Who’s in Your Manger?*
The angel said to Mary, “I bring good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11
Flipping through the Christmas CDs at the bookstore the other day, I wondered why so many secular artists put “What Child Is This” on their holiday albums—everyone from John Denver to Jessica Simpson. I couldn’t remember the carol’s lyrics, so I did a little web-surfing when I got home.
William C. Dix wrote “What Child Is This.” The lyrics are based on one of his poems, “The Manger Throne.” As I read the carol’s original words, the second stanza intrigued me because it emphasized the purpose of Christ’s birth so graphically:
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The Silent Word is pleading.
Nail, 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.
Modern hymnals often omit these words and use the ending of the first verse as the refrain for all three verses. Granted, the lyrics aren’t very merry, but neglecting the relationship between Easter and Christmas reduces Christmas to an elaborate Hallmark birth announcement. And that’s not a biblical perspective at all.
The Bible consistently links the joyous birth of Christ to the somber truth of his death. The angel told Joseph to name the child Jesus because he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The heavenly host proclaimed, “A Savior has been born” (Luke 2:11). And the magi brought myrrh, a resin used in embalming mixtures.
Hymn writers such as Dix grasped the importance of connecting the celebration of Christ’s birth with the necessity of his death. Editing the cross out of our Christmas carols is spiritually dangerous. It distances us from the convicting truth that the wooden manger became a wooden cross, the swaddling clothes a purple robe, and the adoring shepherds a jeering mob.
The Son of Mary was the Son of God who became the Son of Man and gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark. 10:45). Let’s do more than keep Christ in Christmas. Let’s keep the Cross in Christmas too.
What does Paul say about the importance of the death and resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:12-17?
To read the original lyrics to “What Child Is This,” go to Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
Denise K. Loock