The Angels Sing, the Shepherds Too by Ken Myers

The Angels Sing, the Shepherds Too

by Ken Myers

According to my American Heritage Dictionary, the first definition of the word "Noël" is simply "Christmas." The second definition is "a Christmas carol." The word entered Middle English from Old French, where it earlier derived from a Latin family of words tied to birth and the day of a birth. It's the same neighborhood from which our English words natal, native, nature, and nativity derive.

Etymological trajectories can teach us a lot about how creation is ordered and about how cultures take shape in light of that order. The birthday that Christians know simply as "The Nativity" inexorably calls forth music, and of a particular character. The birth of Jesus contains paradoxes and otherwise unimaginable contrasts: a King born in a stable, God in humble human flesh, the turning point of history witnessed initially only by humble rustics. Likewise, the Christmas carols with the most power and longevity seem to combine—in both text and music—simplicity and depth, reverence and festivity, a sense of tentative wonder ("Can this possibly be happening?") and confident decisiveness ("Yes! God has made it so!").

THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:


Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.


more on Christmas from the online archives

31.6—November/December 2018

Alias Santa Claus

on Childhood Encounters with a Christmas Icon by Rebecca Sicree

34.6—Nov/Dec 2021

Is Santa Claus Real?

on Faërian Drama & the End of Enchantment by Rebecca Sicree

22.8—November/December 2009

Looking for Wenceslaus

on the Real Men Behind the Christmas Carol by Michael Baum

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

32.1—January/February 2019

Role Reversals

Sex, Women's Ordination & the Rejection of Hierarchy & Equality by James A. Altena

32.5—September/October 2019

Must Say No

on When Christians Can't Compromise by Joshua Steely

32.6—November/December 2019

God Fearers

An Open Letter to Christian Readers of Jordan Peterson & Roger Scruton by James Bryson

00