by George Herbert
The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymn for Thee?
My soul’s a shepherd too: a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is Thy Word; the streams, Thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Outsing the daylight hours.
Then we will chide the sun for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.
I will go searching, till I find a sun
Shall stay till we have done—
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly
As frost-nipped suns look sadly.
Then we will sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay;
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine
Till ev’n His beams sing, and my music shine.
In this playful poem, George Herbert presents himself as a shepherd. His flock is made up of his own thoughts, which he feeds in the pasture of God’s word and waters with God’s grace. He offers this to explain why he, too, can join in the shepherds’ Christmas music. Then he complains that the winter sun doesn’t shine long or bright enough for their concert. He’ll have to find a more reliable sun. Perhaps it is Jesus himself he hopes to find—“a willing shiner” who will never set and who will ultimately join us in the musical celebration of his own birth.
At the last, one will no longer be able to distinguish between the light and the music.
Luke 2: 8-20
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.”
Art: Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds, by Govert Flinck (1615-1660)
For further reading see L. William Countryman, Run, Shepherds, Run: Poems for Advent and Christmas (New York; Harrisburg, PA; Denver: Morehouse Publishing, 2005), 59.