Article of the week: A boy was born, King of all the world

19 December 2020


Four people have chosen a carol to reflect on during Advent. Major Bruce Smith concludes the series with a second look at ‘A Starry Night'

IF truth be told, the carol that I chose for this Advent reflection surprised even me. With so many beautiful and deeply theological words set to an amazing array of melodies, we truly are spoilt within The Salvation Army.

Why is this modern carol so special? Well, my wife, Isobel, and I suddenly realised that this year marks the 30th year of us singing it as a duet. We didn’t even realise that until our children pointed out that Christmas wasn’t Christmas for them without us singing this carol.


It was on a starry night

When the hills were bright

Earth lay sleeping, sleeping calm

and still.

Then in a cattle shed, in a manger bed

A boy was born, King of all the world.


And all the angels sang for him,

The bells of Heaven rang for him,

For a boy was born, King of all the world.


Soon the shepherds came that way

Where the baby lay

And were kneeling, kneeling by his side.

And their hearts believed again for

the peace of men,

For a boy was born, King of all

the world.


Was it a starry night when the Saviour was born? We don’t know. We are aware of some wise men or Magi somewhere off to the east of Bethlehem, scouring the night sky for a special star. So maybe it was a good night, the best night ever for stargazing. We know of shepherds out on the hillside keeping watch over their sheep, with no mention of rain to dampen their spirits. So it probably was a starry night. If that was the case, then it illustrates that this boy was not only born King of all the world, but King of all the universe.

Stepping out of a farm building late at night on South Ronaldsay, one of the Orkney Islands, I was blown away by the extent of the universe on display to the eyes of a ‘city boy’ for the very first time. The God who created all this was my God, the one who was calling me. As Earth lay sleeping calm and still, I experienced a moment of grace as God revealed himself to me. This was followed quickly with another type of closeness to God as I experienced my future brother-in-law’s driving back to Kirkwall. The shepherds’ journey into Bethlehem may have been a little less hair-raising than my journey to Kirkwall, but it, too, was going to be an incredible moment of grace as they were ushered in to see this newborn King.

One might imagine these men as big, hairy, unwashed brutes. That was the assumption when it came to casting for the Christmas spectacular when I was a cadet in the training college. We all knew that our resident William Booth lookalike was certain to be a shepherd. What was left for me? I was made a shepherd too – perhaps I was the unwashed one!

The truth was that I was the only one who had actually worked with sheep. My experience of night-shift workers and people working with sheep leads me to believe that this group of shepherds on that starry night probably included a variety of people with different interests. Some may have just seen a baby when they arrived at the stable, some may have thought they were hallucinating and some would have truly experienced the presence of the living Christ. Their world was changed that night when belief in God was stirred again. God was here for all kinds of people, and he still is.

The group of shepherds, the wise men on their way and the heavenly chorus of angels – all included in the carol’s two short verses and chorus – gather round to welcome God, born as a baby, into our world. We, too, have the opportunity to bow before this baby-king.

This year, as Isobel and I share in song through the Findochty Corps Facebook page, it will be different. Our 30th year of singing this carol together will carry every bit as much meaning as every other time since we started, only this time we get to sing out to the world of which this boy came to be King. What an amazing privilege!





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