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The Gospel in the Carols | What Child Is This?

December 10, 2023
Colossians 2:9-15

9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

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To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst

To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships

To participate in God’s mission to the world 

Opening Prayer

Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Responsive Prayer—Isaiah 11

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit:

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide  disputes by what his ears hear,

But with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.

Summary and Connection

During the season of Advent we are taking a break from the series on Sermon on the Mount. In this series entitled The Gospel in the Carols, we will explore the rich gospel themes in our favorite carols. When we sing carols, we proclaim the gospel truth corporately. This week’s discussion focuses on William Dix’s popular hymn, “What Child is This?” The word Advent comes from Latin meaning ‘coming.’ Advent is the time of the year in which we celebrate two comings, looking back, and looking forward: Jesus’ humility, and weakness, and we anticipate his return in power and strength. 

The passage for this week’s discussion is taken from Colossians 2:9-15. This passage outlines the hymn’s theological undertones. In this passage we see 1) the identity of Jesus—who Jesus is? 2) The work of Jesus—what Jesus did, and 3) how we should respond to the birth of this child, born in an obscure manger in Bethlehem. William Dix takes his readers into the manger where we see a child on Mary’s lap. As we are introduced to the heavenly angels, and lowly shepherds joyfully celebrating the birth of Jesus, we learn that this child is no ordinary child. In Colossians 2, we see Paul describing the identity and preeminence of Jesus. He calls him the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (verse 15). Such is the significance of this child on Mary’s lap that Paul emphatically declares that all things were created through him, and for him. In fact, in Jesus the whole fullness of God’s deity, or substance dwells bodily. We see John describe Jesus as the word who became flesh, and dwelt among people (John 1:14).

The shadow of the cross looms large on this child that is sleeping peacefully on Mary’s lap. Dix poignantly paints the picture of crucifixion of Jesus—“nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me and you.” In verses 10-15, Paul describes the privilege of Christians all over the world. We are united with Jesus through his death and resurrection. Our sins are washed away by the blood of the child of God that sleeps on Mary’s lap. We are adopted into the family of God, as the children of God through this child born in such mean estate. We enjoy the invaluable riches of God’s steadfast love and mercy through Jesus who came down from heaven seeking us. This hymn invites us to join the innumerable angels and the lowly shepherds to make haste to bring him laud, to hail the word made flesh, to bring him incense, gold, and myrrh, to enthrone him as the king of kings who brings the salvation to the world.

Discussion Questions

1. Looking at the Bible

Observation: Read the passage privately. What does the text say? Who are the main characters in this story? What according to you is the theme of this passage?

  • Read verse 9. Why is it important for us to know that the whole fullness, or substance of deity dwells bodily in Jesus?
  • Read verses 11-12. What does Paul mean by, “In him also you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands?”

2. Looking at Jesus

At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.

  • What does the humble birth of Jesus reveal to us about his character?


3. Looking at Our Hearts

The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith.

  • How does the reality of Jesus’ preeminence as the Son of God, and his incarnation as the Savior of the world, known as the man of sorrows and suffering servant, impact your faith in Jesus? 
  • In his hymn “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” Charles Wesley describes Jesus as the ‘joy of every longing heart.’
    • Reflect on the longings of your heart in the current season of your life.
    • Is Jesus the joy of your longing heart? If yes, how? If not, discuss how we can cultivate joy amidst life’s uncertainties.

4. Looking at Our World

  • How might we reflect the hope and  joy of Advent (both in our words, and actions) in New York City this season? Think about the ways you can share this joy as a Community Group, and as a church.


God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.

  • View Study Guide Notes

    Question 1

    Question 1a. Paul writes this letter to the churches in Colossae, addressing the issue of false teachers who were imposing strict rules about eating and drinking, and religious festivals. Paul emphatically rejects the claims of these false teachers by pointing to the supremacy or preeminence of Jesus Christ over all human philosophy and traditions. Paul, with utmost care and clarity, describes the identity of Jesus as fully God and fully man. According to Paul, Jesus is not a divine human being who was a wise teacher of morality and ethics. Jesus is the second person of the trinity, in and through him, God created and sustains all things. In the season of Advent we recognize the preeminence of Jesus as the Son of God in whom all things hold together. In the season of Advent, Christians around the world celebrate God’s greatest gift to mankind—the incarnation of Jesus (John 3:16). Jesus is the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among the people. Jesus is the light of the world, piercing the darkness of the world, and the human soul. Jesus is our Emmanuel—God with us.  It is indeed important for us to understand the prominence of Jesus as only Jesus could perfectly obey the law of God on our behalf, and perfectly satisfy the just wrath of God to purchase our forgiveness and salvation through his death and resurrection.

    Question 1b. Paul is writing this letter to predominantly Gentile believers in Colossae. Paul was aware of the false teachers who were misleading the Colossian believers by imposing the Mosaic ceremonial law on them. Paul compares their baptism to the Old Testament ceremonial act of circumcision. According to Paul, the Colossian Christians were buried with Christ, and were raised with Christ in their baptism. Paul paints a beautiful picture of Gentiles’ adoption as the children of God into God’s kingdom. According to Paul, baptism, like circumcision, is the covenant sign of familial belonging to God.

    Furthermore, the Christian baptism is unlike circumcision in significant ways. Firstly, baptism is a sign of the spiritual reality of a Christian who is buried and raised with Christ, and thus is united with Christ for eternity. Secondly, physical circumcision obligates the individual to keep the Mosaic law faithfully. Whereas, the baptism is an acknowledgment of the spiritual regeneration wherein an individual is freely justified by grace, through faith in the person and work of Jesus. It is vital for us to understand that the act of baptism does not save a person. It is a covenantal sign that welcomes a person into the family of God. For instance, when an infant is baptized, the parents and the congregation acknowledge that the covenant child being placed into the family where Christ is loved and served, is in the best possible position to be nurtured in the love of Christ. Finally, in the Old Testament, physical circumcision as a covenantal act was exclusively nationalistic. Whereas, baptism is a covenantal act that constitutes true Israel—people from all tongues, tribes, and nations. We are circumcised with a circumcision made without hands as Jesus, on the cross, was ‘cut off’ on our behalf.

    Question 2: This is a personal application question. Read Isaiah 35:3-6; Matthew 11:5-6; Luke 7:22 to understand the significance of Jesus’ birth. You could use this quote from Martin Luther describing the significance of the humble birth of Jesus: “If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him. Now he reveals himself to the miserable in order not to give any impression that he arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners.”

    Scottish hymn writer James Montgomery beautifully captures the essence of Jesus’ lowly birth: 

    “He comes with succour speedy

    To those who suffer wrong;

    To help the poor and needy

    And bid the weak be strong;

    To give them songs for sighing,

    Their darkness turn to light,

    Whose souls, condemned and dying

    Were precious in his sight.”

    Question 3: These are personal application questions. 

    Question 4: This is a personal application question.