Scripture Verse

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. Luke 2:8–9


Leigh R. Brewer
National Portrait Gallery

Creative Commons License

Words: Leigh R. Brew­er, 1892.

Music: Fest­ge­sang Al­fred G. Wat­hall, cir­ca 1905 (🔊 pdf nwc).

Alternate Tune:

If you know where to get a good pho­to of Wat­hall (head-and-shoul­ders, at least 200×300 pix­els), would you ?

Origin of the Hymn

I wrote that hymn or Christ­mas ca­rol—which I called The An­gels’ Song—just be­fore Christ­mas 1892. I had just re­ceived from a dear friend a gift of five thou­sand dol­lars for my mis­sion­a­ry work in Mon­ta­na; and I wrote this as a Christ­mas greet­ing and re­mem­brance.

The last verse of the orig­in­al, which does not ap­pear in the hymn as here pub­lished, ex­pressed my gra­ti­tude and was as fol­lows:

God bless all those who help to give
From burdens a release!
God send his blessings on their home
And fill their lives with peace!

Meeting Mr. C. Whit­ney Coombs some time af­ter that, he asked for the ca­rol that he might set it to mu­sic. I gave it to him, and he made two set­tings for it in mu­sic, one as a so­lo and the oth­er as a quar­tet, and pub­lished it.

The next year I asked him to set it to mu­sic that could be sung by Sun­day School chil­dren. He did so, and I had it pub­lished in leaf­let form and had it sung in all our Sun­day schools at their Christ­mas fes­tiv­al. I then wrote a cho­rus for it which Mr. Coombs used near­ly as I wrote it.

In the first ed­i­tion of the Me­tho­dist Hym­nal this hymn was er­ro­ne­ous­ly at­trib­ut­ed to C. Whit­ney Coombs, grow­ing out of the fact that he was the first com­pos­er to set it to mu­sic.

Nutter, p. 67


Long years ago o’er Bethlehem’s hills
Was seen a wondrous thing;
As shepherds watched the sleeping flocks
They heard the angels sing.
The anthem rolled among the clouds
When earth was hushed and still;
Its notes proclaimed sweet peace on earth,
To all mankind good will.


Glory to God in the highest,
The angels’ song resounds,
Glory to God in the highest!

That song is sung by rich and poor,
Where’er the Christ is known;
’Tis sung in words, and sung in deeds,
Which bind all hearts in one.
Angels are still the choristers,
But we the shepherds are,
To bear the message which they bring,
To those both near and far: