Thursday, December 20, 2007
WHAT CHILD IS THIS?
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?
So begins the beloved Christmas carol, written by William Chatterton Dix in 1865 when he was twenty-nine. The story goes that Dix was stricken with a serious illness which left him bed-ridden and severely depressed for several months; but during this time he learned to put his full trust in God. Ace Collins wrote: “Not long after regaining his strength, an inspired Dix produced some of the greatest hymns ever written by an English layman.” Collins also pointed out that this time in American history was dominated by Puritan thought, which forbade Christians from celebrating Christmas as a special day of worship because of the revelry and pagan origins of the holiday. Consequently, many hymn writers of that era ignored the story of the birth of Christ altogether. Not so with William Dix. He was moved to pen a poem which he titled, “The Manger Throne.” In it, Dix approached the birth of Christ from the perspective of visitors who were perplexed as to the significance of the child that was born in a manger in Bethlehem. The verses of “the Manger Throne” touched on the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection of Christ. This progression has appeared in numerous sermons by different preachers as the cradle, the cross, and the crown. In time, “The Manger Throne” became “What Child Is This,” and the answer to the question posed in the title is found in the words, “This, this is Christ, the King…”!
How incomprehensible is the thought that the little Babe born to Mary was God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), the Creator of all things visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16), the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), the KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:16)! Should we not all marvel at such a magnificent truth? Small wonder that the shepherds feared when an angel appeared to them to bring the good news of His birth. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12). Such a wonderful proclamation was cause for heavenly celebration and thus the narrative continues: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13-14). As Mary pondered these things in her heart (Luke 2:19), I have little doubt that her thoughts raced back to the time when the angel Gabriel first appeared to her and told her that she had found favor (grace) with God and would give birth to the promised Messiah of Israel. It was then that she learned what her miraculous conception would entail: “thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). Lacking an adequate human explanation for such a miracle, the angel responded to Mary’s astonishment with the proclamation that it would come to pass because the power of the highest would overshadow her, or come upon her (Luke 1:35), “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).
What Child was this who would come forth from her womb? He was none other than the One foretold by the prophets long ago in the writings of the Hebrew Scriptures. Chief among them was the prophecy of Isaiah, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). What amazing titles are ascribed to our Lord in this memorable portion of Scripture: “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”! This is the real Christmas story; sadly, it has become obscured by what the Christmas holiday has become in our day. We have become so busy with temporal things and family festivities that we have lost sight of the eternal significance of Christ’s birth and the lasting joy it brings. What Child is this? Volumes have been written to describe Him. I appreciate the inspiring thoughts found in another favorite carol written by Benjamin Handby in 1866. The first words of his carol echo the title, wherein he asks, “Who is He in yonder stall, at whose feet the shepherds fall?” In the chorus, the answer- and the only proper response- is shouted back to heaven:
’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!
The King of glory! Shall we not all bow before this Child who came to die for our sins, rose victorious from the grave, passed through the heavens, and sits at the right hand of the Father? Indeed, we must bow before him. He came first in lowliness to the insignificant village of Bethlehem to suffer and die. He will return to the Holy City of Jerusalem to occupy the throne of David and reign in unsurpassed glory. “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
Have a blessed celebration of Christ’s birth, the One who is Lord of all!
“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11).
 Ace Collins, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas(Grand Rapids, Mich. : Zondervan, 2001), p 186.
Posted by Tom Chesko at 11:40 AM