What Child Is This

Full Text

1 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!

2 Why lies he in such mean estate
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here
the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
the cross be borne for me, for you;
hail, hail for Word made flesh,
the babe, the son of Mary!

3 So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh;
come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise the song on high,
the virgin sings her lullaby;
joy, joy, for Christ is born,
the babe, the son of Mary.

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Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

The narrative on which this song reflects is found in Luke 2:11-20.

Stanza 2 speaks of nails and the cross. See the prediction in Luke 2:35, and the story in Matthew 27:35-50; Mark 15:16-41; Luke 23:33-46; and John 19:16-30.

Stanza 2 refers to the “Word made flesh”, a reference to John’s revelation in John 1:1-2 and 14.

Stanza 3 calls him the “King of Kings”, a reference to this exaltation predicted in Philippians 2:9-11, taught in I Timothy 6:3-16, and shown in Revelation 19:11-16

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

The narrative of Christ’s incarnation is told in this song: stanza 1 begins with a child sleeping on Mary’s lap, a child who is the Word made flesh. In stanza 2, this child is called to bear the cross and yet is proclaimed as the King of kings who brings salvation. Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 23 teaches that “God joined our humanity in Jesus Christ—the eternal Word made flesh. He is the long-awaited Messiah, one with us and one with God, fully human and fully divine, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.”


What Child Is This


She will give birth to a son,
and you are to give him the name Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.
—Matthew 1:21, NIV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.
—Titus 2:11, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

We confess that God fulfilled the promise
made to the early fathers and mothers
by the mouth of the holy prophets
when he sent the only and eternal Son of God
into the world at the time appointed.
The Son took the “form of a slave”
and was made in “human form,”
truly assuming a real human nature,
with all its weaknesses, except for sin;
being conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
without male participation.
And Christ not only assumed human nature
as far as the body is concerned
but also a real human soul,
in order to be a real human being.
For since the soul had been lost as well as the body,
Christ had to assume them both to save them both together.
In this way Christ is truly our Immanuel—
that is: “God with us.”
—from Belgic Confession, Art. 18
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

What Child Is This

Tune Information

e minor


Musical Suggestion

An interesting juxtaposition of text, and a way to bring Christmas and Good Friday together, would be to alternate between “What Child Is This” and “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended,” with both in the key of E minor. Begin with stanza 1 of “What Child,” followed by stanza 1 of “Ah, Holy,” then stanza 2 of “What Child,” and stanzas 2 and 3 of “Ah, Holy,” concluding with stanza 3 of “What Child” and stanza 4 of “Ah, Holy.” You may want to have a small group or choir sing “What Child Is This” with the congregation singing the text of “Ah, Holy Jesus.”
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 105)
— Joyce Borger

What Child Is This

Hymn Story/Background

This text, by William C. Dix, is his own modification of a poem he had written entitled “The Manger Throne.”
This text is associated with GREENSLEEVES, a beloved tune, named for the character about which the old folk song was written, Lady Green Sleeves.
— Laura de Jong

Author Information

Most British hymn writers in the nineteenth century were clergymen, but William C. Dix (b. Bristol, England, 1837; d. Cheddar, Somerset, England, 1898) was a notable exception. Trained in the business world, he became the manager of a marine insurance company in Glasgow, Scotland. Dix published various volumes of his hymns, such as Hymns of Love and Joy (1861) and Altar Songs: Verses on the Holy Eucharist (1867). A number of his texts were first published in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861).
— Bert Polman

Song Notes

Have you ever studied the words of Isaiah 9:6-7 and realized just how strange they are? At first glance, the grand titles and expectations seem absurd to place on a child. It’s a strange picture - a small child, hunched over like Atlas, a parliament building set on his shoulders, wearing a crown, perched on a throne, with a very troubled look on his face, as if to say, “What in the world am I doing here?” And yet, this is exactly what these verses tell us to be true. Of course, there was no actual building, no real throne, and no crown but one of thorns. But the thought is still astounding – this child, this baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, would be the fulfillment of these promises. He would be, and is, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. It is this astonishing prophecy that we keep in mind when we ask the question, “What child is this?”
— Laura de Jong
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