Tag Archives: shepherds

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around,
And glory shone around.

“Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind.
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind
To you and all mankind.

“To you, in David’s town, this day
Is born of David’s line
A Savior, who is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign,
And this shall be the sign.

“The heavenly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid,
And in a manger laid.”

Thus spake the seraph and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God on high,
Who thus addressed their song,
Who thus addressed their song:

“All glory be to God on high,
And to the Earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from Heaven to men
Begin and never cease,
Begin and never cease!”

Words by Nahum Tate, 1700
Music by George F. Handel, 1812

 


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:8 – 14


 

 

There is always something nice about ballads as opposed to other song.  Other songs may flow and say different ideas, but the cohesion is not always there.  A ballad on the other hand tells a full story in verse or song from beginning to end.  When you have heard a ballad you have heard the story and know what it was all about.  What is more, when it is set to music it becomes something that is easier to remember.  The words, tied to the music help us to hold the information in our brains.  So as I said, I love all songs styles, but there is something special about a ballad. And such is the case with Nahum Tate’s “While Shepherds Watched Their Flock By Night.”

In six simple verses we are presented the story found in Luke 2:8 – 14 of the Angel’s pronouncement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus. An event that sums up the entire message and significance of the birth.  So Tate begins his ballad by writing, “While shepherds watched their flocks by night, All seated on the ground, The angel of the Lord came down, And glory shone around,” which paraphrase verse 8 – 9 which read, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.”

He continues on in he second stanza where he writes, “‘Fear not!’ said he, for mighty dread Had seized their troubled mind. ‘Glad tidings of great joy I bring To you and all mankind'” Here he picks at the end of verse 9 where the first stanza ended and continues on through verse 10 which reads, “and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Tate continues his journey through the passage as he writes in the third stanza, “To you, in David’s town, this day Is born of David’s line, A Savior, who is Christ the Lord, And this shall be the sign,” Here he paraphrases the words of verses 11 – 12 which read, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you.”

There is no question of the Biblical solidity of the Tate’s Christmas ballad as he continues his paraphrase by writing, “The heavenly Babe you there shall find, To human view displayed, All meanly wrapped in swathing bands, And in a manger laid.” Here he retells the the remainder of verse 12 which reads, “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

In the fifth stanza Tate writes, “Thus spake the seraph and forthwith Appeared a shining throng of angels praising God on high, Who thus addressed their song.” He he paraphrases verse 13 which reads, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying.”

Finally, in the last stanza Tate writes, “All glory be to God on high, And to the Earth be peace; Good will henceforth from Heaven to men, Begin and never cease.” Tate has gone through the entire passage and finishes with the summary of verse 14 which reads, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Yes there is something nice about a ballad, a song that simply tells a story.  In this case, the story that God had come to earth, the Messiah had been born.  Unfortunately, it is so easy to find ourselves singing the words without thinking about them.  Next time you sing “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night” listen to what you are saying and realize that you are proclaiming the birth of the Savior of the World.

 

 

Read more about “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks.”

 

The First Noel

The first Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay tending their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east, beyond them far;
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

And by the light of that same star
Three Wise Men came from country far;
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

This star drew nigh to the northwest,
Over Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Then did they know assuredly
Within that house the King did lie;
One entered it them for to see,
And found the Babe in poverty.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Then entered in those Wise Men three,
Full reverently upon the knee,
And offered there, in His presence,
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Between an ox stall and an ass,
This Child truly there He was;
For want of clothing they did Him lay
All in a manger, among the hay.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made Heaven and earth of naught,
And with His blood mankind hath bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

If we in our time shall do well,
We shall be free from death and hell;
For God hath prepared for us all
A resting place in general.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Words & Music: Traditional English Carol

 


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 2:8 – 15

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:1 – 11


 

 

I am fascinated by the misconception people have about the Christmas story from carols. But it really isn’t surprising. People sing carols far more that they read Luke 2 or Matthew 2. When I started working on this carol, I hesitated on even doing it. But the more I looked at it, I realized that this beloved carol does not teach anything that is unscriptural, it simply takes some license in speculations of things we are not told. So, I have chosen to look at “The First Noel”

We hear it sung every year. We probably sing it every year. But does anyone really know what Noel means. We know it as the french word meaning Christmas. Now I have no question that this is indeed the contemporary word for Christmas, but what are its origins. One explanation is that it is derived for the Latin, “natalis” meaning birth. (This is where we get the English word Nativity, the Spanish word Navidad and the Italian word Natale.) Now this is the most commonly accepted answer, but it seems interesting that all these other languages maintained some appearance of the original, yet French did not.

A couple other explanation I found are that it is derived from the french word “nouvelles” meaning “news”. This would fit with the idea that the birth of Christ was Good News.

The final one says that is comes from ancient Gaulish. It is derived from the words “Noio” or “Neu” meaning “new” and “Helle” meaning “light”. In this case the Noel is the new light that came upon the world.

All this is fascinating, but I do not speak french and I am certainly not an etymologist. The simple answer is that today, it means Christmas whether it comes from the birth, the announcement or the new light that entered the world.

So the Christmas carol begins by telling us that it “Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.” Yes the news of the birth of Christ, the light of the world, was first proclaimed to the shepherds. Simple shepherds who had done nothing to warrant this gift. But it is to them that it comes. Not the first of this creative license is found in the line, “On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.” Yes, it is true that we do not know if it was cold or if it was a winter night. But this paints a picture for us a shepherd set apart from everything else that is going on.

So the carol continues that the star appeared in the sky. The implication of the verse is that the Shepherds saw the star. Again, while there is nothing that tells us this in the Bible, there is no reason to think that they could not have seen the star. It also says the star shined both day and night, this one I think I am going to have to disagree with, but again it is an attempt to emphasize the brilliance of the star.

The star that beckoned to the wise men “To seek for a King.” Yes it does say three wise men, and most of us are familiar with this one. There were indeed three gifts, but it does not tell us how many wise men there were. So the wise men followed the star until it came to rest over Bethlehem. This is how they knew that they had found the place where the king was. The carol then says, “And found the Babe in poverty.” We don’t know the financial situation of the Holy family, but this is clearly a reference to the fact that he was born in a stable. This is why it later says, “Between an ox stall and an ass.” Of course the wise men did not find Jesus in the manger. Matthew 2:11 tells us that they came to the house.

It is here where they found the child, the young King, and they presented him gifts worthy of a King. The gifts of “gold and myrrh and frankincense.”

Now my intent here was not to ruin a beloved old traditional hymn, but to remind us that our final authority must always be the Bible. It is there that we must always check out facts. Many a well meaning person has been creative with the Bible accounts to the point where they have altered the message. I do not think this is the case here. So I invite you, if you love this carol, continue to sing it for in it we declare the greatest truth of all when we sing, “Then let us all with one accord, Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made Heaven and earth of naught, And with His blood mankind hath bought.”

 

 

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O Come, All Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

See how the shepherds, summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;
We too will thither bend our joyful footsteps;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Lo! star led chieftains, Magi, Christ adoring,
Offer Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
We to the Christ Child bring our hearts’ oblations.
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Words by John F. Wade, ca 1743
Music by Uncertain (attributed to John Wade, John Reading or Simoa Portogallo)

 


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. . .
There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1 -5, 9 – 14

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:13 – 14

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2:15 – 20

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” . . .
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:1 – 2, 9 – 11


 

When you get married one of the first big things you have to do is decide who you are going to invite to the wedding.  How wide do you spread the net?  Do you invite your parents second cousin once removed or do you just keep it to immediate family?  Do you invite your childhood best friend that you have not seen in 20 years or do you just invite the people currently in your life? These are the decisions that have to be made and it is up to each couple to do as they see fit (and can afford to feed at the reception).  Whatever  the decision, once you are done with the list you have to address and stamp all the invitations to go out.  Finally you need to wait for the responses so you can find out who is coming.

In John Wade’s “O Come, All Ye Faithful” we are given an invitation, not to a wedding, but to meet Christ. An invitation that is given to all, but only those who respond can know the child in the manger.

So Wade gives us an invitation containing all the necessary information. Who is invited? “all ye faithful.” Where are they going? “to Bethlehem.” Why are they going? to “behold Him, born the King of angels.” The hymn then continues by presenting us with a further description of the child we are called to see when it reads, “True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal . . . Son of the Father, begotten, not created.” (John 1:5, 9, 14) This child we are called to see, is the eternal God made flesh.

Now the hymn changes its focus from an invitation to present the response of the three groups presented in scripture concerning the birth of Christ.  The first group is the Angels who in Luke 2:13 – 14 declared, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

We then move on to the Shepherds who Luke 2:15 – 17 and 20 tells us that “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child . . . The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

The third group is then the Magi who came later to see Jesus as we are told in Mathew 2:1 – 2 and 9 – 11  where we read”After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” . . .
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Each of those who responded to the call could do nothing less than worship and glorify the child, the new born King.  So Wade next turn the lens upon us and how we will respond. Will we come to the child who was born “for us sinners poor and in the manger”? Surely “we would embrace Thee, with love and awe” for “who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?” Christ came into the world to open the door that sinners could be redeemed. In love he would “lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)

The invitation has been sent to each and every one of us to celebrate the child born in Bethlehem, the Savior of the world. May each of us choose to respond to the invitation with joy and faith. When we truly come to know him we can join in the words of the hymn, “O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

 

 

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