What Child Is This?

Listen to this Post via Text-to-Speech Narration

by Rev. Kim Wood, Conference Minister

As I contemplated writing this article, on the forefront of my mind was that its release would coincide with the weekend of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and the national holiday that is designated to commemorate it, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As I sat down to begin, I did first what I generally do in preparation for placing pen to paper or keystrokes to computer: I prayed. As I pushed away the sounds of the world around me and listened for God’s still-speaking voice, these words came into my heart, as clearly as if a heavenly choir were singing them:

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 the angels sing, is Christ, God’s holy offering;
Haste, haste your praise to bring the babe, the child of Mary.

I cannot remember or reflect as a person of color upon the life and ministry of Rev. Dr. King. Fortunately, I have colleagues and friends, mentors and resources to whom I tune my ear to gain a fuller perspective of his impact on their and all our lives, giving me greater appreciation for the change that we are asked to help lead now. My task, each and every day, is to grapple with my white citizenship in this country and my white privilege that propagates racism and the injustice that feeds off it, thus denying the reformation that must take place in order for us to live wholly and completely as God’s beloved, together as one.

I cannot engage in the struggle for justice and equity through the intersection of being a person of color, or as person who is lgbtqia+, or as someone who faces religious persecution or who has been imprisoned or lives with the full weight of poverty. But I can engage in the ongoing Civil Rights Movement, the campaign for justice and global acknowledgment that all people are valued and of equal worth through the shared experience with many of being a parent or a parent figure.

When the lyrics above moved into my silence, I thought it odd at first that a song set aside for the Christmas Season would present itself to me now. After all, we’ve moved through Christmas already, and on into the Season of Epiphany. But I realized that perhaps this wasn’t so strange. Really, this song could be about any child. It could as easily coo, “What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Alberta’s lap is sleeping?” For wouldn’t King’s mother, Alberta, have looked upon her infant son and wondered who her child would be?

Or it could be “on Leona’s lap is sleeping” as Rosa Parks’ mother gazed upon her tiny daughter and wondered who she would become. Or “Angeline’s lap,” the mother of Clyde Bellecourt, a Native American civil rights leader, or “Bill’s lap” as Bill Jones, one of the first gay men to adopt a child in the United States looked upon his child that first night in their home. As a parent, I have sat and watched each of my children for hours on end, wondering what God had in store for them and who they would be some day.

As I have been spending time with you who are the Southeast Conference, UCC, listening to your stories, hearing your thoughts, learning your passions, I have heard repeatedly that we must support, nurture, and create resources for our children and youth. You, who have gazed upon them as they lay upon your laps, moved about your neighborhoods and communities, and gathered in your churches, have heard the angels sing that they, too, are God’s holy offerings to our world. And you have proclaimed, loudly and clearly, that they must be a priority.

When Dr. King and the many great people who worked with him propelled our nation into intentional, non-violent reformation, they did so not just for then, but toward forever. They risked everything, including their lives, to create an everlasting change so that our children and our children’s children and all the generations beyond might know a world where justice is the framework and equity is the benchmark. As parents and grandparents, caregivers and the villages that help to raise children, we are responsible for their care and well-being. But as the church, we also have the responsibility of empowering and encouraging the children, God’s holy offerings, to live with the full understanding that they are blessed and beloved by God. We are responsible to change the region that is our Southeast Conference, the nation that we call home, and the world, creating safe space for them to follow their paths and realize their full potential as beautiful, diverse individuals each created in the image and likeness of God.

As we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday and adjust the mantle on our shoulders to create a just world for all, I invite you back to these words from his I Have a Dream speech:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Together, let us commit to make it so!