Once in Royal David’s City
by Rob Yongue
December 22, 2019
Read Luke 1:26-38
Luke 1:35 — The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”
Every year, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, opens their Festival of Lessons and Carols with “Once in Royal David’s City” as the processional hymn. The Festival of Lessons and Carols is a standardized Christmas music service: There are nine short Bible readings, from Genesis to Revelation, but mostly there’s music. When the choir begins singing “Once in Royal David’s City,” it does so in a very specific way: A solo boy soprano chorister sings the first verse, a capella. Then the choir, also a capella, joins on the second verse as the choristers process through the middle of the aisle and file into their seats. On verses three through five, the organ and the congregation join in. According to the tradition of the King’s College Choir, the soloist of this hymn is usually chosen on the day of the performance, when the choirmaster decides whose voice is the strongest on that day.
“Once in Royal David’s City,” began as a poem by Cecil Frances Alexander, an Anglo-Irish hymn writer and poet. As she told it, the hymn started out as an effort to explain the Apostle’s Creed to young children. She spun each line of this statement of faith into its own poem. (The opening words led to the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful”.) The second and third lines of the creed—“who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”—became “Once in Royal David’s City.” The first stanza contrasts the grand idea of “royal David’s city” with the lowliness of a cattle-shed, and the second, the glory of heaven, from where He came, with the poverty of earth to which He came. The hymn ends by reminding us that Christ has ascended once again to glory, where we shall one day see Him.
Prayer: The Apostles Creed
I believe in God, the Creator almighty, maker of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontus Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Creator. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.