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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 that little child.


The music of the season of Christmas, and the time of Advent leading up to it, is something that can awaken deep nostalgia in many of us.  Memories of years long past and potentially of those people with whom we shared important occasions and celebrations.  Memories that continue to shape us and form us.  The music of this season stirs our hearts, brings in joy, revises our attention, challenges our notions, invites new perspective.  The music of this season is central to inspiring our emotions to think much more deeply about our purposes and meaning as we walk on this planet.  The carols of this time arouse all of this and perhaps much more, touching something deep in our soul.

And so perhaps for you as well, the words of the hymn, Once in Royal David’s City sung by a solo voice in a darkened church, save for a few sputtering candles held by the expectant congregation, will elicit a strong sense of the wonder and beauty of this time.  But I also hope that it can stir you to focus your attention much more fully on the meaning of Christmas and the Incarnation of God in our midst.  Perhaps this traditional Christmas hymn invites you to explore more fully what it means to be a follower of this Jesus of Nazareth in our time.

In some ways, the story of Christmas from our Bible is similar to a story that plays out every single day of the year.  For around the world on this very day, more than one child will be born into poverty and laid in whatever will make do as a cradle or bed for the infant.  Thousands of children are born into this situation and for the most part the world pays little or no attention.  Those born into poverty are often kept in that place for the rest of their lives.  The cycle of poverty is difficult to break in all parts of the globe but in those places where disease is rampant, famine is known, water is scarce, war is present.  According to the UNHCR, this past year saw 82.4 million people forcibly displaced worldwide because of conflict, persecution, human rights violations and violence.  Currently in the world there are approximately 26.4 million refugees and 42 per cent of the forcibly displaced persons are children under the age of 18.  These numbers from the UNHCR website, are staggering but there are other scenarios in the world that invite our attention.   

During this ongoing pandemic, we here in Canada have seen for the most part easy access to vaccines but there are places in the world where many wait desperately for their first COVID-19 vaccination.  

This past year in Afghanistan, when troops from the around the world withdrew, the entire country was thrown into chaos and disturbance.  The scenes from the airport in Kandahar were heart-breaking as people were desperate to find safety.  Women and girls feared for their lives as they continue to try to live with many lost freedoms including employment and education.  

Climate change continues to affect people all around the world, especially those who live in poverty; are we too late to see a reduction in temperatures around the globe?  We need to be acting quickly in this emergency.

Here in Canada the discovery of grave sites at former Residential Schools sent shock waves across the country.  Children baptized in churches of this diocese were very likely some of the ones buried in these sites.  Truth and Reconciliation continues to be the cry and the hope but there are fears that the voices are not being heard.

All of this is central to what we celebrate and honour at Christmas.  For that little child that we sing about and cherish at this holy time of our year, that little child grows to become known as our Saviour, teacher, Lord, and guide in Jesus the Christ.  That little child will challenge all of us about what is most important, about our relationship with God, about grace, about death and resurrection.  That child will grow from being laid in a manger to preaching about blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  That child will grow to call us to be salt and light in the world.  That child will grow to invite us to seek God’s forgiveness of our sins “as we forgive those who sin against us.”  

The Christmas carol Once in Royal David’s City, while possibly filled with cherished memories for us, offers more than one verse.  The hymn goes on to say: 

With the poor and mean and lowly.

Lived on earth our Saviour holy.


And herein is our hope and our calling.  Jesus was God amongst us.  He was God incarnate.  He is still known to us in this world in the poor, the lowly, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the imprisoned.  He is still known to us in the actions and compassion of others, and in our actions and renewal of our hearts and souls.  That child linked heaven with earth and our lives to all others on this planet.

May our Christmas be filled with wonder and joy, with music and festivity, with laughter and celebration.  But may we also not lose sight of what we are celebrating: the birth of Jesus, the one who came to us to reveal God with us, Emmanuel for now and for always.  


Creche Graphic by Halfpoint

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