Advent: Understanding "What Child Is This?"

Advent: Understanding "What Child Is This?"
Today we're looking at my favorite Christmas carol: "What Child Is This?" Let's look at some of the funny, old words in this song and at the most important thing about Christmas. (Hint: It's not the birth of a baby.)

The Song

Do you know the song "What Child Is This?" Here's a video of Josh Groban singing it with clips from "The Gospel of John" movie. (I'm pretty sure it's that movie.) The lyrics are below. (Please note that Josh Groban skips the second verse and does his own special ending.) If you already know this song, feel free to jump to the next section of this blog.

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.

Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and donkeys are feeding? Good Christians, fear, for sinners here The silent Word is pleading. Nails, spears shall pierce him through, the cross he bore for me, for you. Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary.

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.

This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste to bring Him laud,, The babe, the son of Mary.

Funny Old Words

There are some funny Old English words in this Christmas carol that you may not know or understand. Let's look at some of them.
  • Haste means to hurry.
  • Laud means honor. If you "give Him laud," you give Him honor and glory. We'll talk about this more below.
  • A "mean estate" means very humble surroundings. Remember where Jesus was born? A smelly, cave that the innkeeper used as a barn. Not exactly hospital conditions, are they?
  • The entire second verse of this song may be confusing, but hang on. That is what we will discuss below.
  • Who brought baby Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Find out in Matthew 2:1-15. Gold you probably know. Frankincense and myrrh are expensive perfume and spices.
  • To "own Him" means to accept Him, to believe Jesus is who the Bible says He is.
Now that you understand the words a little better, let's look at the heart of what this Christmas carol is saying.

The Most Important Part of Christmas

What would you say to someone who asked you, "What is the most important part of Christmas?" The carol "What Child Is This?" talks about:
  • a child
  • a baby
  • Mary
  • shepherds
  • angels
  • gifts
  • animals
  • kings
  • Christ
  • nails
  • a cross
  • hearts
  • and all kinds of things
Is the most important thing about Christmas one of these? Let's look and see.

Jesus Is God's Word Made Flesh (in a Human Body)

Next week we are going to look closer at Philippians 2 which gives a great picture of what happened at that first Christmas and why it is so important. For now, let's gather some clues. Read John 1 and compare it to verse 2 of the Christmas carol above. What words and phrases are the same and which ones are different?
In the beginning, the Word was already there. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were made through him. Nothing that has been made was made without him. 4 Life was in him, and that life was the light for all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness. But the darkness has not overcome the light... 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 The Word was in the world. And the world was made through him. But the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own. But his own people did not accept him. 12 Some people did accept him and did believe in his name. He gave them the right to become children of God. 13 To be a child of God has nothing to do with human parents. Children of God are not born because of human choice or because a husband wants them to be born. They are born because of what God does. 14 The Word became a human being. He made his home with us. We have seen his glory. It is the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father. And the Word was full of grace and truth. John 1:1-4, 9-14 (NIRV)
Look again at John 1:1. Jesus is God. Jesus was there at creation and was part of God creating the world (Colossians 1:16-17). As God, Jesus always was and always will be. Jesus didn't begin the day He was born as a baby in Bethlehem. That was the day God came down to earth in a human body. Wow! Pretty incredible, right? But the story doesn't stop there. Jesus grew up to become a man. In His whole life, Jesus never sinned, not even once! (Hebrews 9:14). Some people hated Jesus. They put Him to death on a cross, just like Jesus knew they would. When Jesus died, He took our punishment for sin. We know that God accepted Jesus' sacrifice in our place, because Jesus rose from the dead! (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) Now we too can have life. We can live with God here on earth and continue to live with Him in heaven when our physical bodies die. Do you know how we can have all of that?
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIRV; see also John 3:16-21)
That is the best part of Christmas! Jesus came to earth to take our punishment for sin. Learn more about how to accept Jesus' gift of forgiveness in this video.
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