Shepherds Visit Baby Jesus

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Luke 2:16-20 NKJV

Receiving Visitors

Mary and Joseph, after their long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, were unable to find a proper place to stay. Instead, they are in a stable area with the animals of the household. In this uncomfortable arrangement, Mary’s time comes and she gives birth to Jesus.

Exhausted and uncertain about what to do next, Mary and Joseph are thrust into entertaining strangers, shepherds, who have a strange story to tell about a visitation from angels. Because of the angelic visitation, they know the identity of the newborn and they came to worship him. So in this less-than-ideal setting, the first worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ takes place. Do you recognize Jesus for who he is and take time to worship him, even in unlikely places?

James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Adoration of the Shepherds (L'adoration des bergers), 1886-1894.
James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Adoration of the Shepherds (L’adoration des bergers), 1886-1894.

Angels Again

“Angels?” I can imagine Mary and Joseph became very attentive hearing the word. A visitation by an angel announced the conception of the baby she held swaddled in her arms. Mary also remembered that her cousin Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, had an encounter with an angel. Matthew 1:20-21 tells us that Joseph was instructed by an angel in his dream. The angel told him not to divorce Mary though it appeared she was unfaithful to him. The child was from the Holy Spirit and would save people from their sins he was told by this angel. Both Mary and Joseph understood the importance and reality of the shepherd’s report of angel visitation.

The most important event in human history was heralded by angels in multiple places appearing to multiple people. This makes sense given the importance of prophecies fulfilled. These narratives today strengthen our faith and trust in a God who is not distant and delights to interact with his people.

Spreading the Good News

After they found the baby just as the angel described, the shepherds can not stay silent. They spread the Good News, foreshadowing the life and ministry of Jesus and his apostles. What the angel said was true! Their Savior was finally here. God’s favor was on the shepherds and caused those who heard to receive the news eagerly. “All those” who heard the Good News “marveled” at the account. They were excited, talking to one another with joy. There is no hint of opposition or unbelief.

Pondering vs Proclaiming

We see a contrast in these verses between Mary and the shepherds. Both believe the messages of the angels. However Mary, who earlier sang her hymn of praise to the Lord, is now quiet and thoughtful. Perhaps she remembered what the prophet Isaiah spoke about how the Messiah would suffer. Maybe Mary started to doubt her ability to raise her Savior in the way he should go. Or she could have been considering the shame she would endure going back home after getting pregnant before marriage. We don’t know because Luke is silent on the matter. We do know the shepherds did not quietly consider all they saw and heard. Instead, they went back to their jobs caring for sheep as changed men. Their lives could never be the same after this momentous night. They reflected a greater truth. The entire world will never be the same after the birth of Jesus.

Historians until recent times reflected this reality by naming dates B.C. and A.D. The abbreviation B.C. stands for “before Christ”. A.D. is the abbreviation for the Latin phrase anno domini, which means “in the year of our Lord.” Today, historians don’t use this shorthand. They don’t want to offend other religions by proclaiming the promise of Christianity through the birth of Jesus as world changing. However, changing abbreviations can not change the fact that the coming of Jesus, God with us, to earth made a new way for all to live in eternal fellowship with God. All things have changed and Jesus is Lord. Those who don’t want to proclaim Jesus as Lord should remember that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

A Hymn of Glory

The praise of the shepherds was memorialized in song with the well-known Christmas carol , “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Glory to God in the Highest).

Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly singing o’er the plains

And the mountains in reply

Echoing their joyous strains

Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly, sweetly through the night

And the mountains in reply

Echoing their brief delight

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

Shepherds, why this jubilee?

Why your joyous strains prolong?

What the gladsome tidings be

Which inspire your heavenly song?

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

Come to Bethlehem and see

Him whose birth the angels sing,

Come, adore on bended knee,

Christ the Lord, the newborn King.…

Key Verse

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Luke 2:20


Lord, We thank you and praise you! Your name is the Name above all names. Our hearts are as those of the shepherds, full of joy for all you have done and all you will do. Thank you for guiding us. Help us to be sensitive to your leading and seek to glorify you always. Amen.