Theological Survey: What Child Is This?

I think some of the most deeply theological hymns are Advent Hymns. But rather than prove that, let’s just look at one of them shall we?

What Child is This?
Verse 1:
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

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

Seems simple enough, right? Not so fast. Like many songs that tell the half-truth about Jesus being King of our hearts (which, again, he is) this song goes all the way and simply says that Christ is THE King. He’s the King that is worshiped by angels all the way down to Shepherds. Then, everyone in ear shot is commanded, “Haste, haste to bring Him laud.” In other words, “Attention everyone: You need to hurry, run, don’t walk so you can bend the knee to King Jesus.” Just wondering out loud here…do modern church songs so boldly command all people, everywhere to bow the knee to Jesus? Sincerely asking. Moving on.

Verse 2:
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading

Well, these words are a little dated so there’s a little more work here. But, it’s still a big treasure in a simple chest. It asks, “why does this great King, to whom everyone is commanded to bow, come into the world in such a humble way (i.e., such mean estate)”? The question is answered in the second half. He is here “for sinners.” God the Son, “the Word” (John 1:1) has come to stand and plead in the place of sinners. So, as the Savior of sinners, he came into the broken world of sinners, but not as a king on this world’s terms. He came to save sinners by (at least partly) being a suffering King (Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:15).

Verse 3:
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh
Come peasant, king, to own Him;
The King of kings, salvation brings
Let loving hearts enthrone Him

Verse 3 sums up what’s been strongly hinted at before. This is the King for everyone, peasant and king alike. They are all commanded to come and “own” Him. Of course this doesn’t mean that we own Him in some irreverent sense, as if he’s a product or subservient to us. We “own” Him in the sense that we claim Him, we take our stand with Him, we identify with Him, we acknowledge Him as the King that He actually is. He is the King of kings who brings “salvation”. This King conquers His enemies in one of two ways. He destroys them when they persist in “not owning Him”. Persistent rebels will lose. The other way he conquers his enemies is by saving them. He makes them his friends. The King of kings, salvation brings.

So, in this short little hymn we have the biblical subjects of incarnation (eternal God made truly human), the priestly mediation of Jesus, the humility of Christ, the exclusivity of salvation in Christ, the authority of Christ over the heart AND over the nations. Aside from these factors its got real guts. It calls all people everywhere to believe, repent, and worship Christ as King.

What do you think? Is there a favorite Christmas song you have that contains more densely packed teaching? It’s fun to think about isn’t it?

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

Published by Cory Kitch

Pastor at Discovery Church, Yankton, SD.

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