Christmas songs #12: Once in royal David’s city

Here’s another song that every English carol singer knows, but maybe not so many Americans. It is used as the opening song every year in the traditional Cambridge service “Nine Lessons and Carols” which you can hear live on the Internet every Christmas Eve at 9am Dallas time ( ). Invariably the first verse is sung by a single boy.

The song was written for a book of children’s hymns. Each hymn was to illustrate a separate part of the Apostle’s Creed for children. This one was meant to expound the sentence, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.”

The author, Cecil Frances Alexander (that’s a female), carefully instructs us to look at Jesus not just as a sweet baby but as the Lord God of all things. He is perfectly human - he was little, weak and helpless, he shared all of our troubles, but he is perfectly divine at the same time, and he never ceases to be either one of those things forever. It’s good stuff. Christmas songs are the last chance some of us have, to hear the actual teachings of the Bible.

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
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 Savior holy.

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.

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;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.

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