The Story Behind “What Child Is This?”

“What Child Is This” used to be my least favorite Christmas carol. It was slightly ahead of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. Both songs sound alike, both sound like funeral dirges. Magaret Becker (remember her???) did a version of “O Come, O Come” that is still used in horror movies today. Or funerals. I’m serious. It’s that bad. No song about Jesus should be that horrible.

But back to “What Child Is This?” It sings like those Medieval songs that don’t rhyme at Renaissance Festivals. You want to like it but for whatever reason…you just can’t. It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s just not as good as all the other songs we have to choose from the Christmas catalog. Silent Night, The First Noel, Joy To The World, White Christmas! (Just checking to see if you were still reading.)

The other reason that it wasn’t a huge hit with me was the line – “where ox and ass are feeding..” I mean, be honest. It’s awkward to sing that in church. I know of some churches that change the lyric to “ox and lamb” but the lambs were in the fields where Harold the Angel sang to the shepherds. (Wait for it….)

However, I just learned some incredible information that has now elevated this song at least a notch or two. The reason the animals of ox and ass were used because an ox was a clean animal (Jew), an ass was an unclean animal (Gentile). The song was celebrating the fact that it is Jesus who brings together the clean (Jew) and the unclean (Gentile). That is the wonderful miracle of Christmas – Jesus brings all people of all backgrounds together in Himself.

Now you know the rest of the story.

Merry Christmas to you.


2 thoughts on “The Story Behind “What Child Is This?”

  1. Sweet. But “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is still one of my faves. You’re right the music does drag a bit in the verses, especially in the beginning, but it does build in the chorus. I think I like it more for the words, than the music.

    Then, again, what do I know?


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