As a child, I was not impressed with a Christmas song that asked a question everyone already knew the answer to. What child is this?
Really? It’s Jesus, of course.
We all know that — even the kids know that.What I didn’t yet understand is that questions aren’t just for solving problems and requesting new information. Sometimes questions make a point.
We call those “rhetorical questions.” Other times the form of a question expresses awe and wonder about something we know to be true, but find almost too good to be true. It’s too good to simply say it directly like we say everything else.
When the disciples found themselves in a great windstorm, with waves breaking into the boat, and Jesus calmed the storm, they said to one another,
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).
They knew the answer from Scripture. Only God himself can still the seas (Psalm 65:7; 89:9; 107:29); this, somehow, must be God.
But it was too wonderful just to say. This new revelation of Jesus’ glory was too stupendous to keep quiet, and too remarkable not to say it in some fresh way. God himself had become man and was in the boat with them. “Who then is this?”
It’s in a similar vein that we say at Christmas, “What child is this?” We know the answer. It has been plainly revealed.
And it is almost too wonderful to be true. God himself has become man in this baby, and has come to rescue us. The eternal Word has become flesh and dwells among us (John 1:14). It is clear and certain. We must say it straightforwardly and with courage. And it is fitting that at times, like Christmas, we wonder, we marvel, we declare in awe, “What child is this?”
Such Mean Estate
What prompts this statement-question of awe, though, is not only that God has become man, but that he has come among us in this way — in this surprising poverty. The first stanza gives us the glory we expect: Angels greet him with anthems sweet. That’s the kind of arrival we expected. Heavenly hosts sing. The heavens are alight with song.