In each of the first four stanzas of this hymn, the author, Emily Elliott, focuses on a different aspect of the contrast between Jesus' divine glory and the humiliation He endured during His time on this earth. The first two stanzas contrast the mansions of heaven (John 14:2 KJV) with the stable and manger that first sheltered the newborn King (Luke 2:7). The third refers to Jesus' statement, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20 ESV), while the fourth highlights the blind ignorance of the crowd who called for His crucifixion. The final stanza is an anticipation of Christ's Second Coming.Text
Emily S. Elliott wrote this hymn in 1864 for St. Mark's Church in Brighton, England. Her father was rector there. It was first printed in leaflets, but Elliott later published it in the Church Missionary Juvenile Instructor, which she edited. She revised it for publication in one of her hymn collections, Chimes for Daily Service, in 1880. This text in irregular meter has five stanzas and a refrain. There are actually two refrains, one for stanzas 1-4, and one for the final stanza. The theme is the life of Jesus, with references to various passages in the Gospels. The first two stanzas focus on Christ’s advent and birth, and the middle stanza briefly states how Jesus lived on earth. The fourth stanza describes the nature of His death, while the last stanza anticipates the end of a Christian's life when the ascended Christ will call the believer home.Tune:
MARGARET is the only tune to which this hymn is sung today. It was written and named by Timothy R. Matthews for this text, and was published with it in 1876 in Children's Hymns and Tunes. This tune is sometimes called ELLIOTT after the author of the text. The irregular meter of the text makes it difficult to find a suitable tune, but the rhythm of this tune accommodates the varying number of syllables per line very well. This makes it easier to use for congregational singing.Worship Notes
Though this hymn is often associated with Advent and Christmas, the fact that it refers to the whole scope of Jesus' life makes it suitable for use at any time of year. If it is used for Christmas, try singing only the first two stanzas and the last, as in the choral anthem "Come to My Heart," which has flexible, simple vocal parts and optional cello part. The refrain of this hymn is frequently used as a climactic point in contemporary choral anthems such as "Will You Make Room?" and "Light a Candle in the Night."
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