Posted by: rcottrill | October 27, 2017

In the Field with Their Flocks

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Words: Frederic William Farrar (b. Aug. 7, 1831; d. Mar. 22, 1903)
Music: Chope, by Richard Robert Chope (b. Sept. 21, 1830; d. May 29, 1928)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The hymn is a poetic paraphrasing of Luke 2:8-14. Regarding the tune, many books use one by John Farmer (1835-1901). In the Field with Their Flocks was written in 1871 by Frederic William Farrar, while he was an assistant master at Harrow School for boys in England.

Farrar was born in India, where his father was a missionary. Afterward he graduated with distinction from both Oxford and Cambridge, and became a celebrated prelate in the Church of England. By both his preaching and his literary output he gained international recognition. Later Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, he was also honorary chaplain to Queen Victoria.

The shepherds are a well known part of the Christmas story. But why? Why did God single them out particularly for a spectacular angelic visitation?

For an account of the birth of Christ and events surrounding it, we rely mainly on four Bible chapters, Matthew 1–2, and Luke 1–2. Mark mentions the birth not at all, leaping right into the work of John the Baptist and Christ’s years of ministry. John’s Gospel provides an important theological perspective on the birth in his prologue (Jn. 1:1-14), but gives no details about the event itself.

Luke begins his account with the birth of John, the one who’d be the forerunner, the announcer of the Lord’s coming, and Matthew takes us on through to the visit of the magi from the east, some months after the birth of Christ. In between, there is the miraculous conception in the womb of Mary, and the trip of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born. This is followed by the announcement of the birth to some shepherds (Lk. 2:8-14).

It was Rudyard Kipling who spoke of “six honest serving men” employed by reporters and historians every day. Consider Luke 2:11-12. What happened: the birth of Jesus; Why it happened: because of all us sinners needing a “Saviour;” When it happened: “this day;” How to identify Jesus: He is wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger; Where He is: in the city of David (Bethlehem); Who He is: “Christ [the Messiah] the Lord [God in human flesh].”

But, again, how were the shepherds connected to the momentous event of the incarnation of the Son of God? The answer may lie in their proximity to the city of Jerusalem. Bethlehem, near where the shepherds were caring for their flocks, was situated about seven kilometres (4.5 miles) from Jerusalem. It’s likely, therefore, that these particular shepherds were keepers of sheep to be used in the temple sacrifices.

Couple this with John the Baptist’s presentation of the Lord Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29), and Paul’s description of Him as “Christ, our Passover, [who] was sacrificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7), and we begin to see the link.

All the thousands of sacrifices under Old Testament Judaism were graphic pictures of what was to be fulfilled in Christ. The death of animals as innocent substitutes in place of guilty sinners pointed forward to the gospel message, “that Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:1, 3). That is what made the message of Christmas “good tidings of great joy” (Lk. 2:10). The One to be the final Sacrifice for sin had come.

Many of our Christmas carols tell the story of the angels and the shepherds: Angels from the Realms of Glory, The First Noel, and more. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night follows the wording of Scripture quite closely. But we look here at another, lesser known carol, one notable for its poetic beauty. (In the third stanza, a “lay” is a song.)

CH-1) In the field with their flocks abiding,
They lay on the dewy ground;
And glimmering under the starlight,
The sheep lay white around;
When the light of the Lord streamed o’er them,
And lo! from heaven above,
An angel leaned from the glory,
And sang his song of love.
He sang, that first sweet Christmas,
The song that shall never cease.
“Glory to God in the highest,
On earth good will and peace.”

CH-3) And the shepherds came to the manger,
And gazed on the holy Child;
And calmly o’er that rude cradle
The virgin mother smiled;
And the sky in the starlit silence,
Seemed full of the angel lay:
“To you in the City of David
A Saviour is born today!”
O they sang, and we pray that never
The carol on earth shall cease.
“Glory to God in the highest,
On earth good will and peace.”

Notice, in the angel’s message to the shepherds in Luke chapter 2, the words, “You will find…” (vs. 12), and the immediate action of the shepherds, “Let us now go…” (vs. 15), and finally, “And they came with haste and found…” (vs. 16). There was a ready response to the gospel message. I pray that the invitation to seek the Saviour has met the same ready response in your own heart.

1) What are the two significant actions of the shepherds, after they had found Jesus (Lk. 2:17, 20)?

2) If you too have found the Saviour, how can you do these things in the coming week?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


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