Christmas Carol Musing: December 2, 2008

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!

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

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

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

Raise, raise the song on high,
The Virgin sings her lullaby:
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

I think it’s fitting to start this new series with the carol/hymn that was playing when the idea struck me, the one that has brought me to tears this year as I think about the import of the words being sung, one of the only ones I could “play” on the “play by LED” keyboards I had as a child (though it was listed there by the melody’s older, secular name, “Greensleeves”).
I think I want to start by defining terms; if you didn’t grow up in the church, you may not know what all of these words mean (if you even knew the carol set to this tune).
The first word that I want to define, the first one that might raise an eyebrow, is “laud”… what is “laud”, and why should we “haste” to bring it to a baby? Dictionary.com defines it as a song or hymn of praise. When it is used as a verb, it means to praise. Something that is laudable is praise worthy. The carol calls us to hurry to the child that we might offer praise. Why should we offer it to a Baby? I’ll get to that in a bit, when I define what “Christ” means… but first-
What does “mean estate” mean? If you’ve ever been in a barn filled with animals, you might have an idea… while there are some who find the smell of horses and cattle familiar and pleasant, I’m not sure that anyone would disagree with me when I say that perhaps, being born and spending the first hours of your life in a barn filled with animals is not exactly ideal for any child (though it’s certainly better than being born in the street… at least it was dry and relatively warm). When you consider who this child is, it’s certainly not the birth you’d expect… but even without that consideration, the conditions into which the Babe, the Son of Mary, was born, were certainly meager. They were, as Dictionary.com defines mean, ignoble, inferior in status, rank & dignity, unimposing & shabby.
What about incense, gold, & myrrh? Well, over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll discuss more about these traditional gifts given to the child (and the fact that the number of gifts given is where we get our idea of how many wisemen or kings came, though that number is never actually established, and could have been as few as two, or far more). But for tonight, I want to remind you that this was a child they were visiting, one who was presumably the first son of a poor carpenter and his betrothed young bride (who, according to all the gossip in their home town, had conceived him out of wedlock, and not to her new groom!)… since when do perfumes (incense), money (gold), and funeral ointments (myrrh) make an appropriate gift for a baby born in a stable? (OK, maybe the perfumes helped with the smells of the stables, but that’s hardly a normal baby shower present, is it?).
Actually, though, the gifts make sense when you know who this baby is. They hint at the arrival we’d think He deserved, at the gifts one would make to a person of His stature, and at the sacrifice He was born to make, but that none of them could understand or imagine. The gifts make sense when you understand that this baby, this tiny Son of Mary, was born to be praised, because we don’t know Him for His mother, but for His Father, who was no meager carpenter.
You see, we say “Jesus Christ” as though “Christ” was his last name or something… but in truth, “Christ” is a title, like “King” or “Master”, or even better, “Messiah”... the Anointed One. To call Jesus “Christ” is to address him as Messiah, as the Anointed One of God. It identifies Him as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, the One King of Israel Anointed by God, who will save His people from their sins.
This, Beloved, is not just another Baby. This Baby is unlike any baby that was ever born before Him or since Him… and Christmas is CHRISTmas because it is a celebration of the Christ, the Anointed One who was born to die, the Creator who came to earth to redeem His creation to Himself.
This, Beloved, this is why we hasten to bring him praise. This is why we wonder at why He, of all the babies to ever be born, is born in stable around animals, why we marvel at the angels who sing of His birth and the lowly shepherds who came to meet Him first. This, Beloved, is why we sing for Joy… and why funeral ointments were a fitting gift for this singular child. Because without His death 33 years later on a Roman cross, a righteous, holy man dying in the place of the sinners, the ultimate scapegoat, the Lamb of God whose blood would mark the ultimate “Pass-Over”… without the death for which He’d need the funeral ointments, the perfumes to mask the stench of death, without that, this is just another baby, precious to His parents, but unremarkable otherwise in history. And without His resurrection, Beloved, we have no hope. Christmas is remarkable not because a baby was born, but because the Christ, the Anointed one, The Messiah, had finally come.
What child is this?
This is Christ, the King
Crucified before the foundation of the world,
To win you and I back to Himself.
And that, Beloved, is why I celebrate Christmas.
I’ll see you tomorrow with another carol.

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