Twelve Songs of Christmas #11
What Child is This?
William Chatterson Dix was a poet in England in the 1800’s. He wrote the words that we now sing to the tune of Greensleeves during the Christmas season. Dix became ill, and in that time reflected often on God. During this time Dix wrote a poem entitled “The Manger Throne.” The poem became popular in the United States, and when it was coupled with the melody Greensleeves, it became an enormously popular song in both England and America. Greensleeves was a popular folk song and drinking song since 1652, but not spiritual at all. Once the words of "The Manger Throne" were sung with Greensleeves, however, it became one of the most popular Christmas songs in existence.
What Child is This? is interesting for its perspective of someone looking upon the Christ child, not knowing of his significance.
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 is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.
Dix continues the perspective of an unknowing bystander in verse 2.
Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
“Why did these parents put their baby in a feeding trough?” A good question. I often think about how ‘ordinary’ the Christmas story has become for so many of us. We attend Christmas plays and hear a narrator say “And she wrapped him in swaddling cloths and lay him in a manger.” It’s sweet and brings a smile to everyone’s face.
If you were to come upon a woman putting her baby to sleep in a feeding trough, however, you’d probably want to alert the authorities. It’s a surprising story that we’ve normalized simply by hearing it so often. Looking at the Christmas story from an oblivious bystander’s perspective can help us to see once again just how crazy this story really was.
A professor said a few years ago that “if you want to see a Biblical story in a new way, put yourself in the shoes of one of the characters. In this case, Dix has put himself in the shoes of an unaware bystander.
Good Christian, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.
In much of the Wisdom Literature, the writers call the reader to “fear the Lord” (Proverbs 1:7, 8:13, 14:26, Ecclesiastes 12:13, Psalm 33:8, 25:14). This Lord is present to sinners here in the manger. Fear the Lord who is before you: the Word made flesh.
He comes bringing salvation. He comes as the King of Kings. He comes for all: peasant and king alike.
So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh; come peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings.
Let loving hearts enthrone him.
Joy, for Christ is born. The babe, the son of Mary.