URC Daily Devotion Friday 1st January 2021 – What Child Is This?

Friday 1st January 2021 – What Child Is This?

Born in Bristol, Dix spend most of his life selling marine insurance in Glasgow writing hymns in his spare time.  He wrote this hymn for the late medieval tune Greensleeves contrasting cute images of the nativity with the horror of what is to come.

St Matthew 2: 1-6

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;  and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’

What Child Is This
W Chatterton Dix (1837-98)

You can hear this here

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 Christians, 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.

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 a song on high,
the Virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
the Babe, the Son of Mary.

As a child I adored this hymn and its tune, Greensleeves.  I still love it. It’s a Christmas hymn telling difficult truth while affirming that Holy Christ is the child of Mary.  It tells the truth of Jesus’ death whilst asking us to enthrone, rise and sing even as we’ve sung these hard truths.  The Greensleeves lilting melody doesn’t soften the hard news and it lifts and settles the whole story.

I write this for the first day of a new year following a year which some say disappeared or should be forever forgotten. I beg us to see what Dix asked us to see, as Greensleeves carried us through his words.  The child who some welcomed brought fear in others. Jesus’ story is the whole cycle of birth and joy, death and pain, eternal life to be joyfully celebrated. The story in all our lives is as human as Jesus’ life – birth, pain, death, eternity. As we live, we are repeating cycles of new births, new pains, new resurrections.  Our lives are a flurry of renewal, each cycle allowing us to be closer to the child of Mary.

2020 was awash with renewal cycles, awash with the pain of each one.  In hindsight we see things which could have been different, we grieve for so much and for so many.  In hindsight we see our risks, our learning.  Like this hymn sees, I plead that we don’t unsee; that we look into the stories of 2020 and name their truths.  Rather than the lilt of Greensleeves to carry us, we have the lilt and love and power of our very present Holy Spirit, carrying us through such seeing to focus into the resurrections, the transformations, the affirmations of life from the deepest places and peoples.

Blessed New Year. 


Glorious God, give us courage to come out of personal fear and anger.  Hold us as we linger over what we’ve hidden until we can bear resting in you as we look. Let us know your lilting love as you settle us in peace over what we cannot change. Resurrect our hope. Give us grace and creativity to share our restoration so that your Hope becomes power for all people.

Today’s writer

The Rev’d ELizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s Oxford


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Copyright © 2021 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you have subscribed to the Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church. You can unsubscribe by clicking on the link below.

Our mailing address is:

United Reformed Church

86 Tavistock Place

London, WC1H 9RT

United Kingdom

Add us to your address book