For over four decades my wife and I had the privilege of ministering to children through a family ministry and through Awana. Whenever we did a series of meetings we always made it a point to teach a hymn, often using visuals produced by Bible Visuals. At Christmas we often chose "Once in Royal David's City" because it so clearly shared the true Christmas story. It also was a Christmas carol not often traditionally sung by adults. In doing some research for this blog, I was surprised to learn that the author, Cecil Alexander, loved children and wrote about four hundred hymns, most of them for children. Alexander (1818-1895), was born in Dublin, Ireland, and began writing in verse from an early age. She became so adept that by the age of 22, several of her hymn texts made it into the hymnbook of the Church of Ireland. "Once in Royal David's City" first appeared in her collection, Hymns for Little Children (1848), with six stanzas. This particular text was included with others as a means to musically and poetically teach the catechism. It is based on the words of the Apostles' Creed, "Born of the Virgin Mary," and is in six stanzas of six lines each. Even though this text was included in the Christmas liturgical sections of most hymnals, the narrative painted by Alexander truly relates to the entire "youth" of Christ and not just his birth. This is one of Alexander's most narrative and vivid texts, shattering perceptions of the picturesque Nativity with the realities of the lowly stable, and the weak and dependent baby. Alexander is said to have had the ability to take major biblical themes and break them down into four or six easy to understand lines. This hymn in particular tells us why we celebrate Christmas by telling us not only what happened on the first Christmas, but also why it happened and what it should mean to us today. As we enter the Christmas season, may this old Christmas carol remind you, in the midst of this hectic and often stressful season, what Jesus did for us. He is the One who left all the glory and riches of heaven to experience birth in a lowly stable so that He could one day pay the debt for our sin. He provided for you, and all mankind, the greatest gift that could ever be given.
1. Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.
2. He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.
3. And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.
4. For he is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.
5. And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.
6. Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.
Listen to it here. LISTEN