CHRISTMAS PLAYLIST #1
“WHAT CHILD IS THIS?”
Dennis Miller | Matthew 1:18-23
I’ve been listening to a lot of Christmas music this week. Over 100 radio stations around the country have already flipped to their all-Christmas music format. I just read a media study revealing the top 10 most played Christmas songs in the nation. The list includes:
- “The Christmas Song” (Nat King Cole) (“chestnuts roasting on an open fire….”)
- “Holly Jolly Christmas” (Burl Ives)
- “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” (Brenda Lee)
- “All I Want for Christmas is You” (Mariah Carey)
- “Last Christmas” (Wham)
- “Wonderful Christmastime” (Paul McCartney)
- “White Christmas” (Bing Crosby)
- “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (Michael Jackson & The Jackson Five)
- “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” (Andy Williams)
- The Chipmunk Song – Alvin & Chipmunks (singing about hula-hoop)
The most popular religious-themed Christmas songs on the radio are:
- “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
- “O Holy Night”
- “Little Drummer Boy”
Today begins a four-part series entitled, “Christmas Playlist.” Before I tell you about our song for today, let me give a really quick disclaimer what we are not doing during this series. We are not dissecting “Jingle Bells.” This series is not going to be about “holiday fluff.”
The truth is, Christmas carols are often the songs that we have sung the most, but understand the least. For many of us, we’ve been singing these songs for 20, 30, 40 years without internalizing the incredible things that we’re singing about. So, this Advent season, I’m taking one of those songs each week and looking at the meaning behind it before we dive into the passage of the Bible that inspired it.
The first song on our Christmas playlist is “What Child is This?” Notice the title is a question. So many of us get it wrong because we ask the question assuming we already know the answer.
“What Child is this who laid to rest in Mary’s lap is sleeping?
We often ask the question without wonder and astonishment, and therefore wind up looking at Christ through the blurry lens of our own pre-judgments. Sometimes we even retouch the Bible’s picture of Christ into a portrait amazingly resembling ourselves.
Philip Yancey in his wonderful book, The Jesus I Never Knew, tells how,
- The Cuban government distributes a painting of Jesus with a rifle slung over his shoulder.
- In academic settings on college campuses Jesus is often portrayed as a Jewish sage strongly resembling a popular professor surrounded by his students/disciples.
- In some conservative areas of the American Midwest and South, Jesus is portrayed as being a short-haired, clean-shaven, suit-wearing Republican.
- Out in San Francisco, don’t be surprised if you see Jesus depicted as a 60’s-style liberal hippie, leading a peace march.
“What Child IS this?”
Those who lived right alongside him didn’t do much better.
- The Pharisees saw Jesus as a kind of irresponsible frat boy, a drunkard and a winebibber.
- His own disciples viewed him through the lens of their nationalistic dreams and saw him as the Brutal Avenger who would make the streets run red with Roman blood.
What child is this that revolutionaries and even hippies see in their own image?
Just know that if you comfortably sing the words, “What Child is this?” thinking you already know the answer, you probably don’t. As someone has said, “In the beginning God created humans in his own image, and ever since humans have been returning the favor.”
Well, I have good news! God has handed us a lens through which we can clearly see this child – the Holy Scriptures. The more we look through this lens, the sharper our focus, the way an eye doctor clicks and clicks lens after lens until we see with crystal clarity.
Matthew 1:18-23 (NIV) This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
This baby, away in a manger, born in Bethlehem is called, Immanuel, which means what? “God with us.” Let’s focus on the importance of those three simple words.
First of all, “God.”
Matthew 1:23 makes an astonishing claim. It says this baby in a manger is God. The Bible doesn’t claim that baby is just a symbol of hope, or that he will grow be a good and wise teacher, or simply a great prophet. The Bible claims that Jesus –Immanuel – is God. This is what separates Christianity from other religions.
Critics sometimes say, “Well, the Jewish people never expected the Messiah to be God.” Next time someone says that, open your Bible to Isaiah’s prophecy of 700 BC. Or better yet sing them a few bars of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Isaiah 9:6 (NIV) “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
What that means is no new person came into existence at this baby’s birth. Rather the eternal person, the second person of the Trinity, emptied himself of all his godly attributes, but one — love.
What child is this? He is the Mighty God.
Next – “with us.”
All throughout history, God has never been a distant God. He is a “with us” kind of God.
Think about the claim being made here. That the God who had never been contained by time and space voluntarily reduced himself into the womb of a teenage Jewish peasant girl name Mary. Born not in a VIP suite at Miami Valley Hospital, but in a dirty stable surrounded by animals.
Several years ago, I led a group from church down to Central America, to the country of Nicaragua. Nicaragua is a second poorest country in the western hemisphere. We were there ministering to the poorest of the poor living in the Managua city dump.
What we saw there touched our hearts: Whole families stepped out from behind piles of garbage. Most had rotted teeth, mismatched shoes, and rags for clothes.
Yet at the mention of Jesus we saw them clapping their hands, laughing and singing of a God who love them so much. He too came and was born in a place no human should have to live.
Being a pastor, some of the Catholic Nicaraguans called me “padre” (father). On that trip we visited a family living in a plywood shack home that had dirty blankets at each end for doors and dirt floors. Several little kids were running around with the chickens and dogs. The father motioned us to sit down in some plastic chairs.
“Padre Dennis, do you like Coca Cola?” Do I like Coca Cola?? Si, Senior – Sure. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking.
And then with the flair of an Oregon District waiter he pulled out one dusty, warm, unopened bottle of Coke – the family treasure! Then there appeared two Dixie cups. Where they came from I did not want to know! I’ll never forget that experience of sharing a warm Coke with my new friend in the dump.
It was in such a place Jesus was born this night – a stinky, bacteria-filled animal barn. You could find it in the dark if you were downwind. Why? Because there was no sterile way for God to reach us in our lostness.
So John says,“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a).
What Child Is This? He is Immanuel – “God with us!” That means he will be with us in our problems today. In our hurts, in our disappointments, in our temptations, and even in our heartbreaks.
This carol, “What Child is This” was written by a depressed insurance salesman in Glasgow, Scotland named William Chatterton Dix. As a young man, Dix was doing well. He was making a good living. He was looking forward to all of the things that money could buy. Life was going his way, or so he thought. Then, at age 29 he was struck with a sudden serious illness. He was confined to bed for an extended period of time, and he suffered deep depression.
It was also during this time of confinement that Dix accepted Jesus as his personal savior and wrote the carol. In this child William Dix saw a God who does not come down on us in our weakness, but one who comes down and becomes weak alongside us as a vulnerable baby. No matter how you’re feeling this morning, God crawls up on his hands and knees right beside you!
Most Christmas songs are a story or a statement. This carol asks a question. “What Child Is This?” The answer is in the chorus:
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.
And now, we who know who this child is, we have to respond. How will you respond this week?
So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come peasant king to own Him,
The King of kings, salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Will you join with William Chatterton Dix and make that your prayer? Enthrone this child in your heart the next time you hear or sing “What Child Is This?”
Watch the full message: