WHAT CHILD IS THIS? written in 1865
The tune for this Christmas hymn was sung long before its words were written. “Greensleeves” is an English folk tune that can be traced as far back as the 1500s. Shakespeare even mentioned it in one of his plays.
The writer of this hymn, William Dix (1837-1898), was an Anglican layman, born in Bristol, England, the son of a local surgeon. He was educated to run a mercantile business, but settled in Glasgow, Scotland, where he became a successful insurance salesman. As a young man of 29, Dix was stricken by a near fatal illness and was confined to bed. He suffered deep depression during this time, but through it all he met God in a very personal way. His spiritual experience led to the composing of this hymn… and many other hymns.
This carol was originally part of a longer Christmas poem called “The Manger Throne”… and has become more popular in America than in the country in which it was written.
The words fit well to that lilting old tune and paint a beautiful picture of baby Jesus in the manger.
Read this Christmas hymn, and – today – think again of the deep mystery of the incarnation.
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. (Chorus)
So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh; come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone Him. (Chorus)