WHAT CHILD IS THIS?
by Bob Wheeler
This, of course, is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Christ. But who exactly is Christ? And why is His birth so special?
The apostle John had the privilege of knowing Christ personally during Christ’s earthly ministry, and John must often have asked himself the same questions. Jesus was clearly no ordinary human being. But what exactly was He? The Fourth Gospel is John’s personal reflection on His experience with Jesus Christ.
John begins by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1; NKJV). The phrase “In the beginning” takes us back to the creation account in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The Greek word translated “Word” is Logos, but it is hard to find an exact English equivalent. Ancient Greek had two different words for “word”: rhema, that which is said or spoken; and logos, a word as embodying a concept or idea. The two words overlap somewhat in meaning, but logos often came to refer to the inward thought itself.
The ancient Greeks were impressed with the order and structure of reality. But what was the source of this order and structure? The Stoics argued that there was a kind of natural law, which they called the “logos” which was the organizing principle of nature. The Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, in turn, picked up on the idea, and tried to use it to explain the creation account in Genesis. These ideas, in turn, were taken up by some Christian heretics in John’s day. But for all of these thinkers the logos was an abstract principle or impersonal force, subordinate to God. John was especially concerned in his gospel to refute these ideas.
What John was careful to emphasize is that the Logos, that which gives order and structure to created reality, is not a mere abstract principle, but rather a Person, the very Son of God, come in the flesh. As John describes it, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (v. 1). He had an existence with God prior to His incarnation here on earth, and, in fact, was God himself, a member of the Trinity. Moreover He was the Creator: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (v. 3). The universe has a rational order to it precisely because it was designed by an intelligent Supreme Being. Thus all of the world ultimately owes its very existence to Him.
What is remarkable, then, about the incarnation is that the Creator of the world entered into the world that He had created: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him . . .” (v. 10). Yet tragically, “and the world did not know Him . . .” (Ibid.). Our Creator, our Lord and Master, came and dwelled here on earth among us. And yet He was largely rejected and eventually crucified. It was the supreme irony of human history.
What does all of this mean for us today? We live in a rationally ordered universe: it was created by design, and everything has meaning and purpose. There are ethical norms to which we must all conform. And our Creator came into the world, taught us how to live, and died to save us from our sins. We today live 2,000 years after His earthly ministry, but we are confronted with the same basic issues faced by His First Century contemporaries. Now that the Savior has come, now that the truth has become known, what will we do with it? The choice is ours; the consequences are eternal.
The wonder of Christmas is that the tiny infant that Mary cradled in her arms was none other than the eternal Son of God, the Creator of the universe!
“What Child is this, who laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While 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.”
Wm. C. Dix