Have you ever realized that you are singing a song that you don’t actually know the lyrics to? This happens to me more often than I would like to admit. The last instance occurred the other week when I was singing Christmas carols with my friends. After listening my whole life to Christmas carols each winter, I thought that I knew all of the words to the songs. I couldn’t be more wrong! I realized quickly that whenever I had listened to Christmas music it was always as background noise. I had never taken the time to actually listen to the lyrics. About halfway through singing, I decided to stop and reflect on the words of the songs. I was amazed at the beautiful lyrics of some of them. Songs that I had heard my whole life became alive to me in a whole new way. One song in particular that stood out to me was “What Child Is This?” by William Chatterton Dix. This song is the 219th song in the United Methodist Hymnal. Below I have attached the lyrics.
This song written in 1865, remains popular 152 years later because it asks a question that people have been asking since the moment that Jesus was born. Namely, what is the nature of the person of Jesus of Nazareth? This is a question that has divided many throughout history. This carol masterfully lays out how are we to best understand who Jesus really was, and why it is important that we do so.
First this carol shows us Jesus’ humanity. The first stanza calls Jesus a child and shows his humanity by pointing out that he slept, just like we do. On earth Jesus functioned as any other human did, being born like humans are, as the refrain of the carol says he was “the babe, the son of Mary”. Other human characteristics of Jesus that the bible points out are his growth, thirst, hunger, weakness, and dying. Jesus is human in the very same way that you and I are. He can identify with us!
This carol not only shows Jesus’ humanity but also his divinity. The first stanza begins to indicate that Jesus is more than human by pointing out that angels sing about him and shepherds watch over him. This is obviously not a normal child. People recognize that he is not just any regular baby. The songs refrain reveals to us that this baby is “Christ the King”. Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew Messiah. The Messiah was a future promised figure in the Old Testament that was supposed to rule over the Jewish people. Jesus . The author takes it a step further in in the 3rd stanza he refers to Jesus as the “King of Kings”. This baby, Jesus, is the king that is above all other kings. Jesus is above all other things and people on this earth.
Additionally, “What Child is This?” reminds us in stanza 3 that Jesus brings salvation. Jesus as both fully human and fully God, is the only person capable of offering us salvation from our oppressors and our sin. He alone could bridge the gap between us and God.
It is for these aforementioned reasons that we, like the wise men, should bring our gifts to him and worship him. Jesus as God, also became human, in order to to bring us salvation. This is why, no matter what our position in society is, we should enthrone Jesus in our hearts. May we indeed indeed haste to bring him praise!