Of Peasants & Kings, Babes & Monarchs
On the eve of every Christmas since 1919, the world-renowned choir of King’s College in Cambridge, England presents “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols”—a service of music and Scripture readings, the latter of which are explored in the following pages.
From the back of the college’s magnificent Gothic chapel a still small voice initiates the program. A lone boy, a soprano chorister, lifts his voice toward the largest vaulted ceiling in the world. Exuding heart-stopping innocence, the robed child sings the first line of “Once in Royal David’s City,” a cappella, as he leads one of Britain’s preeminent choirs into a magnificent sacred space more than 500 years old.
Together the choir and the boy sing verse two, also a cappella, and then the entire Cantabrigian congregation joins in for the final verses, accompanied by the heart-thrilling strains of the organ.
“Once in Royal David’s City” began as a simple poem by the Irish Anglican author Cecil Frances Alexander, who penned it in 1848 in an attempt to explain the Apostle’s Creed to a perplexed child.
The evening’s carefully crafted liturgy and spectacular pageantry embody the seeming contradictions of the gospel story—a story about Christ’s redeeming love that juxtaposes peasants and kings, babes and monarchs, a heraldic birth and an ignominious death, a humble beginning and a glorified conclusion, still awaiting final consummation.
Please join me and the Wheaton College community as we ponder these paradoxes and prepare our hearts and minds to receive God’s precious, redeeming love during the coming holy season. (And see how many lines from “Once in Royal David’s City” you can spot in the titles of the meditations that follow!)
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