What Child is This?

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

One of the things I enjoy most about the Christmas Season is the music – the beautiful carols and hymns that are a traditional part of the season.

Some contemporary, secular “holiday music” not withstanding – the songs of the season paint comforting scenes, evoke warm memories, and point to the great truths of faith that are, after all, what Christmas is all about.

One of the most haunting of the Christmas hymns is the venerable “What Child is This?” The simple question points us to the child born in Bethlehem, and leads us to think about the meaning of his birth. Who is this child that is the centerpiece of every nativity scene wherever it is shown? Who is this child that causes so much excitement and joy in this season? Who is this child that has had such a lasting impact on the history of the world? And who is this child that contains within himself the promise of a better world, and the path to peace, justice and love for all of God’s children?

To answer these questions, one needs only consider the names and titles that were given the child.

At the direction of God’s angel, the child born in Bethlehem was named “Jesus,” which means, “the one who saves us.” And from what exactly does he save us? Well, he saves us from our sins, and the consequences of our sins. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” John the Baptist exclaimed as he saw Jesus walking toward him. (Jn 1:29) And if you think about the quantity of the sins of the world, as well as our own personal sins, it’s clear that we really do need someone to help us, someone to save us.

A Christmas card I received summarized our need for a savior with these words: “If our greatest need was for technology, God would have sent a scientist. If our greatest need was for pleasure, God would have sent an entertainer. If our greatest need was for money, God would have sent an economist. But since our greatest need is for forgiveness, God sent a Savior, a Redeemer.”

Next, the child born in Bethlehem is identified as the “Christ” – in Hebrew the “Messiah,” in English the “Anointed One.” Jesus himself acknowledged that he was the “anointed one” when he took his place in the synagogue and applied the words of the Prophet Isaiah to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.” (Lk 4:18)

As Scripture and Tradition reveal to us, Jesus was anointed as a priest, because of the perfect sacrifice he offered to the Father; as prophet, because he is the perfect expression of God’s Word; and as king, because he claims absolute dominion over the whole universe and unconditional loyalty from you and me individually.

Jesus bestows those same titles upon us, particularly in the sacraments of initiation we receive. In our baptism, confirmation and reception of the Eucharist, we too are “anointed ones.” We too are called to be “priests, prophets and kings” in the living-out of our daily lives, each according to our particular vocation.

Finally, we know that the child born in Bethlehem was also called “Emmanuel.” As we read in St. Matthew’s Gospel, the conception and birth of Jesus took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet, “The virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Mt 1:23)

That statement should be a source of comfort and hope for God’s People in every generation. Life, as we know so well, can be very challenging. There are problems in the world, our nation and state. We encounter frustrations, disappointments and “issues” in our daily lives. Nonetheless, regardless of our personal status, the problems we encounter or the suffering we endure, we have nothing to fear. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He is “Emmanuel,” God with us, and as St. Paul reminds us so clearly, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31)

In one of his beautiful Christmas homilies, Pope Benedict explained why God came to us as a child:

God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign

is that he makes himself small for us. He does not come with

power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby – defenseless

and in need of our help . . . He asks for our love, so he makes

himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love. . . God made himself small so that we could understand him,

welcome him and love him.

So, what child is this? This child is Jesus . . . This child is Christ . . . This child is Emmanuel. On Christmas we celebrate the lasting and comforting truth that God has cared enough to send us his very best.

My dear brothers and sisters, I pray that the joy, peace and hope of the Christ Child will be yours in this Christmas Season and always!

For information on ‘Effective Faith: Faith that Makes a Difference’ the new book published by Bishop Tobin, please click here.