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Advent Devotional: “Once in Royal David’s City”

Dr. Gerry Wheaton


Once in Royal David’s City is a beautiful Christmas hymn that brings out one of the central features of the story of Jesus in the Gospels: the tension between Jesus’s identity as the Lord of all and the humble circumstances and opposition he faced from birth to death. Hear the second stanza: “He came down to earth from heaven…” We see this tension, for example, in Luke 2:11-12 where the angels announce to the shepherds the advent of “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” and then explain the sign by which they would know him: “you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” This is a striking juxtaposition. The Messiah of Israel and Lord of all creation has visited his people to bring the long-awaited salvation promised through the great prophets of old. Yet the manner of his coming is as the humblest and most vulnerable of creatures: a human infant; and the circumstances of his birth are as far removed from the royal palaces of ancient kings as one can imagine. But this doesn’t stop the angels in heaven from hymning God in praise for his saving visitation.  Throughout the rest of the Gospel, Luke maintains this tension between the glory of Jesus and of his saving work for humanity, on the one hand, and the affliction and struggle and opposition he faces throughout his ministry, on the other.  The final stanza brings out our future hope:

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.

View the entire hymn:

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 thro’ 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.

And our eyes at last shall see him,
thro’ 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;
when like stars his children crowned
all in white shall wait around.

Listen to this rendition:

Christmas Songs and Carols Choir


Gerry Wheaton is Assistant Professor of New Testament, Dean of the Charlotte Campus. His research interests revolve around the Gospels in their Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts and the shape of Paul’s resurrection thought.