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,
The Savior who is Christ the Lord, And this shall be the sign: And this shall be the sign:
“The heav’nly 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.
“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, Begin and never cease.”
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 Sternold and Hopkins in 1652. Tate and Brady recast the psalms in more “modern” language, publishing the New Version of the Psalter in 1696. Even though the old Psalter was often unpoetic and hard to sing, many resisted attempts to change it and resented Tate and Brady for trying to improve it.
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 on Tate and Brady!
In 1700 Tate and Brady published a supplement of sixteen new hymns to go along with their psalms. This Christmas carol, retelling of the shepherds’ story, was in that collection.