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The approachability of Jesus: Once in Royal David’s City

Author: Hannah Moyse, 17 December 2020

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Once in Royal David’s City emphasises the humanity of Jesus.

Although it starts with a reference to Bethlehem being the city of King David, which we read in Luke 2.4, the focus is on the condition into which Jesus is born – he’s laid to rest in a ‘lowly cattle shed’. Luke 2.7 says that Jesus was placed in a manger, ‘because there was no guest room for them’.

These humble origins are emblematic of the way Jesus humbled himself by becoming human. The Bible teaches that Jesus existed ‘before the world was’ (John 17.5); he was with God in heaven. But the song explains that ‘he came down to earth from heaven’, making himself lower in status than he rightfully is.

The hymn tells us that ‘His shelter was a stable, / And His cradle was a stall.’ This image of Jesus’ poverty echoes passages such as 2 Corinthians 8.9, which speaks of how ‘though he was rich, for our sakes he became poor’. It continues, ‘With the poor, and mean, and lowly, / Lived on earth our Saviour holy.’ This echoes passages in the Bible such as Matthew 11.29, ‘Take my yoke, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.’

The hymn focuses on Jesus’ childhood, of which we can get a glimpse by reading Luke 2.41–52. The overall image that it paints is of Jesus as obedient, meek, docile – which is also how the Bible paints him in passages such as Philippians 2.7–8: ‘He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.’

This image of the lowly Jesus shows that he was approachable; he willingly became like us. The hymn invites us all to feel humbled by his humility.

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