Many people are introduced to the melody, “Greensleeves,” via the well-known Christmas carol, “What Child Is This?” There could hardly be a better introduction.
I have a theory that all truly great music—simple or complex—is not created but rather discovered by the composer. Such music is, I envision, part of a body of music already known and celebrated in heaven. I could be wrong, but some music is so sublime that it seems to me impossible that heaven could not already be aware of it. It is my thought that “Greensleeves” belongs to such a class of discovered music. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, the folk tune “Shenandoah,” among many others, are part of that divine play list, along with beauties yet to be discovered. So it seems to me.
The words to the carol of which I write are fit for the melody. They are a soul deep meditation on why the birth of this Baby is so important. The musings lead to an answer found in what this Child would later do. The mortal mission of Christ the King is incomparably important to you and me.
I fear that many modern renditions miss—or perhaps even avoid—the point. Among the some two dozen recordings of the carol in my possession, I recently discovered to my surprise that all but maybe four leave out the second of three verses, the one that holds a central place in the poem penned by the author, William C. Dix. Some repeat, again and again, the true declaration of the first verse that this Child is “Christ the King.” Recognition of that reality is important, but how far does it get you? Even Herod believed and feared that prophecy, a belief that goaded him to destroy all of the babes of Bethlehem that his soldiers could find.
Why did Christ the King find it necessary to lower Himself to be born among men? That is the central question, understanding the answer to which converts our attitude toward Christ from more than reverence for a Divine Monarch into humble love born of joy and boundless gratitude. The second verse explains what is at the heart of Christmas. But listen to your recording and see whether these words are included:
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, 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.
This little Child would be pierced by nails and spear when He was older but no less innocent. Why would He submit to that? Why would the King submit to that? We worship Christ not just because He is the King, but because of what this King has done for us.
I conceive of a day, a moment, when those very men who pounded the nails into the Savior’s hands and feet come personally to realize, come face-to-face with, what they have done. What depth of grief that this knowledge will cause to the minds of those men—of those moments in that day—I can imagine in only the smallest degree. They will be the only men, among the billions who have trod the earth, who with hammers in their fists drove nails into the hands and feet of the Creator and their Savior. What will that recognition mean to them?
Perhaps the Savior’s plea from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” will be the beginning of some healing solace when they do know what they personally did. I suspect that this is not the limit of the mercy that the Savior will extend to these, His brothers, who were so close to the Son of God in this horrible way.
Then I am drawn to consider, how will we feel when our day comes, and it surely will, when we stand face-to-face and see those wounds in His hands and feet? How will we feel when we come to understand perfectly, as we will, that our own, personal sins made those wounds necessary, that because of what we knowingly have done there was no other way, that we helped to make those nails unavoidable? More, how will we feel, looking in the Savior’s eyes, when we fully understand that depending on our repentance the suffering that we personally caused was entirely and eternally worth it, or in absence of our repentance all for naught? At that moment our joy and our love or our grief and pain will be without measure.
Let us decide now, for we may, to let our loving hearts enthrone Him.