God Always Has Room for You: Devotion on Where Shepherds Lately Knelt

This post is from Praise and Honor: Hymn Inspired Devotions

“Where Shepherds Lately Knelt” is a remarkable gift, but it is easily missed because it is placed a third of the way into our hymnal’s Christmas section. …This hymn takes our doubts, weaknesses, and pains directly to the world’s key event, where we ponder its impact upon our lives and other people’s. Most of all, this remarkable hymn brings Christmas peace. … 

Where shepherds lately knelt and kept the angel’s word,
I come in half-belief, a pilgrim strangely stirred;
But there is room and welcome there for me,
But there is room and welcome there for me.

I Come in Half-Belief, a Pilgrim Strangely Stirred

We do not sing what we might expect to sing in response to the opening of the hymn, Where shepherds lately knelt and kept the angel’s word. We do not sing something like I come in full delight, the Good News having heard. No, we sing I come in half-belief. Half-belief? Imagine singing, instead of O come, all ye faithful, this: O come, half-believers. Or instead of Joy to the world, the Lord is come! rather, Joy to the world, with half-belief. … Who sings with half-belief at Christmas? Perhaps those who have not been permitted to admit it? Maybe I’m wrongly interpreting the author’s heart and intent. Maybe he does not mean half-belief literally, but awe and wonder. But if so, then the repeated last phrase should be something like I long to see my Savior there for me. As is, the conjunction but and the last phrase clarify the author’s position. But there is room and welcome there for me means, despite the author’s uncertainty, the Savior welcomes him.

Maybe half-belief is not an issue for you. If your faith and trust let you kneel by the manger without doubt, then you are blessed. But there are others who well know half-belief or even a total flooding of uncertainty yet are thankful to kneel and to know there is room and welcome from the Savior who will not send them away. For some, half-belief pertains to doubt driven by questions of science: Adam was formed from dirt? A global flood? Christ rose and will visibly, physically return? He will raise all the dead? Some who doubt mean no mockery. They pray for strong faith. They have memorized Mark 9:24 and will sing this hymn in full voice. But there is room and welcome there for me.

What Half-Belief Stops You? 

For others, doubt is driven by unpleasant circumstance and pain. Some are ready to say, “My life is a mess. God is with me? I can hardly believe it.” Some people long for His closeness, for His comfort, but can’t help wonder if He has left them. They feel unworthy for doubting. Perhaps your half-belief is not related to doubting miracles or to the presence of pain. Perhaps it is tied to your sin. You have heard the pastor say, dozens of times, hundreds of times: “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father … ,” and you can’t completely believe it. Guilt does not go away. There were those late nights in your early twenties or the hours you cheated the time clock. Perhaps you are getting up in years, and all the living you did doesn’t mean much now. You regret having lived so many hours and days for only one person, the one standing in your shoes. The problem isn’t that you half-believe in God’s birth and doubt His return; the problem is that you fear it. You fear His judgment. You only half-believe that you won’t get the eternal damnation you deserve. You half-believe you will get it! You have difficulty imagining that you will end up in the same good place as other people you have known to be so giving, so sacrificing. In short, it is difficult for you to believe that God really did send His Son to take the eternal punishment you deserve and to give you eternal peace with Him.

There’s Room for You 

Sing, and take to heart the words of the beautiful refrain. But there is room and welcome there for me.

Can we be sure? Yes, we can. Think about what happened. An angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds, “Fear not. … For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11). Two words make a remarkable difference. Born and Savior—those two words are important, true, but they are not the words I mean. Without the other two words, there is no certainty. The Christmas message is not vague. Christmas peace is not implied; it is certain. “Fear not. . . . For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” The shepherds understood the packed sentence. It is personal. Unto you leaves no doubt. Unto you means this:

But there is room and welcome there for me,
But there is room and welcome there for me.

Post from Praise & Honor: Hymn-Inspired Devotions copyright © 2019 Timothy J. Shoup. Published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved. 

Hymn text from “Where Shepherds Lately Knelt” copyright © 1986 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved. 

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Timothy J. Shoup

Rev. Timothy J. Shoup is the administrative pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church and School in Bonduel, Wisconsin. He is passionate about good hymnody and the means thereby of proclaiming confessional, evangelical theology. He enjoys walks with his wife, Nancy, on their country road and the commotion when their four children and three grandchildren are home.

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