Merry Christmas! Today is, of course, the 12th day, the Feast of the Three Kings, Epiphany - though it will be celebrated this Sunday by most of us (which, as it was last year is certainly commented on, but decidedly not the point of this post).
Instead, today I want to talk about one of my favorite Christmas Hymns, which - much like We Three Kings from last year's post, seems rarely sung in its entirety.
So here's your chance to correct that grave disservice done to you this season! Dive into a Christmas carol that one website warns has explicit lyrics, and which inspires me to wear the coolest Christmas tie ever!
Ask yourself this Christmastide: Who could this baby be?
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?
What child, indeed? During this Christmas Season, we should notice how commonplace the Nativity scene is. We're all familiar with the standard creche, first made by St. Francis of Assisi, with its comfortable and recognizable depictions of Mary, Joseph, and the Child Jesus.
Sometimes there are animals, angels, shepherds, or magi. The scene may be large plastic light-up figures, carved wood or stone, glass, painted or plain, or even cut from sheet metal and resembling dinosaurs from a certain angle, but it is the Nativity scene we are all familiar with.
Now, I've been present for all four births of my children, and I admit that the strains of the Hallelujah Chorus ran through my head all four times, but how many children do you know of whose birth was actually announced by angels? To a bunch of people who were given the gift of seeing the normally invisible servants of God?
Who could this baby be?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.
Oh, okay. That's who this is. Christ the King, we know Him. The Savior, the King of Israel, the King Triumphant, the King of Glory. Sure. Makes sense. Let's go praise him.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
We see allusions to the manger, and that Jesus is the Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Angels. But more, notice this question. We get this strong reproach: "Why lies He in such mean estate?"
It's certainly not the fault of Mary and Joseph - the bed of the manger is like the Widow's Mite: this is all they can give the Son of God. But that question should convict us, the sinners for whom the silent Word is pleading: why have we not prepared Him room?
If offering him no place was bad, it's about to get worse.
Nails, spears shall pierce him through,
the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
the Babe, the Son of Mary.
I expect this refrain is the reason why the first is repeated thrice, rather than maintaining the unique refrains proper to each verse. This is a very uncomfortable pronouncement, as we discussed several years ago.
I doubt my high school choir teacher will ever read this, but I am eternally grateful to Mr. Scott Growdon for his selection of Christmas Carols. This hymn is one that I learned in it's entirety not through regular attendance at Mass during the Christmas season, but through the caroling done by the high school choir.
Hail, the Word made flesh, for He has come and made His abode among us, and He has come to set us free from our sins by taking them upon Himself. Christmas always looks forward to Good Friday and Easter - the Death and Resurrection of Christ.
This is the answer to "What child is this?" that we have to sit with, that doesn't lend itself to easy answer, but rather to contemplation of the mystery.
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, this is Christ the King. And now that you know what that means, what that entails? I must prepare Him room, I must - by His grace - replace the "mean estate" of my cold and selfish heart with a loving throne for the King of Kings.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The babe, the Son of Mary.
This refrain brings us into a stark contrast:the ecstatic joy of the angels with the contemplative joy of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both are necessary, both are proper.
It's almost as if this carol is reminding us while we sing it that it is good to proclaim Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace on Earth to those of good will, that we should also take the time to think on the words we are singing, to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation we are celebrating.
Christ enters into our poverty, our darkness, our weakness, and makes all things new. He replaces the "mean estate" of our hearts of stone, and makes those stones ring out "Hosanna to the Son of David!" as he replaces them with hearts of flesh, capable of receiving and returning His love, fitting thrones for the King of Kings.