What Child Is This? Glad You Asked

by Kevin Burton

   “What child is this” is, or should be, the burning question behind this whole Christmas phenomenon.

   How transforming would it be if the season surrounding Dec. 25 were an honest, worldwide examination of Jesus, his miraculous birth and the implications for mankind, rather than the orgy of merchandising it has turned into? 

   “What Child Is This” is one of the treasured hymns we sing at Christmas. It was written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix. The son of an English surgeon, Dix spent most of his life as a businessman in Glasgow, Scotland working as a manager for the Maritime Insurance Company, according to www.galaxymusicnotes.com.

   Dix was 29 in 1865 when he suffered from a near-fatal bout of sickness according to the website.

   “He was afflicted with severe depression, and this near-death experience changed him completely,” the website reads. “While undergoing recovery he experienced a spiritual awakening that inspired him to start crafting hymns.”

   “He became an avid reader of the Bible and subsequently he wrote the lyrics of “What Child Is This.”

   Dix wrote other hymns but “What Child Is This” is the by far the most well-known. His lyrics were put to the tune of the English folk song “Greensleeves.” Which would have made it immediately familiar to listeners of the time. 

   Dix asks lyrically, “What child is this who lay to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping, whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping?”

   He later answers his own question: “This, this is Christ the King
whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring him laud
the Babe, the Son of Mary”

   “The lyrics are inspired by on of Dix’s verses titled “The Manger Throne,” the website reads. “It urges humanity to accept Christ. The eloquent melody is haunting and its beautiful essence reiterates the adoration of the shepherds who paid a visit to Jesus.”

   “What Child Is this was first published in 1871, six years after its origin,” the website reads. “It was featured in an influential and prestigious collection of carols in the United Kingdom titled “Christmas Carols Old and New. The hymnal was edited by John Stainer and Henry Ramsden Bramley. Stainer was primarily responsible for harmonizing the musical setting.”

   “The lyrics pose questions that reflect what the shepherds might be pondering during the encounter,” the website reads. 

   A similar question is recorded in Luke 8:25. The disciples wake up Jesus because a massive storm was threatening to capsize the boat they are all in. Notice they didn’t know the whole story about Jesus but they knew enough to go to Him in times of trouble.

   After Jesus calms the sea the disciples ask each other, “What manner of man is this! For He commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him?”

   These are questions that beg to be answered. Yet so many set them aside for “a more convenient season,” as did Felix the governor, as recorded in Acts 24. 

    The Bible includes an astonishing degree of detail, but it leaves out some things that have no eternal significance. For instance, how big was Jesus at birth? We commonly record such details of newborn babies and even publish them.

   But this baby would be measured by standards that apply to Him only. The disciples asked “what manner of man” was in that boat. The rest of the Bible answers that question. 

   It’s so easy to sing What Child Is This without truly considering the question raised and then move on to Jingle Bells. Nothing wrong with Jingle Bells, but a significant question has been asked and should be answered.

   People speak the truth when they say Jesus is the only answer. But truly Jesus is the only question. According to the Bible, how you answer that question determines where you spend eternity.

   Long after the strands of tinsel have been vacuumed off the rug, that question will remain.  

      “The meaningful lyrics and soulful melody of the carol evoke a palpable scenario,” the website reads. “It gives the feeling that God Himself has transformed the form of man through this baby and that the almighty has arrived to rescue humanity. It’s a certain and clear sign which the humans went on to declare with courage and ingenuity.”

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