Of all the different Christmas songs and Christmas hymns out there, one of my favorites if not my all-time favorite, is the hymn we just sung, “What Child Is This.” Even though it can be a hard hymn to sing, even though it is all about Jesus, the babe, the son of Mary … I find the question and answer format of the song to be something quite interesting and fitting for an evening like this.
Born in 1837 in Bristol, England, William Dix, the composer of this great hymn, grew up to be a successful insurance salesman in Glasgow, Scotland. At the young age of 29, not certain with what exactly, Dix was stricken with a serious illness which nearly cost him his life. Due to its severity, he was confined to bed and left alone for several months. It’s no wonder that during this time he became severely depressed.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22:1). In the midst of his illness and spiritual battle, Dix very well could have uttered those words. He could have very easily thought that God had abandoned him or was punishing him.
Yet, through his illness, through his depression, through nearly dying … Dix met God in a very real and personal way. His spiritual experience, his renewal, led him to realize that God had not abandoned him, that God was not punishing him. In the midst of his spiritual revival, Dix composed “What Child Is This” as well as many other well-known hymns which are sung in churches throughout the world.
Entering into 2020, things were looking good. Optimistically, everyone was making plans for the different events they were going to attend, plans for retirement were being made, family events were being laid out. Going into 2020, everyone thought it was going to be a successful year. That is until 2020 was stricken with a serious and fatal disease.
The disease of 2020 has literally changed the world. The disease has confined many people to their homes, to their rooms and apartments in long-term care facilities. It has brought much greater awareness to one’s mental health status. Depression and the number of suicides have increased dramatically this past year. Lives and how people interact, how businesses do business, how personal illnesses are addressed, and how people worship have all changed this past year.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22:1). In the midst of this past year, these words could probably be heard coming from the mouths of Christians. Over the course of this past year, one could very easily think that God has abandoned them, that God is punishing them.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22:1). “Oh pastor, you’re just being over dramatic. Your miss using Jesus’ words.”
Am I though? We need to understand that Jesus wasn’t the first person to say these words. These words were written by King David, not just for Jesus to say while he was hanging and dying on the cross. King David wrote them because of something real happening in his own life. We don’t know what it was exactly, but these words were written by a man who was very much in despair.
On the verge of death, William Dix could have very well uttered the opening words of Psalm 22. In the midst of a global pandemic, people around the world, pastors who are trying to lead God’s people through these times could have and probably have uttered these words. Jesus in the midst of his agonizing suffering and brutal crucifixion, which he didn’t deserve, on the verge of dying, which he didn’t deserve, He uttered: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
But yet even in the midst of great agony, David says, “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (Ps. 22:9-10).
David understood, both for himself and prophetically speaking that despite the depth of agony or how large the sense of abandonment he was experiencing … he could still appeal to God in remembrance of better times. No matter the depth of agony or how large the sense of abandonment is which you or I experience … we can still appeal to God in remembrance of the better times, in remembrance of how we have been blessed this past year, and in remembrance of the love and promises of God.
In the midst of his near fatal illness, in the midst of his spiritual renewal, Dix through the Christmas carol “What Child Is This” invites us to reflect upon the birth of the Christ child, but even more so, he invites us to reflect upon his death. “Nails, spears shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.”
The cross of Christ shows you and me that God intimately knows us. He unconditionally accepts us. He passionately loves us. God watched each of us being formed in our mother’s womb. He saw our first heart beat and when we took our first breath. He watched us take our first step, speak our first words. He has seen and felt every tear that has rolled down our face, every heartbreak we have had, and every sin we have committed. Jesus knows the good, the bad, and the ugly of our lives … and yet he chooses us and redeems us.
“The poor will eat and be satisfied, they who seek the LORD will praise him. All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all families of the nations will bow down before him. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it” (Ps. 22:26-31, selected).
What child is this? This child, the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary … this child is one who doesn’t let the economy faze him, elections don’t define him, diseases don’t derail him, problems don’t surprise him, and death will never defeat him. This child, our Savior Jesus invites us to come to him, to lay our burdens upon him, to live in a relationship with him for the babe, the son of Mary will always be with you. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.