Hymns and their History

It might be good to refocus our attention from all that is around us and to consider some hymns which we cherish and appreciate. The name of Cecil Frances Alexander is hardly one that trips off your tongue every day. She was born in the Republic of Ireland and later lived in Londonderry. She was marked by compassion and care for others. She expressed that concern for those disadvantaged by traveling miles each day to the sick and poor, providing clothes, food, and medical supplies. She also founded a school for the deaf. All this was quite progressive in the 1800s.

She became well-known for her writing of children’s hymns and poetry. But she is best known to us by some of the hymns which came from her pen. The two which will occupy us in this brief discourse are linked by the two events which “bookend” the life of our Savior and by the fact that the two locations of which she wrote were a mere 6 to 8 miles apart.

At Christmas time we sing the words of one of her hymns:

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.

But at the Breaking of Bread we often sing another touching hymn which moves from Bethlehem and a cradle to Jerusalem and a cross:

There is a green hill far away,
outside a city wall,
where our dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
what pains He had to bear,
but we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

Bethlehem and Jerusalem, at the one He was worshiped; at the other, He was mocked. At Bethlehem, He came down, but at Golgotha He was lifted up. We look to Bethlehem and remember He was a real man. We look to Calvary and remember He is our Great God and Savior (Titus 2:13) Who gave Himself for us. Cecil Frances Alexander captured the essence of both of these eternity-shaping events in her hymns of worship.

The full text of these hymns can be found in

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