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.