Friday, December 21, 2012

Advent Day Twenty: like stars

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.
Mary was his 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 meek and lowly lived on earth our Savior holy. 

For he 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 feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness.

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 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
Where, like stars, his children crowned all in white shall wait around.


(I think "wait around" in the last verse means "gather around in waiting," but these cute little guys look like they really are "waiting around" -- perhaps for their turn to come onstage!)


This carol sounds like it was originally meant to be a children's hymn, and perhaps that simplicity is the main source of the song's appeal.  I love its reminder that Jesus experienced everything we do as humans, so He can identify with our sorrow and joy -- and that He leads us, His children, to follow Him.  The final verse always gives me a shiver as I imagine Jesus enthroned in Heaven with all His followers dressed in white, shining like stars, worshipping and serving Him.


  1. The contrast between being born helpless in the lowly stall and being enthroned in power in heaven above is striking, Jeannie. I'm also struck by the meter of the hymn/poem. It's a little different from what I usually see in hymns. Any insights on that?

    1. That's true, Tim. It looks like it was based on a Poem, and each stanza would be a sestet (ababcc rhyme scheme, roughly) like the last 6 lines of a sonnet, but in this case standing alone. I wonder if there are any other hymns or songs with sestets as stanzas; I can't think of any.

      When I reread this carol today I thought of my mom. I wrote a poem that began with my going to get her dress and shoes to be buried in, and ended with me imagining her starry-eyed, dressed in white in the presence of Jesus. The carol had not been on my mind at all when I wrote the poem, but the connection really strikes me now.


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