December 9 – While Shepherds Watched (A Christmas Carol Advent)





The words of this song are generally attributed to Nahum Tate.  The exact date that the song was written is unknown, but it appeared in print by 1700.  This song was the only Christmas Song authorized to be sung by the Anglican church.  Prior to 1700, only the Psalms of David were allowed to be sung in the church.

Commentary & Analysis

This song is a masterful retelling of the story of the shepherds outside Jerusalem to whom the angels appeared following the birth of Jesus.  Read the story from Luke below and then the lyrics to the song below and I think you will be amazed at how accurately the story is retold in the song.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  [Luke 2:8-18 ESV]

Rather than kings and princes, when God took on human form he chose to disclose himself first to the lowest of low in that society – the shepherds.

Questions for further Reflection / Devotion

The following questions are meant for your reflection and or devotion.  Feel free to meditate on them, discuss them with your family or others or post your responses here.  I would love to hear from you.

  1. God chose to reveal himself to the lowly in the society at his birth.  What is one way you can help the neediest in our society today?
  2. God humbled himself at his birth.  How are you doing on humility?  Do you find yourself looking down on other people?  If so, what can you do about that?
  3. The Bible says the angels told the shepherds that the sign would be that they would a baby lying in a manger.  What do you believe the significance of this sign is?
  4. The angels appeared to the shepherds in the middle of their day at work.  They were willing to walk away from their livelihood to go see the baby Jesus.  How do you integrate Jesus into your work life?
  5. Jesus was pronounced as good news for all mankind.  Who can you share the good news with this Christmas season?


While Shepherds watch their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around
“Fear not,” said he for mighty dread
had seized their troubled mind
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all man-kind”

“To you in David’s town this day
Is born of David’s line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign
The heav’n’ly babe you there shall find
To human view displayed
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands
And in a manger laid”

Thus spoke the seraph and forth-with
Appeared a shiny throng
Of angels praising God who thus
Addressed their joyful song
“All glory be to God on high
And on the earth be peace
Goodwill hence-forth from heav’n to men
Begin and never cease”

Return to a Christmas Carol Advent index page.

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