What Child Is This?

Occasionally Deus Vincit delves into the old hymns and this is one of those articles.  You can find the other posts in this series here: https://deusvincit.com/category/hymns/

Have you noticed that it is often the general observation which is most objectionable to people’s sensibilities?  We seem to live in a culture in which we object to being defined into a particular “type” or “group” because we want to be viewed as truly one of a kind, as if value is determined by peculiarity.  In the West, we’ve applied our ideals about democracy and freedom down to a point where the individual is king and the only kingdom which matters is that personal space which surrounds him.  And so a general observation, made by someone with innocent intentions, nevertheless wraps a thousand-thousand people in its stifling arms and therefore isn’t looked at for how close it is to the truth, but instead by how much it seems to suffocate the individual, invading his sovereign territory by applying impersonality to him.

On the other hand, one can get just as visceral a reaction by not generalizing far enough. You might make a statement like, “Most people who are alive are breathing on their own.”  Which is certainly a true statement, right?  But because there are thousands of people worldwide on breathing machines who don’t fit into the statement, it will lead to people complaining about not blanketing wide enough. “Don’t leave anyone out!” or “How could you victimize the otherwise-breathing!” cries the person too apt to see discrimination and too foolish to realize that leaving an exceptional case out has nothing to do with the point being made.  The purpose of the generalization is neither to explain one nor all; its purpose is to state an observation.

To the lover of individual freedom above all else the sin of generalization is that it reveals their self-reliance; an aspect of their lives on which they think they must be able to rely and yet has likely failed them a multitude of times over their years of life.  Whereas to the lover of perfect equity the sin of generalization is that it reveals that no matter how wide the net is cast, some will not fall within it; in other words revealing that complete equity is impossible due to fate (or luck, or whatever you want to call it).

Incredibly though, it is to generalization where we must go when we look at the most inconceivably beautiful story to have ever been told.  The story of the baby Messiah, wriggling in a feeding trough under the rickety roof of a manger in some uncivilized desert town, is human and tangible enough to break through the walls of self-reliance to prick even the hardest of individual hearts.  And that wonderful story of the coming of God in the flesh is also rightfully applied to all mankind – no generalization – when it comes to His offer of grace and the adequacy of His blood shed on the cross.  Therefore, it’s not in the story itself that we must generalize, but in the story’s application.  For in its application is where we see mankind diverge into two different, generalizable camps.  All mankind should be able to see in the story of Christmas the offer of love – both personal and universal – in its imperious and magnificent light, but one generalizable group edges back into the shadows in order to not be illuminated, while the other generalizable group steps blinking into those rays, lifting hands of praise and weeping tears of joy.

That is what I think we see around Christmas: all men see the holiday celebrated, all men know what we Christians say is the significance of the event celebrated, and it fills them one or the other of either dread or joy.  And we also see it specifically in the Christmas Carol that we know as What Child is This?  All men can see the Jesus of the first two verses, but only one group choose to see the Jesus of the third verse.  The baby Jesus lies asleep on Mary’s lap and all see him.  The shepherds keep watch and something feels different about this birth, but it isn’t known why.  Even later, as the ‘nails and spear pierce Him through,’ all men see that something is different about this child … this man.  And so, all men, individually and collectively, must ask the question, What Child Is This?

However, after asking that question, one group shrinks away from the God-child and the other group comes forth to do what they are called to do and called to see in verse three:

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,

Come peasant, king to own Him;

The King of kings salvation brings,

Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

It is in the application of what is seen that the groups are broken out.  All see Him – nations and individuals alike.  All know that something is different about Him.  All feel ‘the silent word [which] is pleading’ to them.  But only some ‘enthrone Him’ on their loving hearts.

And so, I don’t ask your pardon for generalizing into these two groups.  In this generalization is the great question of the age:  What Child Is This?  Or, to put the question another way, “What will YOU do with Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing?  Will you bring Him all the gifts you can muster?  Will you enthrone Him on your heart and have it transformed?  Or will you sing in meaningless, soulless drone the words of this carol this Christmas season and then slip silently into the shadows of your former life?

If you chafe at the thought of this dualistic generalization, perhaps you don’t want your self-reliance found out?  Or perhaps you are looking for a Messiah who doesn’t exist?  One that saves all, in spite of all – as if a Messiah isn’t worth anything unless He applies equity in salvation to the point where all are saved?  If either are true, it may be time to reassess.

What Child Is This?  Truly He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world … if only the world would believe.

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 ass are feeding?

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,

The cross be borne 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.

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