I continue to marvel at Christmas hymns I either never sang as a child or whose words I never comprehended. Like "O Holy Night," "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," and "The Friendly Beasts," "Once in Royal David's City" is an elegantly simple song -- originally a poem -- whose words are profound. I would love to sing this song in church sometime this month.
(I should note that I prefer certain arrangements that limit themselves to the first, second, and fifth stanzas, staying away from the somewhat curious -- though understandable, given that it was composed as a song for children -- emphasis on imitating Jesus as a child, and so on. However, I wanted to include the lyrics in their entirety, if only out of respect for their author.)
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Once in Royal David's City
By Cecil Francis 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, the scorned, the 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 who seemed so helpless
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 round,
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.