Once in Royal David's City

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1 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.

2 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 meek, and lowly
lived on earth our Savior holy.

3 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 feels for all our sadness,
and he shares in all our gladness.

4 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 has gone.

5 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;
there his children gather round,
bright like stars, with glory crowned.

Source: Lift Up Your Hearts: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs #87

Author: Cecil Frances Alexander

Alexander, Cecil Frances, née Humphreys, second daughter of the late Major John Humphreys, Miltown House, co. Tyrone, Ireland, b. 1823, and married in 1850 to the Rt. Rev. W. Alexander, D.D., Bishop of Derry and Raphoe. Mrs. Alexander's hymns and poems number nearly 400. They are mostly for children, and were published in her Verses for Holy Seasons, with Preface by Dr. Hook, 1846; Poems on Subjects in the Old Testament, pt. i. 1854, pt. ii. 1857; Narrative Hymns for Village Schools, 1853; Hymns for Little Children, 1848; Hymns Descriptive and Devotional, 1858; The Legend of the Golden Prayers 1859; Moral Songs, N.B.; The Lord of the Forest and his Vassals, an Allegory, &c.; or contributed to the Lyra Anglicana, the S.P.C.K. Psalms and Hym… Go to person page >


Scripture References:
st. 1-2 = Luke 2:4-7
st. 4 = Mark 10:14
st. 5 = Rom. 8:34

To help children understand the Apostles' Creed words "who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary," Cecil F. Alexander (b. Redcross, County Wicklow, Ireland, 1818; Londonderry, Ireland, 1895) wrote this text and published it in her Hymns for Little Children (1848). Five of her six stanzas are included; the third stanza is omitted.

A good mingling of the biblical story and Christian theology, the text sets the nativity of Christ into a much larger framework-the history of salvation. Alexander's words enable us to look back and to look forward from this historic event. Stanzas 1 and 2 recall Christ's humble birth. Stanza 3 focuses on Christ's childhood and identity with humanity. Stanzas 4 and 5 look forward to the sharing of Christ's glory with his children.

As a small girl, Cecil Frances Humphries wrote poetry in her school's journal. In 1850 she married Rev. William Alexander, who later became the Anglican primate (chief bishop) of Ireland. She showed her concern for disadvantaged people by traveling many miles each day to visit the sick and the poor, providing food, warm clothes, and medical supplies. She and her sister also founded a school for the deaf. Alexander was strongly influenced by the Oxford Movement and by John Keble's Christian Year. Her first book of poetry, Verses for Seasons, was a "Christian Year" for children. She wrote hymns based on the Apostles' Creed, baptism, the Lord's Supper, the Ten Commandments, and prayer, writing in simple language for children. Her more than four hundred hymn texts were published in Verses from the Holy Scripture ( 1846), Hymns for Little Children (1848), and Hymns Descriptive and Devotional (1858).

Liturgical Use:
Christmas Eve or Christmas Day worship services, especially as a glorious processional; anytime during the church year in conjunction with worship services in which this part of the creed or eschatological themes (st. 5) is preached; church school programs.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Once in Royal David's city. C. F. Alexander, née Humphreys. [Christmas.] First appeared in her Hymns for Little Children, in 1848, p. 30. It is based on the words of the Creed, "Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary," and is in 6 stanzas of 6 lines. It is usually given in a correct form, and ranks as one of the most popular of Mrs. Alexander's hymns for children.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)



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