Playing a piano arrangement of “What Child Is This?” For me the flow of the melody always joins with images of shining things among evergreen branches, scents of wood smoke, peppermint and cinnamon, the glow of stained-glass in a red-carpeted sanctuary. In my mind, its words also play, mingling and overlapping with the words of “Greensleeves”:
What Child is this? You do me wrong!
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
The Babe, the son of Mary.
In a library book of folk songs from the British Isles I years ago read that legend attributes “Greensleeves” to Henry VIII; it was written for one of his mistresses, perhaps for Anne Boleyn. Though stating that there was slim proof for that story, the book indicated that the original lyrics were not, perhaps, the cleanest. The Lady Greensleeves, whoever she might have been, likely wasn’t the most lady-like of ladies.
And what was Mary? A virgin? With child? There were some who knew and believed that to be true, but the rest, no doubt, esteemed her to be a fallen woman, looked down upon her more, than the English court would have looked down upon Lady Greensleeves. “Why lies He in such mean estate?” certainly! The King of kings comes bringing salvation, and He comes already bearing this smut of supposed immorality? Really? Would we not have imagined the salvation-bringer coming in purity and splendor? What Child is this, born into scandal and poverty? We would have given Him untainted followers, new songs all His own, but here He is, with a train of made-over prostitutes and tax-gatherers and demoniacs, to be hailed by a made-over song of amorous intent.
Ah, yes, but they have been made new! All of them ran after other objects, none were pure or righteous or good, but now — now, they are His! And, in so far as their pasts are remembered, it serves only to highlight what He has done: they who were dirty, full of unclean passions and vices, now point only to Him who has made them otherwise. Nails, spear have pierced Him through, the cross been borne for their transgressions. The love of the Word-made-flesh has covered their sins.
This, this is Christ the King!
[For whom but my lady Greensleeves?]