Christmas Songs

By: Gail Cohen & Gilbert DeBenedetti

'While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Advocates of a "literal interpretation" of the nativity story in church liturgy and hymns greeted "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" with enthusiasm. The reason was simple: The hymn closely replicates the Bible's description of events on the night of Jesus' birth.

It also helped that a distinguished group of musicians contributed to the hymn's creation. George Frideric Handel, composer of the famed oratorio Messiah, wrote the music. Years later, Richard Storrs Willis of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" fame infused Handel's old melody with text adapted from an even older work published by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brody in 1696. And the result is timeless.


"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" Lyrics

1. 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.

2. "Fear not" said he, for mighty dread

Had seized their troubled minds;

"Glad tidings of great joy I bring

To you and all mankind.

3. "To you, in David's town, this day

Is born of David's line

The Saviour, who is Christ the Lord

And this shall be the sign:

4. "The heav'nly babe you there shall find

To human view displayed,

All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,

And in a manger laid.

5. "All glory be to God on high,

And to the earth be peace;

Good will henceforth from heav'n to men

Begin and never cease!"

Christmas sheet music: "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks"

Shepherds in southern France used to shout "Gloria in excelsis Deo, Gloria in excelsis Deo!" from hill to hill to celebrate the coming of Christmas. The song on the next page, "Angels We Have Heard on High," is based on that jubilant cry.