“Once in David’s Royal City” has become my favorite carol. I did not grow up singing this carol…I did not learn to love it in seminary, as I did some of my favorite hymns. Only in recent years have I learned and grown to love this carol.
I guess I first heard it on public radio’s broadcast of the Nine Lessons and Carols Service from Cambridge each Christmas Eve. It is always the first carol sung, the Processional carol, and the first verse is sung solo each year by a boy soprano. It is lovely! It is moving:
Once in Royal David’s City stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed;
Mary, loving mother mild, Jesus Christ, her little child.
And then, as other voices join in, and with the organ thundering, I can picture the processional heading down the aisle as other verses are sung:
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, the scorned, the lowly lived on earth our Savior holy.
Jesus 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 heaven above;
And he leads his children on to the place where he is gone.
It is nothing less than a profound statement of faith to proclaim that “He came down to earth from heaven…” that “he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness…” Profound, to be sure, that the God who is Creator of the universe is also the God of “redeeming love,” the God who took on life as we know, lived it with all its joys and pains, and remains with us.
I hope you can listen for at least 5 minutes to this beautiful carol on Christmas Eve (10 am, WCQS) And I hope you will join us for one of the Christmas Eve services, and on Sunday morning at 10:00 for a relaxed singing of carols and telling of stories. I hope you’ll bring a friend—studies tell us that people are more likely to go to church on Christmas Eve than any other time, and that all many people need is an invitation from someone they know.
And I hope and pray for you and yours the Peace, Hope, Joy and Love of the Christ Child this Christmas and always!