What Child is This? — Carols of Advent Joy

Scripture Focus: Psalm 123:1
1 I lift up my eyes to you,
    to you who sit enthroned in heaven.

Luke 2:15-18
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Reflection: What Child is This? — Carols of Advent Joy
By Jon Polk

The melody of Greensleeves is instantly recognizable, but few know the lyrics of the original song by that title. Most associate the tune with the beloved Christmas carol, What Child is This?

The son of a surgeon from Bristol, England, William Chatterton Dix spent most of his life as a manager of the Maritime Insurance Company in Glasgow, Scotland. 

In 1865, at the age of 29, Dix suffered from an unexpected, severe illness that nearly took his life. The sickness left him confined to bed for months suffering from serious depression. During his recovery, he experienced a profound spiritual revival. Reading the Bible constantly, he channeled his renewed faith into writing poetry and hymns for the church.

Dix’s most well-known hymn is the carol, What Child is This?, written during that period of illness and depression. The song wrestles with the mystery of the Incarnation and paints a classic portrait of the Nativity.

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?

The questions presume to be those of the shepherds as they consider the true nature of the baby the angels celebrate. They wonder about the humble circumstances surrounding his birth.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?

Dix based the song on a poem he had written earlier, titled The Manger Throne, in which he describes the excitement over the birth of this King born in a lowly estate.

Never fell melodies half so sweet
          As those which are filling the skies,
And never a palace shone half so fair
          As the manger bed where our Saviour lies

With a symbolic nod to the story of the Magi, the questions of the shepherds are answered, and we are reminded that our King has come to rescue both kings and peasants, wise men and shepherds alike.

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

This King, born in a Manger Throne, has come to bring us life, the humble station of his birth reflecting the humiliation of his own death on our behalf.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;

The King of the Universe, born in a filthy cattle trough, worshiped by dirty shepherds. A stark contrast which portends our own transformations when we follow him, much like the spiritual awakening of a humble Anglican businessman inspired him to dedicate his creative talents to hymns which remind the church to continually reflect upon the question, what child is this?

Listen: What Child is This? by Russ Taff
Lyrics from Hymnary.org

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 21  (Listen 3:25
Psalms 123-125 (Listen 1:52)

Read more about Pause To Read
On Pause to Read, a podcast by The Park Forum, we read a devotional from the past year and encourage listeners to pause to read the scripture before continuing to listen to the devotional.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Continuing and expanding our work requires support from our donors. Consider becoming a donor with an end-of-year one-time gift or as a monthly donor.

The Garden of Psalm 119

Psalm 119.174-176
I long for your salvation, Lord,
    and your law gives me delight.
Let me live that I may praise you,
    and may your laws sustain me.
I have strayed like a lost sheep.
    Seek your servant,
    for I have not forgotten your commands.

Reflection: The Garden of Psalm 119
By John Tillman

We finish Psalm 119 today and reflect on it with some words from Charles Spurgeon: 

“Those who have studied this divine hymn, and carefully noted each line of it, are amazed at the variety and profundity of the thought…The more you look into this mirror of a gracious heart the more you will see in it.”

Spurgeon is convinced that David wrote the Psalm and if not he, then some other writer who spent long years in its work and created it not over a short span, but through a lifetime of faithfulness.

“There is evident growth in the subject matter. The earlier verses are of such a character as to lend themselves to the hypothesis that the author was a young man, while many of the later passages could only have suggested themselves to age and wisdom.”

In the end, rather than rising in acclaim or celebration, the aged wisdom of the psalmist leads him to a humble and prostrate stance.

“The psalmist is approaching the end of the Psalm…he seems to break into the inner circle of divine fellowship, and to come even to the feet of the great God whose help he is imploring. This nearness creates the most lowly view of himself, and leads him to close the Psalm upon his face in deepest self-humiliation, begging to be sought out like a lost sheep…It is a very sweet thing to a suppliant when he knows of a surety that his prayer has obtained audience. It is to Jehovah that this prayer is expressed with trembling earnestness…we crave audience of none else, for we have confidence in none beside.”

Meditating on Psalm 119 daily has been a common spiritual practice over the centuries and many have reported its wealth of spiritual benefit.

“This sacred ode is a little Bible, the Scriptures condensed, a mass of Bibline, holy writ rewritten in holy emotions and actions. This Psalm, like the whole Scripture which it praises, is a pearl island, or, better still, a garden of sweet flowers.”

It is our hope in each cycle of our two-year-long tread through the garden of scripture to produce not pride, but humility. Not judgmental attitudes, but merciful gratitude. Not clamoring commands for others, but tender notes of correction in our own hearts.

*Quotations abridged from “A Treasury of David,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper.
He shall have pity on the lowly and the poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight. — Psalm 72.12-14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 33-34 (Listen – 6:35)
Psalm 119:145-176 (Listen – 15:14) 

This Weekend’s Readings
Joshua 1 (Listen – 3:11), Psalm 120-122 (Listen – 2:12) 
Joshua 2 (Listen – 3:49), Psalm 123-125 (Listen – 1:52) 

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Read more about Quotations from the Desert
Connecting to God’s Word and relying on it for our sustenance, for our source of life, is a consistent theme of scripture and the purpose of spiritual disciplines.

Read more about Setting Aside the Scriptures
The reason that we cannot set aside the Scriptures that we don’t like, is that Scripture must be considered holistically. Each part is bound up with the others for a purpose.