two verses from Cecil Alexander’s Once in Royal David’s City (1848), as sung by Sufjan Stevens (2002):
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, oppressed, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through 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.
The King came. But the King didn’t come to kings, other rulers, smaller lords or governors. The King didn’t make his entrance in the halls of power, didn’t visit the wealthy or the religious or the righteous. This King entered the world as a stranger and an outcast whose parents were forced to travel across country so caesar could have a better idea how big his empire was and how best to tax it. Then this King was born in a barn because his parents couldn’t even find a hotel room.
And that’s the drama of the incarnation. The King of kings and Lord of lords doesn’t enter our world in the company of the well-to-do. Indeed if he had that might have reinforced their pretension. Worldly kings and lords don’t tend to appreciate other kings and lords, except perhaps as peers. But this King is peerless, and is famously underwhelmed by the lifestyles of the rich and famous (with apologies to Robin Leach). And so, in a scandal to our values, in an offensive disruption of the things we prize most, this King appears as a “dear and gentle” child.
I don’t want to overstate my point – this kid who was born in the company of cattle to a relatively poor couple was also supposed to descend from the line of king David. But David himself came from humble beginnings – short, young, shepherd chosen above all his older brothers. David, however, gradually moved away from those beginnings and eventually took on the role of the classical king that he was chosen to counteract (cf. the Bathsheba incident and the census). But this new King, God’s true and ultimate King, represents a totally new vision, a vision he never corrupted nor ever will corrupt (in spite of how regularly his later followers would corrupt it).
The scandal of this King’s birth, the scandal that “With the poor, oppressed and lowly, / Lived on earth our Savior holy,” is eventually carried forward and brought to a climax when this King, this Prince of Peace, is publicly executed by lesser (false) kings in order promote a lesser (false) peace.
May we remember this season that we are not our own king, and that the kings we revere are at best pale imitators of the True King. And may we live in the light of the scandal that this effectively homeless child is the “Lord in Heav’n above”, and that this is, in the words of the angel in Luke 2, “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”