The Christmas carol we are about to sing – What Child Is This? – asks the central question of this night, of tomorrow, of Christmas Day ... the question at the heart of our gift-giving and family gatherings: What child is this?
What child is this who has brought the whole world to a hushed halt? What child is this—born two millennia ago, born a peasant in an occupied country, sentenced to an excruciating and ignominious death—who so commands our attention and our reverence?
What child is this who inspires the world’s finest artists—painters and poets, musicians and sculptors, architects and composers—to incomparable heights of artistic and spiritual achievement?
What child is this who challenges our too easy accommodations to war and violence? Who, in defiance of our warring and our wall-building and our vain nationalisms, cries out from the very throne of heaven: “Peace and good will over all the earth!”
What child is this who judges us, not by what we own, nor by the power we wield over others, but by our capacity for kindness, by our compassion for the poor of the earth, by our appreciation for the plight of prisoner and refugee?
What child is this, on whose birthday, governments and businesses, indeed, whole countries, suspend production and cease commerce?
What child is this who meets and melts haughty human pride with fires forged of divine forgiveness?
What child is this, Middle Eastern and Jewish, by whom time itself is divided?
What child is this, of reduced means, without property, lacking in any of the kinds of credentials by which we measure ourselves and each other, yet whose moral excellence and spiritual brilliance have redefined what it means to be a full, whole, evolved human person?
What child is this for whom you’ve come tonight—many of you anyway—hoping to catch even a glimpse?
The Christmas carol asks the central question, the only question of this night: What Child is this? In the Carol the question is rhetorical. Asked and answered. For the author, for William Dix, who wrote the carol in 1865, who penned the poetry from a personal, painful circumstance of in extremis …for him, the question was rhetorical. Asked and answered.
And you? How do you answer the question? What child is this for you, for how you live your life, for how you face your own dying, for how you regard others (both friend and enemy, us and them)? For you, What child is this?