Worship in the Modern World

Praising God with the Best of the Past and the Present

The Babe, the Son of Mary


I came across an article from Christmas 2013 by Aaron Armstrong over at Blogging Theologically about the best and worst Christmas songs last week. While the article was fine and for the most part I agreed with his choices of Christmas songs, the part that caught my attention was in the comment section. In particular, one comment listed “What Child is This” as a song that fell into the “bad” category.

I was intrigued, because it’s a pretty decent Christmas carol, as Christmas carols go. What could be so bad about it? His problem was the last line of each verse, “…the Babe, the Son of Mary.”

Is it just me or is there another option than “Mary” that sounds good rhyming with “laud”? (God=Laud sounds nice) Why force in the Mary part? A wonderful woman, Mary. but not one to worship at Christmas. Just sayin’

Rhyming aside, especially because “Mary” isn’t supposed to rhyme with “Laud,” does he have a point? Is Mary being shoehorned into the text of the song?

Taking a look at the lyrics:

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


Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding
Good Christian 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


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

We certainly don’t want to be worshipping or giving a great deal of attention to Mary. She was merely a servant of God, as were many others throughout the pages of Scripture. But it’s clear from the text of the verses that Jesus is the focus. He’s the one being greeted by angel anthems, guarded by shepherds, who will bear the cross, be pierced for us, and who brings salvation for us. Jesus is the focus of the song. So why did the author include the reference to Mary in each verse?

That’s actually an important line, because it underscores a key part of Christian doctrine: that Jesus is not only fully divine, but fully human as well.

The subject of Christ’s incarnation – of God becoming flesh – is something that the church wrestled with how to understand and explain in the first few centuries. Most of the attempts to explain it ended up in heresy. While no one set out to create a new heresy, their explanations certainly landed there. One of the explanations for how the divine could become human was to assume that Jesus wasn’t really, fully┬ádivine.

A guy named Nestorius decided that for an unchanging, all-powerful God to become a human embryo and be born as a baby would be to make God change or become less than all-powerful. In an effort to protect the fullness of God, Nestorius said that Mary wasn’t the “mother of God,” only the “mother of Christ.”

The church rejected Nestorius’ ideas on the grounds that Scripture refers to Jesus as being both fully divine and fully human. The Babe, the Son of Mary was indeed fully God. He was also fully human. It’s something that we can’t understand from our limited, human perspective. But just because we can’t understand how it works doesn’t mean that it isn’t so.

This theme of the incarnation is such an important theme at Christmas time. Every year as we stare into the manger and sing Christmas carols, we should stand in awe, utterly amazed at God coming to earth – the creator of all becoming part of His creation – the fullness of God in a tiny, helpless baby.

“The Babe, the Son of Mary” indeed.


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