, but rather from Dix’ father’s biography of the poet Thomas Chatterton, demonstrating that family names may not always be passed on to the next generation, but avocations and passions often do.

Dix worked as a marine insurance company manager but was, in God’s strange providence, afflicted with a severe illness, leaving him bedridden and depressed, but during which he experienced the saving grace of God.  His spiritual rebirth resulted in writing lyrics and poetry to some of the most beloved hymns we know: today’s carol, What Child is This?, Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!, and As with Gladness Men of Old.  His near-death experience had brought him through the depths of depression and What Child is This? is one of the most evangelistic carols of Christmas.  Dix would carry his passion for Christ through the remainder of his life.

What Child is This? may have been written in England, but its popularity in the United States surpasses that of its country of origin.  Perhaps it’s due to the haunting beauty, the soulful sentiment of the tune Greensleeves which was, even at the time, a well-known traditional English folk song.

No one seems to know who associated the lyrics with Greensleeves, but this tune is quite old and this link will take you to an extensive history of the tune with talk of Tudors and disputes dating back to the 1500s regarding ownership rights.

Far more certain than who owned the actual rights to the tune, however, is the carol’s theology.  The lyrics discuss the adoration of the shepherds who visited the Christ Child at the manger, and in true Victorian tradition, it suggests the Wise Men come (although less explicitly) to the manger.

The question and response characterizing this carol’s style is what each of us does when we come to meet Jesus.  The question is:

What Child is this?  (And by association, “Who is Jesus?”)

To this question, each of us individually responds by answering who we believe He is.  Ironically, in most hymnals even, the powerful refrain to the second verse of Dix’ poem has been changed to

This This is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

By doing so, many secular artists embrace this as a less religious song of Christmas and many Christian hymnals strip this carol of its most powerful words, removing the Cross, the nails, and the spear—all of which point to the sacrifice of Christ which made Him our Savior.  Dix’ words made clear that each of us must come to know Jesus, the babe, the Son of Mary as the unique Son of God, as the perfect Sacrifice for sin, born to be our Savior, and born to be Christ our King.

As you listen to this version by the incomparable Norwegian soprano  Sissel Kyrkjebø, ponder the Thought Focus for Today.

Thought Focus for Today:  What Child is This?  Who is He?  Why do we celebrate His birth?

what child is this1. 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.


2. 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.


3. 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.



Carol Me, Christmas (2014 Advent Devotional Series) began November 30th.  By way of reminder, if you haven’t signed up yet, you can receive these devotional studies in your email throughout Advent 2014 by entering your email address on the SeminaryGal.com home page in the space provided in the sidebar.  Or “Like” the SeminaryGal Facebook page to access them there.  If you like these devotionals, I’d really appreciate your letting others know so I can continue to spread the Good News far and wide.  Blessings to you, in Christ always, Barbara <><

Categories Articles and Devotionals, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on December 11, 2014

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