Monday, December 13, 2010

[Slice 2352] What Child Is This? (December 13, 2010)


What Child Is This?
The spirit of Christmas often lends itself to the cry of loneliness.  During this season more than any other, thoughts long hidden cease to remain veiled.  Yearning for a place to rest our heads from lurking notions of restlessness or isolation, we are reminded most poignantly that we are not quite at home.  The apostle writes of this truth expectantly: "Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him" (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).  But on honest nights we might confess that the waiting is wearying, the silence sometimes daunting.  We are homesick; not quite at home nor capable of getting there.
The songs and sounds of Christmas often lure me further toward this restless longing.  Since I was a small child, the Victorian carol What Child Is This? has roused cries and questions within me.  The haunting, minor tune itself seems to place ancient pleas on our lips:  How long O Lord will you look on?  How long shall I cry for help?  Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down! (1)
The words of the hymn seem to rise from a confused onlooker of the first Christmas.  What child is this, here in this crowded stable, surrounded by filth and expectation?  If this is this the Messiah, why is he here among animals?  If this is a king, where is the display of royalty?
For centuries, humanity has inquired as to the identity of this child and the man he became.  Was he merely a good teacher?  Could his ancient life really mean anything to me today?  Who is this child and does it actually concern us?  Here, coupled with the longings of Christmastime, the possibility of an answer creates a lump in my throat.  Could it be that the heavens have truly come down?  Could this child be the Word that answers our own?
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.

The hymn tells a story unlike any other, even as it hints at a familiar theme: in the most unlikely of places, hope often rises to be accounted for.  In this, the writer's own life exudes a similar tale.  An insurance salesman in Glasgow, Scotland, William Chatterton Dix was quite successful in business until he was stricken suddenly with a serious illness at the age of 29.  From his bed where he laid in depression for some time, he asked the stirring questions of this hymn, realizing for the first time that God had answered. 

Why lies He, in a 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.
Wouldn't it indeed be strange to have feelings of homesickness, unless it was intended for us to know another home?   The cries of Christmas are a part of a vast chorus.  Even in loneliness, our longings for home are not without great company.  The people of Israel had looked to this day for centuries.  Their collective cry was perhaps not unlike our own: "Oh that the mountains would tremble before you! [...] O LORD; do not remember our sins forever.  Look upon us, we pray" (Isaiah 64:1,9).  Our cries today are not so different from those a person in Bethlehem could likely have uttered that night.  How long O Lord?  Do you really hear my prayer?  Will you come near? 
How fitting that God, too, was born in a sense of homelessness—far away from where he came, in a foreign place, without the comfort of home.  How fitting that he was born vulnerable, alone, and in need of the careful arms that held him.  And what a sight it would have been to be among the first to behold this infant crying.  Cradled in the arms of his young mother, his cries indeed joined the cries of the world.  For the first time in history, humanity heard God weep.  This, this is Christ the King. 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Psalm 35:17, Habakkuk 1:2, Isaiah 64:1.

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