Once in Royal David’s City

Read: Revelation 5

And . . . among the elders I saw a Lamb. (v. 6)

On Christmas Eve 1918, a service was held in the chapel of King’s College in the University of Cambridge. The bloodbath of World War I had ended barely a month before, and many a Cambridge man lay buried in Flanders fields. It was a somber Advent season. The college chaplain wanted to celebrate Christmas with a special new service, so he selected a series of Scripture readings to retell the story of God’s saving purposes. The readings began in Genesis with the story of the fall, and climaxed with John 1: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (v. 14).

The King’s College service of Lessons and Carols has become the world’s most widely broadcast Christmas celebration. The lessons remain the same; the carols that illustrate them mostly change each year. But the service always opens with a boy soprano from the choir singing the first verse of the processional hymn, “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.

Then, verse by verse, the hymn builds, first with the choir joining, then adding organ, and finally the whole congregation singing the final stanza—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.

Jesus is no longer in the stable. One day everyone will see that.

As you pray, praise God for his glory.

Listen along: Once in Royal David’s City – King’s College Choir

About the Author

david bast

Rev. Dave Bast retired as the President and Broadcast Minister of Words of Hope in January 2017, after 23 years with the ministry. Prior to his ministry and work at Words of Hope, Dave served as a pastor for 18 years in congregations in the Reformed Church in America. He is the author of several devotional books. A graduate of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, he has also studied at both the Fuller and Calvin seminaries. Dave and his wife, Betty Jo, have four children and four grandchildren. Dave enjoys reading, growing tomatoes, and avidly follows the Detroit Tigers.

This entry is part 11 of 25 in the series Carols and Lessons