What Child is This?
by Rob Weingartner
The season of Advent invites us to consider afresh the question asked by a familiar carol – “What child is this?” The carol itself offers an answer. “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing! Haste, haste, to bring him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary!”
What child, indeed! The shepherds guard. The angels sing. We bring him laud (that means our praise). All in response to what God has done. The initiative is with God!
I’ve been thinking about how we mark and celebrate the birth of Jesus. The celebrating and giving and feasting with family and friends, all of that is wonderful. But what is truly radical about the Christmas story, and we can miss it if we stay focused on what we do, is what God has done.
The angels let the shepherds (and us) in on it, on what God is doing: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Do you believe that God, the creator of all that exists from one corner of the universe to the other, so loved the world, so loved humanity, so loves you, that he decided to become one of us?
That is what Christmas tells us God was up to. God wanted to make his love real in a way that we could understand, in a way that we could get ahold of; and so the invisible, all-powerful God had to become touchable in a human, earthly way. That is, God had to get inside a human body like ours. That is what Christmas tells us, that God “became flesh.” (John 1:14) Eugene Peterson translates the verse this way. “The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”
He had a body like yours and mine. He was a baby and probably kept Mary and Joseph up some nights. He had to be fed and burped and held and cuddled and bathed. He breathed and ate and worked with hands like yours and mine.
When he was grown, he got hungry and he got tired. In fact, there is a story about him that tells how once he was so tired that he fell asleep in a boat in the middle of a large lake while a storm raged all around. His friends were filled with fear, and he was in the back of the boat sleeping.
Like the other rabbis who walked around Palestine, Jesus asked questions. But he was different from the others. He spoke with authority unlike that of the scribes and Pharisees. His ministry displayed the love and power of God. He dared to speak for God in extraordinary and unheard of ways.
One day he asked his disciples, those closest to him, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter – it was often the burly fisherman who ventured out where others feared to tread – Peter repeated what the angels decades before had revealed to the shepherds. “You are the Messiah,” he said. “The Messiah of God.” Yet there was still so much that Peter didn’t understand.
I cannot explain it, the Son of God with a body just like yours and mine, a body which could be injured, a body which could be killed.
He kept on asking people questions, kept on inviting, kept on touching, kept on healing, kept on surprising, kept on pressing, kept on challenging….
And one day they killed Jesus.
“What child is this?”
“Nails, 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.”
You see, what we celebrate in this holy season points to another season called Easter, a day which declares that God’s love is more powerful than death. God raised Jesus from the dead, vindicating his life and making it possible for us to become children of God. Through the obedience of the Son God did for us what we could not do for ourselves, restore us in a right relationship with himself, a relationship of love and trust.
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
Friends, the good news of the Gospel is not what we have done, or will do. The good news is that in Jesus God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, and this good news is at the heart of God’s mission. As David Bosch puts it, “There is mission because God loves people.”
We find our place in God’s mission in the “good news of great joy for all the people” – because the only proper thing to do with good news is to share it with others.