Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading
Nails, spears shall pierce him through
The cross be borne for me, for you
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh
The Babe, the Son of Mary
William Dix’s classic carol What Child Is This? beautifully captures the Gospel.
The first line asks the question about the identity of baby Jesus. Mary and Joseph, of course, knew because God has sent angels to tell them. After Jesus was born, shepherds in nearby fields knew, as God sent a whole choir of angels to tell them. The close of the first stanza captures this story from Luke’s Gospel, answering: “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”
But it is, perhaps, the second stanza (quoted above) that gets to the heart of why Jesus came to earth.
Yes, at that moment, the eternal King was a humble child sleeping in a hay loft and surrounded by barn animals, but one day that child would grow. Then, about three decades later, the man that baby became would die for the sins of his people.
When Mary and Joseph presented the 8-day old Jesus at the temple, a man named Simeon approached and told Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed–and a sword will pierce your own soul–that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:33-35, Christian Standard Bible).
At that time, Simeon’s words may have been mysterious to Mary or perhaps even difficult for her to hear, but they hinted at the great reality captured in Dix’s hymn: The day would come where Jesus would be pierced through to bear the cross. Yet, this would not be his defeat but his, and ours through faith, victory.
The baby, Jesus, was born to grow and die so that all others babies who would grow to trust in him could have the goodness of life eternal.
What Child is this? the song asks.
This is Christ, the King, the one who saves.