Once in Royal David’s City (Advent: Day 7)

This Advent hymn was written in 1848 by an Irish pastor’s wife named Cecil Frances Alexander. The words to this hymn encompass the full scope of redemption in such a powerful way!

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 that 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 mean, and lowly, lived on earth our Savior holy.


And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:7

No doubt the town of Bethlehem was crowded because of the census, but where did Mary and Joseph go when they were turned away from the inn? They obviously had to find shelter elsewhere, but they may not have had to go far. I did some research on this, and it turns out that there are 3 Greek words for the word “inn.”

The first word (pandocheion) is the one we would most likely associate with an inn, and what we tend to imagine Mary and Joseph being turned away from. This word refers to a paid, public place of lodging with an innkeeper, such as a hotel. This is the word used in the story of the Good Samaritan when he cared for the wounded traveler at an inn (see Luke 10:30-37).

The second word (xenia) has the idea of a personal place of lodging and is used when referring to Paul being under house arrest (see Acts 28:23).

The third word (kataluma) is the one used in Luke 2. This word refers to a “guest chamber” and is the same word Jesus used when referring to the Upper Room in Luke 22:12. Apparently these guest chambers were on the second or upper floor of a building while the first floor was reserved for the shelter of livestock. This is so interesting because Mary and Joseph could have easily been sent to the lower floor with the animals if the upper guest chamber was taken.

Another possibility is that they sought shelter in a cave where animals were kept. This is the traditional view that Justin Martyr refers to in his writings around 150 years after Christ. Regardless of whether Jesus was born in a cave or a first floor shelter for livestock, it is likely that animals were present at His birth. The word “manger” in Luke 2:7 means “a manger, or crib at which cattle are fed.” This basically means a feeding trough probably made of stone. Based on the meaning of this word alone, we know there were probably cattle and/or other animals nearby. The word also has the connotation of a “stall,” which I believe the idea of a stable comes from. The point is that Jesus was born in very humble surroundings. “With the poor, and mean, and lowly, lived on earth our Savior holy.”

This is one of the most profound truths of Advent. The King of Heaven humbled Himself to be accessible to shepherds! Imagine how difficult it is to gain an audience with a king. Most of us “peasants” will never have that opportunity in our lifetime! But Jesus didn’t come only for the privileged.

And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.

Luke 4:17-19 (NASB)

Can you imagine Jesus reading this passage about Himself in the synagogue? I get chills just thinking about it. Jesus said in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (NASB). Jesus made Himself accessible to the poor and needy but we need to recognize that we are poor and needy. When we come to this realization, we become candidates of His amazing grace!

King Jesus has extended His grace towards us. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 NASB). One day our faith will become sight and we will see Him face to face.

And our eyes at last shall see Him, Thro’ His own redeeming love; for that Child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heav’n 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; when like stars His children crowned all in white shall wait around.


Advent Reflections:

1. How does the humble way in which Jesus came to earth speak to your heart?

2. Read John 14:16-21. What did Jesus promise?

3. Read 1 Corinthians 13:12. How will we see Jesus one day?

4. Read Revelation 1:12-18. Describe how Jesus appeared to John in his vision and what did Jesus say to him in verses 17-18?

5. Read John 14:1-3. How do the promises in these verses encourage your heart today?

Click here to watch an amazing choral version on YouTube.

Click here to hear Dana Cunningham’s piano version on Spotify.

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