Gold, Myrrh, and Brokenness

By Mitch Stutzman
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The United States Thanksgiving holiday is behind us. Pumpkins, gourds, and
falldécor are being replaced with holiday wreaths, evergreen trees, and twinkling lights. In addition to the changing of holiday decorations and the increase in holiday specials on television, some radio stations have begun playing Christmas music 24 hours a day.

I have always appreciated Christmas music. Growing up in a Mennonite Church, I enjoyed singing 4-part harmony from the section of the hymnbook dedicated to Christmas music. I was disappointed that we couldn’t spend more time singing from that section of the book. After all, the themes and stories that are told through our songs and hymns are applicable throughout the year.

The Christian hymn “What Child is This,” set to the traditional English melody piano-2706562_1280“Greensleeves,” is familiar to many. The text paints a picture of the traditional nativity that we may have on our mantle at home. A sleeping baby, his mother nearby, angels singing, shepherds gathered around, an assortment of barnyard animals, and gifts being brought to his bedside. It describes almost exactly the assortment of figures that sits in a place of prominence at my house this time of year.

The song and the scene that it presents has become so familiar to me; almost routine. This song was given new life for me in college during my church music class. During that class I was given an unfamiliar songbook with a purple cover. My professor invited the class to turn to #26, “Helpless and Hungry.”

Together we studied the text, written by Scott Soper. This song opened my eyes again to the miraculous birth of Jesus:

Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid, wrapped in the chill of mid-winter;
comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace, new life for the world.
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Who is the stranger here in our midst, looking for shelter among us?
Who is the outcast? Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God?
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace; bring those with nothing to offer.
Strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart: “Fear not: Here is your God!”
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

After reading through the text, our professor led us in singing. The meter and tune of this new hymn can be layered perfectly on top of the familiar “What Child is This.” Our professor invited us to go back and forth between the two songs, singing a verse of one and then a verse of the other. In this way, these hymns worked in tandem; almost as a call and response.

For the third and final verse, the class was divided in half and was invited to sing both hymns simultaneously. While half of the class was singing about bring gifts of incense, gold, and myrrh, the other half of the class was singing about bringing all the thirsty, all who seek peace, and those who have nothing to offer. The juxtaposition that this posed, of bringing treasures along with our brokenness as a gift to our Savior, was a deeply moving experience.christmas-2914850_1280

This Christmas season, let us work to remember that while way may exchange gifts with one another, the gift that we have each already received came in the form of a child. A child to whom we offer our greatest treasures, our brokenness, and our pain.

Helpless and Hungry
Text and music by Scott Soper

Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid, wrapped in the chill of mid-winter;
comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace, new life for the world.
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Who is the stranger here in our midst, looking for shelter among us?
Who is the outcast? Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God?
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace; bring those with nothing to offer.
Strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart: “Fear not: Here is your God!”
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

What Child is This
Text by William C. Dix

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!

Layered text:

Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid, wrapped in the chill of mid-winter;
comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace, new life for the world.
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

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!

Who is the stranger here in our midst, looking for shelter among us?
Who is the outcast? Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God?
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

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!

Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace; bring those with nothing to offer.
Strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart: “Fear not: Here is your God!”
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

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.

About the Author

Stutzman-Mitch_7580-2CMYKMitch Stutzman is the Stewardship Consultant for Everence, a faith-based financial services company of Mennonite Church USA, which serves all who are interested in integrating their faith with their finances.

Image credits: pixabay.com