WHILE SHEPHERDS WATCHED THEIR FLOCKS                 written in 1700

The Story

Along with his friend Nicholas Brady, Nahum Tate was a pioneer in church music. At the end of the 17th century, the Church of England still did most of its singing from the Psalter compiled by Sternhold and Hopkins in 1562. Tate and Brady recast the Psalms in more “modern” language, publishing the New Version of the Psalter in 1696. Even though the old Psalter contained songs that didn’t rhyme and were often hard to sing, many resented any attempt to change it. And they resented Tate and Brady for trying to improve it. Some people REALLY struggle with change!

Eventually, though, King William III of England endorsed Tate and Brady’s New Version, and it became the standard Psalter in both England and America. Ironically, many people later protested when translators tried to improve in Tate and Brady!

In 1700, Tate and Brady published a supplement of 16 new hymns to go along with their psalms. This Christmas carol, a paraphrase of the shepherd’s story as found in Luke 2:8-14, was in that collection.

So, now you know why this song (especially the verses other than the first verse) is so difficult to sing…

The Song

            Read this Christmas hymn, and – today – imagine what it might have been like to have been a shepherd that night.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground,
an 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 simply wrapped in swaddling clothes and in a manger laid… and in a manger laid.”

Thus spoke the angel.  Suddenly appeared a shining throng
of angels praising God, who thus addressed their joyful song:… addressed their joyful song.”

“All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace;
to those on whom his favor rests goodwill shall never cease… goodwill shall never cease.”

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