First Sunday of Advent: What Child is This?

My goal for this Advent season is to post each Sunday.  We’ll see if that actually happens…

I’m playing in TubaChristmas, which, despite being a “secular” event, features a lot of religious Christmas carols.  I was rehearsing the music and came upon “Greensleeves,” also known by its lyric name, “What Child is This?”  That song has become a sort of recurring theme over the past few days.  It’s been played on the radio, on my Grooveshark station, in church.  I’ve always been fond of the tune (I’m a sucker for traditional melodies), but I’ve always sort of brushed the lyrics aside.  To me, “laid to rest” is the phrase you use when someone dies and the word “ass” brings back memories of giggling in church during junior high.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about it more.  One thing I noticed when I looked up the lyrics to post here was that most renditions remove the lines “Nails, spear shall pierce him through, / The Cross be borne for me, for you” and replace them with something more Christmas-y.  I knew this was a fairly common practice (for example, “We Three Kings” usually has verses sung about gold and frankincense, but rarely myrrh–turns out, the verse about myrrh talks about “gathering gloom,” “sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,” and a “stone-cold tomb”), but I wasn’t aware it had been applied to this carol in specific.  I’m not sure whether I like that, though.  I understand: this is Christmas, not Good Friday.  We want Christmas music to be happy and Good Friday music to be somber.  But Christmas means nothing without Good Friday.

Another thing I’ve come to realize is that a lot of people really do ask “What Child is this?”  My life thus far has had a fairly Christian background–church, Christian neighbors, Christian school, Awanas, a lot of Christian cross country friends, etc.  I’ve had people tell me about their experiences with college roommates or other peers who are into Christmas but truly don’t understand its meaning (e.g., asking a Jewish person, completely naively, why they don’t celebrate Christmas).  I believed them, but it seems that I didn’t fully understand what they meant.  I do now.  People love the presents and the food and the family and the shopping and the vacation time and the whatever else–but they don’t love the Cause.  They don’t know who/what the Cause is.  They don’t know the Cause.  I can’t claim that I fully know Him either, but I know who He is.  Truly, they are asking “What Child is this?”  I can only hope that my life reflects just a little bit of the answer.

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.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!

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!

Apparently, nobody sings the verse about nails and a spear, so I settled with my favorite interpretation.

On another note, I find the adapted lyrics by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to be quite thought provoking.  I’m not including the narration, just because it’s so long, but without context, it’s hard to appreciate the lyrics of the melodic portion, so here’s a link.

What Child is this
Who laid to rest
That I now find here sleeping?
Do angels keep the dreams we seek
While our hearts lie bleeding?

Could this be Christ the king
Whose every breath the angels bring?
Could this be the face of god, this child, the son i once carried?

What Child is this
Who is so blessed he changes all tomorrows?
Replacing tears with reborn years
In hearts once dark and hollow

Could this be Christ the king
Whose every breath the angels bring?
Could this be the face of god, this child, the son i once carried?

In the dead of the night
As his life slips away
As he reads by the light
Of a star faraway

Holding on
Holding off
Holding out
Holding in

Could you be this old
And have your life just begin?

Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
It begins
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day

Tell me how many times can this story be told
After all of these years it should all sound so old
But it somehow rings true in the back of my mind
As i search for a dream that words can no longer define

Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
And the time
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day

And the time and the years
And the tears and the cost
And the hopes and the dreams
Of each child that is lost
And the whisper of wings
In the cold winter’s air
As the snow it comes down
And visions appear everywhere

Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
In the air
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day

In the dead of the night
As his life slips away
As he reads by the light
Of a star faraway

Holding on
Holding off
Holding out
Holding in

Could you be this old
And have your life just begin

Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
It begins
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
It begins
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
It begins
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
It begins

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One thought on “First Sunday of Advent: What Child is This?

  1. Pingback: Second Sunday of Advent: Christmas Music | Mind of a Science Nerd

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