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


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 & shoul­ders, at least 200×300 pix­els),

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: