This hymn has an interesting history. It was first published in 1848 in a hymnal titled Hymns for Little Children, which I will discuss later. And, since 1919, Kings College Chapel Cambridge has sung this as their processional hymn for their Christmas Eve service, wherein a soloist sings the first verse, the choir sings the second, and the congregation joins in for the third verse. Usually, the soloist is a choirboy. I have posted a video performance of this traditional performance of this hymn, as I found both the history and the performance particularly lovely.
Why would this song have first been published in Hymns for Little Children? We know that one of the ways God explains discipleship is to tell us to, “becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). When we look at this hymn through a child’s eyes and with the traits of a child, what will we find?
The story emerges of the magnificence of a great God, who is all powerful, and of a once great city, where kings and rulers changed the course of history. Juxtapose this with the arrival of a tiny baby, helpless, born in a shed made to hold livestock, to a humble woman who would raise this boy “with the poor, and mean, and lowly.”
It occurs to me that when Christ says in Doctrine and Covenants 88:6 that, “[I] that ascended up on high, as also [I] descended below all things, in that [I] comprehended all things, that [I]e might be in all and through all things, the light of truth,” He wasn’t just referring to the act of the atonement. He came to this earth, Lord of all, into circumstances far below that of which he was worthy. His mother and the man who acted as his earthly father couldn’t find another place for this baby to be born. And relatively soon after his birth, this little family was forced to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod (Matthew 2:13-15).
The lyrics of this song are a simple yet profound testimony of our Savior’s birth and His mission. He truly did descend below all things throughout his life, living in the poorest and humblest of situations, and He did this so that He could love us better and more perfectly. God is, indeed, love (1 John 4:16). He understands us and He wants us to understand Him. He truly wants to “[Lead] his children on/ To the place where he is gone.” That is the reason for the season. This miracle child whose mission was to grow up, learn, teach, and ultimately, die that we might live, is a gift unlike any other ever given.
To quote Ezra Taft Benson:
“We may never understand nor comprehend in mortality how He accomplished what He did, but we must not fail to understand why He did what He did.
Everything He did was prompted by His unselfish, infinite love for us. Hear His own words:
“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; …
“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” (D&C 19:16, 18.)
May we remember during this season of bustle, bows, and baking, Santa and sleighs, presents and parties, the truest and most pure gift ever given and the reason behind its offering.