"Once in Royal David's City"

Faith & Inspiration

On this holy day, I wish everyone a most blessed Christmas.

Growing up singing in both the children and adult choirs my father conducted as a church organist and choirmaster, I will forever associate the celebration of Christmas with the singing of "Once in Royal David's City."

The great cathedral choirs of England famously sing it, and many years ago became the traditional first song at the Lessons and Carols service at King's College, Cambridge. After the first verse, sung as a solo, the rest of the choir joins in while processing up the aisle to the front of the church.

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In my Episcopal hymnbook, it's listed under "Hymns for Children," but its message is both as disarmingly simple and mysteriously complex as Christianity itself. It starts with the telling of Jesus' birth in the town where his ancestor King David was also born. It reveals the baby's true identity ("For that child so dear and gentle / Is our Lord in heav'n above") and what that means for us ("And he leads his children on / To the place where he is gone").

Courtesy of the BBC and the internet, it's possible to watch and listen to the choir of King's College, Cambridge singing this beautiful hymn:

Here are the words, originally written as a poem by Cecil Frances Alexander:

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.

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 Saviour holy.

And, thro' 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.

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.

And our eyes at last shall see him,

Through his own redeeming love;

For that child so dear and gentle

Is our Lord in heav'n above;

And he leads his children on

To the place where he is gone.

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;

When like stars his children crowned,

All in white shall wait around.

Marcia Segelstein
Marcia Segelstein


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