Thursday, December 24, 2015

What Child is This?


"This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing; Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary."  Lutheran Worship Hymn 61 What Child is This?

"What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary's lap is sleeping?"  That, dear Christians, is the question of the ages; the question that has engendered  more faith, hope and charity in men than any other.  It is a beautiful question, a thought provoking question, and there is none more crucial because this Child, and this Child alone, can bring salvation to sinners.

If you know who this Child is, and trust Him with all your heart; if your hope and confidence are founded on Him through all of life's hardships and misfortunes, then God be praised to the highest heavens, for such knowledge is not given you by any man, but by your Father in heaven.

What child is this?  If you have never known the answer before, or if the trials of life make you doubt what you once believed, then may this beloved carol help restore your faith tonight.  May it inspire you to disown your sins, overcome your doubt, and to bring gifts of worship, love and praise to Jesus, your Lord and your God.

What child is this?  When Herod first heard about Mary's Son from the Magi, he knew the answer.  He called a summit of the city's leading theologians to be sure, but he knew.  He was sure that this is the long awaited Messiah that was born in Bethlehem this night, but Herod, like many people today, wanted no such Messiah!  He believed himself to be god and was not about to share his glory with another, so he committed the atrocity the church commemorates every December 28th, the feast of the Holy Innocents.  He ordered the death of every male child in the Little Town of Bethlehem up to two years of age, to insure that there would be  no contenders.

What child is this?  The question is a very old one.  In all four Gospels we hear people ask:  Isn't he Mary's son?  Isn't he the carpenter, the son of Joseph?  How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

What child is this?  Some believed, others did not, but the question was still not settled.  In the church's first four centuries there were great Christological controversies, ones that often turned violent, yet the question at issue was nothing more than the title of our carol tonight:  what child is this?

Many held that our Lord Jesus Christ was merely a man, a very good man to be sure, a very holy man, but only a man and nothing more, for they reasoned God would never do anything so unbecoming as to take on human flesh and submit to suffering and death to expunge the sins of His creatures, but that, Beloved, is exactly what He did!  That is the reason for the unbounded exultation that rings throughout the Christian world tonight, because the case is exactly as our catechism states:  I believe that Jesus Christ true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man born of the Virgin Mary is my Lord.  These are beautiful words indeed, as are the words of our carol tonight and of the prayers and liturgies that trip off our tongues, but you should know that the liturgy we so easily confess is only possible by the blood, sweat and tears of our fathers in the faith; men who would not give up the fight, whatever the cost, until the orthodox faith was established, and established it is so that now along with William Chatterton Dix, the author of our carol, we too can answer the all important question, "What Child is this," with Dix's own words, "This, this is Christ the King!"

By this carol we confess that this baby, born this night, in this place, to these parents, and to the fanfare of the whole angelic army of heaven, is the Christ of God; the King of the Universe, the Supreme Monarch and Son of the Most High God, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and became man!  That is why He lies in such mean estate, for He is not only our Lord and our God, but our Brother as well Who was not content to observe our problem from afar, for that is not the way our Lord has ever worked.  Instead, His name is Immanuel, "God with us," and THAT is what He will always be for us.  He is the Savior who gets His hands dirty for our cause; dirty with spear and nail and with blood so mighty, blood so holy, blood so invigorating that it cleanses you from every sin, every sorrow, every fear, and renders you without spot or wrinkle before the God of heaven tonight.

As heirs of such an inheritance William Chatterton Dix invites us to bring Him our gifts, even as the Magi did, only ours will be different.  The gold we bring is the gold of love for the Savior Who loved us and gave Himself for us.  The frankincense are the prayers, praise and thanksgiving we offer at all times and in all places, but especially in God's house with all His people on His day.  The myrrh represents suffering and stands for our willingness to live sacrificial lives of love for the good of our fellow man.

How each person will do this cannot be prescribed.  William Dix was a layman who fed his family by working in a marine insurance company.  His days were occupied with rates and risks, cargo and tonnage, but William learned the love of poetry from his father and dedicated his talents to it, yielding not only this classic carol, but many other hymns and poems besides that have helped God's people to worship Mary's Son aright.

If you have such talents, then develop them!  Ask God to bless your efforts and to lead you in them and He will do it, but whatever your talents, be they small or great, use them each day along with your best energies, for the glory of This Child and for the love of the people He has redeemed.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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