WHILE BY OUR SHEEP
German carol, Translated by Theodore Baker, 1851–1934
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20)
It was a cold, clear night. The stars twinkled above and an air of peaceful serenity settled calmly over the field outside of Bethlehem. The fire was burning low as the shepherds sprawled out to rest among their sheep. “What is the meaning of that star?” asked one of the younger boys. As some turned to look, the star seemed to sparkle with a glorious glow, almost hanging over Bethlehem. Then suddenly they were blinded by a brilliant light! They cried out in fright and hid their faces on the ground. The consoling voice of an angel calmed their spirits as they listened in rapture to the blessed announcement of the long-awaited Messiah. How great was their joy!
Have you ever wondered why these simple, uncouth shepherds without wealth, power, or social position were the first to receive heaven’s glorious message? Prophecy foretold that salvation would be offered first to Israel. Thus the Jewish shepherds were allowed to adore the Savior before the arrival of the Gentile wise men. Perhaps the humble shepherds were also chosen to receive the angels’ message because God wanted to send His only Son to be associated with the seemingly unimportant of this world rather than among the proud and wealthy. Also God knew that these lowly shepherds would receive His news of salvation with open hearts and would return with great joy to share what they had heard and seen.
Originating as it does from 17th century Germany, this vivid description of the first Christmas night reminds us of the various lands and cultures that have provided our many lovely carols, giving us a rich musical and spiritual heritage.
While by our sheep we watched at night, glad tidings bro’t an angel bright:
There shall be born, so he did say, in Bethlehem a Child today:
There shall the Child lie in a stall, this Child who shall redeem us all:
This gift of God we’ll cherish well—Jesus, our Lord Emmanuel:
Refrain: How great our joy! (Great our joy!) Joy, joy, joy! (Joy, joy, joy!) Praise we the Lord in heav’n on high! (Praise we the Lord in heav’n on high!)
For Today: Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10; Luke 2:8–20
Take your place with the shepherds when the heavenly announcement was given. Move with them to the manger and worship in awe. Return with the song of praise upon your lips (hear the gentle echo in the night’s stillness). Share your joy with others.
Osbeck, K. W.
- He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall guide them with young. Isaiah 40:11
- Hear the word of the Lord, O ye Gentiles, and declare in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel, will gather him, and will keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. Jeremiah 31:10
- And there were in hte same country shepherds, abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over the flock. And lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them, and they were sore afraid. Then the Angel said unto them, Be not afraid: for behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people, That is, that unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you, Ye shall find the babe swaddled and laid in a cratch. And straightway there was with the Angel a multitude of heavenly soldiers, praising God, and saying, Glory be to God in the high heavens, and peace in earth, and toward men good will. And it came to pass when the Angels were gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said one to another, Let us go then unto Bethlehem, and see this thing thatis come to pass, which the Lord hath showed unto us. So they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph and the babe laid in the cratch. And when they had seen it, they published abroad the thing that was told them of that child. And all that heart it, wondered at the things which were told them of the shepherds. But Mary kept all those sayings, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God, for all that they had heard and seen, as it was spoken unto them. Luke 2:8–20