MP Carols: Once In Royal David's City
Welcome to the first of the More Precious Carol Series! As a serious carol fan (and all-time wannabe descant soprano), I could not be more excited about the posts to come! I have absolutely loved seeing the stories behind the words, and seeing glimpses of God's glory and love in every single line. From the merry gentlemen, to the little town of Bethlehem, I am confident that taking some time to unpack these timeless carols will lead you to know our timeless King Jesus better too.
I hope that you will have many opportunities this season to worship and love Jesus through Christmas carols! Lucy x
Listen as you read: Representing the MP home city - only the very best: Once In Royal David's City - from Carols at King's College, Cambridge
A I’ve always thought that the name of this carol is slightly random - Once in Royal David's City. Christmas is about Jesus, not David, right? Shouldn’t it be called Once in Royal Jesus' City?
Who was David? David was born in Bethlehem, as a shepherd boy. He was the youngest son of Jesse. We know the story: he killed Goliath and became friends with King Saul. God then anointed David as King to replace Saul. The rest of David’s life was a mixture of highs and lows - fleeing from Saul, rebelling from God, saving the people of Israel and displaying huge amounts of trust in God.
David was born in Bethlehem as a humble shepherd boy and became King of Israel. David was a great king, but not The King. David was the King who pointed us forward to an even greater humble King. What really comes across in this traditional carol is the contrast between Jesus’ Kingship and his humanity. We see a glimpse of this in the life of David, but it is in Jesus that it is displayed fully.
Jesus the King
In ‘Once in Royal David City’ we sing of how Jesus “came from heaven”, how he’s “God and Lord of all”, “our Saviour holy” and “our Lord in heaven”.
David was a King, but he was far from perfect and he was very much a human King. Jesus, on the other hand, is a heavenly King, who is holy and perfect. This is amazing. But what is more amazing, is that a heavenly King would be born as a human baby.
Jesus the humble baby
In this carol, we sing of how Jesus was born in a “lowly cattle shed”, “a manger”, how “His shelter was a stable, and His cradle was a stall”. Jesus grew like ahuman: “He was little, weak, and helpless” like any other human baby.
This seems a bit crazy! A heavenly king surely can’t live on Earth amongst broken people, crying like a normal child, struggling with the same struggles we do. That’s the amazing-ness of Christmas! King Jesus was born as a human baby!
Why does this matter for us? Why can we sing this in praise this Christmas?
1. Our God understands our hardships.
“Tears and smiles, like us He knew, And He cares when we are sad, And he shares when we are glad.” Our God is not a distant God, but one who knows what we go through and can sympathise.
2. Jesus can take our place
If Jesus never came to Earth, never came as a baby, we would still be facing judgement. Leading on from the above point, Jesus more than just understands our struggles, he experienced them. We read in later parts of Jesus’ life, how he was tested in every single way and yet did not sin.
If the entry requirement for heaven is perfection, then I’m definitely not getting in. But Jesus can. Jesus is the only human that has ever lived who fulfils this entry requirement. That is why it is necessary that the heavenly King came to Earth as a baby and lived as a human: so that He could take our place, which happened when he died on the Cross.
David couldn’t take our place - we need Jesus: the humble, baby King.
This Christmas, look to Jesus and remember how incredible it is that our Lord, the King, came to Earth as a human baby so that you or I don’t need to face the punishment that we deserve.
Instead, “He leads his children [you and me] on, to that place where He is gone”. Jesus guides our lives now, so that one day we will make it to our final resting place - heaven, where we will live in perfect harmony with our heavenly King!
My name is Jessie Purvis and I'm a recent graduate of Durham University. I spent last year working for UCCF in Bradford, and am now living and working in a very Christmassy London!