“Come, All Ye Shepherds”

"…Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass…" (Lk. 2.15)

     INTRO.: A song which encourages us to honor Christ based on the account of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds of Bethlehem after the birth of Christ is "Come, All Ye Shepherds." The text is a Bohemian folk song. The translation was made by Mari (or Marie) Reuf Hofer, who was born on July 18, 1858, at Littleport, IA, the oldest of five daughters of Andreas Franz and Marianna Ruef Hofer, and the grandniece of famous Tirolese patriot Andreas Hofer. Her father had participated in an 1848 revolution to secure a more democratic government for the German states, and when the movement was crushed fled, with several others, to America.  Marie grew up in McGregor, IA, receiving her education at Mt. Carrol, IL, Seminary and the University of Chicago. After teaching music in the public schools of La Crosse, WI; Chicago, IL; and Rochester, MN, she taught at Pestalozzi-Froebel Teacher’s College (Chicago), Columbia, Chautauqua, Berkeley, University of California, University of Georgia, and University of Tennessee. In 1893, she managed the musical programs at the Chicago World’s Fair. Her works include Idealized Childhood: Image from Children’s Singing Games from 1901, The Teaching of Elementary Music: The Defining of Music in Relation to its Expressive Use from 1904, Popular Folk Games and Dances from 1907, Polite and Social Dances: A Collection of Historic Dances from 1917, All the World A-Dancing: A Collection of Folk Dances from 1925, and Camp Recreations and Pageants from 1927. This translation is dated 1912 and was probably used in a nativity play The Story of Bethlehem.

     Armin Haeussler, who gave histories for all hymns that appeared in the 1941 Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, wrote concerning this one, "The carol owes its existence to a custom in Bohemia (and in other parts of Europe) of presenting religious plays on festival days.  On such occasions many of the songs used have been of anonymous origin.  All the evidence concerning this carol indicates that it is of rather recent origin, for it cannot be found in the compilations of folk-lore of Czechoslovakia until one gets up almost to the threshold of the twentieth century. Dr. Gustav Jungbauer, the most notable compiler and editor of such literature, includes several carols similar in content to Miss Hofer’s; however, comparisons of her work with apparent sources indicate that she did not write literal translations, but very free paraphrases."  Haeussler goes on to point out that according to Jungbauer’s 1913 Bibliographie des deutschen Volksliedes in Boehmen, similar texts of the "Hirtenlied," which Jungbauer concluded originated in the Boehmisches Wiesenthal, appeared in the 1891 Deutsche Volkslieder aus Boehmen edited by Alois Hruschka and Wendelin Toischer, and in an 1897 edition of the Erzgebirgszeitung, a newspaper published in the mountain area called Erzgebirge.

     Miss Hofer apparently used these texts in preparing her own very free version. Some alterations were made by Helen Dickinson. Hofer had a biography in the 1914 Woman’s Who’s Who. After directing a pageant one night in Nov., 1929, at Los Angeles, CA, she boarded a train the next morning for Portland, OR, and while on this trip died from a severe pulmonary hemorrhage attack before reaching her destination. Her body was taken off the train at Bakersville, OR. The tune (Kommet Ihr Hirten or Hirtenlied) is a Bohemian folk melody. The arrangement was made by "E. S. B.," of whom I have been able to learn nothing further. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. The only other books that I have ever seen it in are the 1980 Praises We Sing, edited by Elmina Yoder and Lula Miller and published by Christian Light Publishing Inc., of Harrisburg, VA; and the 1987 Zion’s Praises edited by Aaron Z. Weaver and published by Weaver Music Company of Pittsgrove, NJ. Both of these are Mennonite publishing houses.

     The song uses the joy experienced by the shepherds at the message of the angels.

I. Stanza 1 tells what the shepherds heard
"Come, all ye shepherds, ye children of earth,
Come ye, bring greetings to yon heavenly birth.
For Christ the Lord to all men is given,
To be our Savior sent down from heaven: Come, welcome Him!"
 A. The song asks us to imagine ourselves as if we were present with the shepherds who were out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night: Lk. 2.8
 B. The birth that occurred at that time was indeed a heavenly birth because the child was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit: Matt. 1.18-23
 C. Therefore, we can be assured that He is the Savior sent down from heaven: 1 Jn. 4.14

II. Stanza 2 tells what the shepherds did
"Hasten then, hasten to Bethlehem’s stall,
There to see heaven descend to us all.
With holy feeling, there humbly kneeling,
We will adore Him, bown down before Him, Worship the King!"
 A. Just as the Old Testament prophesied, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and He was laid in a stall or manger: Mic. 5.2, Lk. 2.1-7
 B. When this occurred, heaven descended to us all in that the Word, who was with God in heaven, became flesh and dwelt among us: Jn. 1.1, 14; Phil. 2.5-7
 C. In doing research on this song, I came across a website which was evidently designed to trash practically every song about the birth of Christ known to men; for this one it said, "Message weak and misleading.  No Scriptural basis for adoring a Baby in a stall. We are to exalt our Risen Savior!" Certainly, honoring Christ is much more than just adoring a Baby in a stall, but the truth is that Risen Savior was once a Baby in the stall, and the Baby, even while in the stall, was the divine Son of God who was worthy of adoration. Indeed, the Bible says that, while by the time the Wise Men came Jesus was in a house, the Wise men fell down and worshipped Him even as a child: Matt. 2.11. From this, I take it that we may, and indeed should, adore and exalt Jesus Christ both as the Incarnate Word who lay in a manger and the Risen Savior who ascended on high.

III. Stanza 3 tells what the shepherds said
"Angels and shepherds together we go,
Seeking this Savior from all earthly woe.
While angels, winging, His praise are singing,
Heaven’s echoes ringing, peace on earth bringing, Good will to men."
 A. No, the Bible does not say that both angels and shepherds went together to Bethlehem, but we can allow a little poetic license when a song does not teach any unscriptural doctrine; certainly, the shepherds did go and then spread the message of the angels that they took with them: Lk. 2.16-18
 B. The website referenced previously also said, "Verse 3 is worse than weak–‘seeking this Savior from all earthly woe.’ People need to be worried about eternal woe. Christ does not deliver us from all earthly woe. We are brought through much tribulation for His Name’s sake!" I guess that it just depends on what one means by "all earthly woe." If one simply means the various trials and tribulations of this life, then no, Christ will not deliver us from that. But if one thinks of "all earthly woe" as referring to spiritual woe which results from sin, then yes, Christ did come to deliver us from that: Gal. 1.3-4
 C. The reason is, as the angels said, that Jesus came to be our Savior, to enable us to give glory to God in the highest, to bring spiritual peace on earth, and to promote goodwill toward men: Lk. 2.9-14

     CONCL.: New Testament Christians understand that the Bible does not authorize the celebration of Christmas as a religious holiday in memory of Christ’s birth. As a result, some brethren object to any song that focuses upon the birth of Jesus. Others, as indicated by the citations from the website mentioned earlier, object to any statements that do not exactly mirror what is precisely stated in the Bible. As I said before, we can be charitable and allow a little poetic license when it does not go against what the scriptures teach. While we should avoid using songs about the birth of Christ that are unscriptural in their content and even avoid using those that are scriptural in an unscriptural way, I believe that such songs can and do have a scriptural use. Therefore, I see nothing unscriptural about singing "Come, All Ye Shepherds."


2 thoughts on ““Come, All Ye Shepherds”

  1. The California Death Index gives her death location as Kern County, which indicates that she was probably taken off the train at Bakersfield, CA – the seat of Kern County. On the other hand, Bakersfield, OR, is an obscure historical post office North and West of Portland.

    Per California Death Index, died December 31, 1929, death certificate #62633.

  2. The comment that she was a grandniece of Andeas Hofer, the Austrian Patriot, is erroneous. No descendant of Andreas Hofer ever came to America.
    Her father, Andreas Franz Hofer, was born on Oensbach, Baden.


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