Supporting Cast II

Angel-visits-shepherds-on-first-ChristmasWe continue our discussion of the supporting cast in the Christmas story with Luke 2:8–12.

The shepherds  

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” is a Christmas carol describing the Annunciation to the Shepherds, with words attributed to Irish hymnist, lyricist and England’s Poet Laureate, Nahum Tate.

The exact date of Tate’s composition is not known, but the words appeared in Tate and Nicholas Brady’s 1700 supplement to their New Version of the Psalms of David of 1696. It was the only Christmas hymn authorised to be sung by the Anglican Church; before 1700 only the Psalms of David were permitted to be sung. (wikipedia)

TWM122312The Magi

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

I’m not sure about the accuracy of this story but it is a bit of a fun read while you listen to seven instrumental versions of this classic carol.

The History behind the Three Kings/Wise Men/Magi in the Christmas Story

Michael W. Smith

Barbara Higbie

Celtic Christmas

Yuletide Lounge Band

Virgil Fox

Mannheim Steamroller

David Arkenstone

Supporting Cast

the-annunciation-gabriel-mary-39627-printThe vast majority of Christmas songs focus on the birth of Christ, and rightfully should. However, there are a few that tell of others involved in the Christmas story; the supporting cast.  This is the first of two posts about these other participants.

The Angel Gabriel

Luke 1:26-33

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“Gabriel’s Message” or “The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came” (Basque: Birjina gaztetto bat zegoen) is a Basque Christmas folk carol about the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the archangel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ the Son of God. (Wikipedia)  Sting resurrected this song in 1987 when he recorded it as part of a Christmas CD to raise money for Special Olympics. Here is an a cappella version for those who like hearing how it may have sounded when it was written.



34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most Highwill overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

“Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” by Amy Grant is a single from her 1992 album Home for Christmas. It was featured on the soundtrack to The Nativity Story.


Luke 2:1–7

2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

“Joseph’s Lullaby” is a song written and recorded by Christian rock band MercyMe. It was released as a single from the band’s 2005 album The Christmas Sessions.


O Tannenbaum

403px-F_Krüger_VorweihnachtDuring the fourth century, the practice of bringing evergreen trees indoors during the dark days of winter, spread across Europe. In medieval Germany, the increase in Christianity gave rise to a new tradition.  Germans began decorating the trees with apples to represent the garden of Eden. In addition, these “Paradise trees” were soon decorated with additional food items like nuts and sugar wafers.

Germans took their Christmas tree tradition with them and they immigrated to other parts of the world. in 1848, Queen Victoria encouraged her German husband, Prince Albert to decorate a tree like those he had in his childhood. The Illustrated London News featured this Victorian tree, decorated with sweets, ornaments and candles. Suddenly, people in England and the United States created increasingly elaborate trees in an attempt to outdo one another. German artisans began crafting delicate I glass ornaments. Also In 1882 Edward Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, created the first strand of Christmas tree lights. This year, over 100 million Christmas trees will be on display worldwide.  For more details see History of Christmas Trees – Christmas –

The music for “O Tannenbaum” is from a 16th century German folk song.  There are multiple versions of lyrics with this tune. Although I do not speak German I prefer “O Tannenbaum” to the English language “Oh Christmas Tree”. The buttery smooth voice of Nat King Cole probably has something to do with that. Now when you hear this song, or see a Christmas tree think of the Germans and Queen Victoria, and thank them for this centerpiece of our Christmas traditions.