William Chatterton Dix lived in the 1800s. He made his living as a manager of an insurance company. When he was 29 years old, Dix experienced a near-fatal illness that left him confined to bed for months. During this time of illness, Dix grew in his faith, began writing poetry, and composed several hymns.
Dix’s most famous hymn is “What Child Is This,” based on the poem The Manger Throne. In the hymn, Dix asks the rhetorical question, “What Child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”
This is a worthy and appropriate question to ask ourselves during the Christmas season. What child is this? Who are we celebrating? Who is Jesus of Nazareth?
The clearest answers are found in the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each author tells the Christmas story from a distinct perspective, and each author gives us life changing truth about the identity of the child who was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.
- Matthew tells us Jesus is the Son of Abraham, and the Son of David. Matthew tells us Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. He is the Anointed One, the promised prophet, priest, and king. Matthew tells us Jesus was the One born to save his people from their sins. Matthew tells us Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.
- Mark skips the Christmas story itself and jumps right into the action. Like Matthew, Mark tells us Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the promised prophet, priest, and king. Mark tells us Jesus is the Son of God. Mark tells us that Jesus is the Lord, promised by Isaiah, heralded by John the Baptist.
- Luke has the longest version of the Christmas story. Luke tells us Jesus is the Savior. Luke tells us Jesus is Christ the Lord, titles that are also found in Matthew and Mark. Luke tells us Jesus is the consolation of Israel, Jesus is a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and Jesus is the redemption of Jerusalem.
- John tells a cosmic version of the Christmas story. Instead of angels and shepherds and Magi, John goes back to the beginning. John tells us Jesus was eternally one with the Father. He was the un-created Creator of all things. John says Jesus is the life and light of men, the eternal Word become flesh to dwell among us.
In the midst of Christmas busyness, take time to ask yourself the question posed by the hymn writer. What Child is this?
Then take time to read the Christmas story, listening to the answers provided by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
“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!”