Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ten Days of Christmas Hymns, Day Three: Once in Royal David's City

Every December we attend a service called "The Nine Lessons and Carols" at a local Anglican church. The choir is small, the organ is loud, and the program is simple: classic Christmas carols and the Christmas story Scriptures. This carol is always on the program, its stately organ music contrasting with the words that tell us of Jesus' humble earthly life. Though originally a children's song, the message is appropriate for all of us: follow Jesus' example of self-sacrificing surrender.
The carol reminds me that Jesus, though a descendant of King David, lived His life in far from luxurious environments, and He was a humble person in attitude and action. It's interesting that God chose Mary, a humble person herself, to be His mother.

Once in Royal David's City

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 Heaven 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.
—Cecil Alexander, 1848

Singing the hymn gives me an opportunity to surrender my thoughts. I don't like the concept in the third verse that children are all supposed to be as perfect as Jesus. He was perfect. We aren't. And then I am very distracted by the last line and the words “wait around.” This phrase makes heaven sound very boring. I'm sure the author's idea was that we will spend eternity serving the Lord, but why didn't she say so? I have a choice to make. I can either spend a few moments annoyed at a long-deceased author, or I can focus on her intended meaning and move on to the next hymn.

Between now and Christmas Day, I'm posting the hymns I quoted in Practicing Glory. This is a book for any season, but all the hymns are Christmas carols. These are such beautiful songs--they deserve more than a once-a-year reading. I quoted Once in Royal David's City in the chapter on Surrender.

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

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