The gospel for January 1st continues Luke’s nativity narrative from Christmas eve. The actual gospel verses for this day begins without their context and refers to them, without providing the antecedent noun reference, so here is a reminder of the background.

a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…All went to their own towns... Joseph also went from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the family of David. He went…with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night…An angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth 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 heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

The shepherds were not just startled but terrified by the way the angel broke into their lives. He shone brightly in the night. Despite their initial fear, the angel reassured them and gave them good news. Having the glory of the Lord shine round them must have been a dazzling experience. They also heard the angel chorus singing Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ What an aural experience that must have been! This combination of sound and light was a statement of God's glory…yet it seems to have played to a small, almost uncomprehending audience. 

Some priests or scribes may have anticipated something like the angel’s appearance announcing the Messiah, probably in Jerusalem, but they could not imagine that the announcement would be to shepherds and certainly not with the information that the Promised One would be found in a manger. Yet God’s choice of Israel, his favour of the poor, the weak and the helpless, appears consistent with choosing to have his angels announce the news of his son’s birth to shepherds, the lowest rung on the socio-economic ladder. Nonetheless it is an understated way to enter the world.


The gospel for January 1st begins at this point.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 

But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. 

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Perhaps the shepherds wanted to validate what they had heard, so they went to see if it was true. Alternatively, the angels’ stunning appearance and the accompanying singing may have compelled instant belief and they wanted to worship the Messiah. However they had processed the news, the shepherds felt a need to go. 

The narrative suggests that they found Jesus, Mary and Joseph relatively quickly and that the scene was as the angels had described, with Jesus wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. The shining angel, the heavenly chorus and the baby lying in a manger, as they had been told, were so astounding that the shepherds spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 


The arrival of the shepherds may have startled Joseph and Mary so the shepherds explained what had been told them about this child… In their curiosity, they may have asked what the parents planned to name him. 

If Mary and Joseph had been trying to understand the pregnancy in private, this revelation by shepherds about what they had been told would have confirmed that their child was extraordinary. Jesus’ Messiahship kept breaking through the normal course of events and into their lives. Yet the idea that they would parent Immanuel was astounding, unexpected and the greatest understatement of all time. 

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Mary was already building a library of memories of remarkable words and appearances of angels. Up to this point however, the news of Jesus’ birth had been shared only with those close to her…her cousin Elizabeth and Joseph…but now shepherds, whom she had never met, had heard the good news. 

As she looked at the child sleeping in her arms, she must have wondered ‘what child is this?'. 


On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. 

The name Jesus means “savior”. It was not only a name, but a role.

The angel’s words to Mary, at the time he was conceived, were, ‘…you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. (Luke 1:31) 

Joseph, too, was given this name. …just when he had resolved to do this (put Mary away quietly when he had learned that she was pregnant), an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matt 1:20-21) Both Mary and Joseph had heard the same message about his name.


  • Think of a major news event that changed how you lived and/or thought. (I recall the moment I heard of John Kennedy’s assassination or the attacks of 9/11, or the day I was urged to consider ordination.) Now consider the angel’s announcement to the shepherds. How did it shape their lives? Did they wonder, in later years, about what had become of the infant? Did they retell the story of the angels’ appearance and singing and finding the baby? When they heard about Jesus from Nazareth, thirty year later, were they curious about whether it could be the now-grown infant?
  • As a young, first-time parent, everything about Jesus’ birth would have been new… and startling… to Mary. Explore the sentence, Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. Did she replay the conversations with the angel, Elizabeth and the shepherds? Did she quiz God for the meaning of Jesus’ birth and name? Did she feel confident or uneasy about the future of her child and her ability to raise him? Did she wonder about how Joseph would relate to him? 
  • How did Joseph react to the shepherds’ appearance at the stable and their story about the angel’s words and the singing? Was he wary of them? Was he intrigued by what they told him? Did their words seem like an independent validation to reassure him that this child was not only different but special?