THE FIRST NOEL
English carol, before 1823
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)
Although no Christmas season would be complete without the melodious singing of this tuneful carol, very little is known about its origin. It is believed to have had its rise in France during the 15th century. Noel is a French word originating from Latin meaning “birthday.” The song is thought to have been brought across the channel to England by the wandering troubadours. The carol under the English form, “Nowell,” became a great favorite for Christmas Eve, especially in the west of England. This was when the entire village gathered for singing and celebrating the bringing in of the Yule log. At this time carols were thought of as popular religious songs meant to be sung outside the church rather than within.
“The First Noel” portrays in vivid narrative style the story of the birth of Christ. All six verses are needed to complete the entire event when the hymn is sung. The sixth stanza urges us to join together to sing praises to God for the marvels of His creation and for the salvation provided through Christ’s shed blood. The repetition of the joyous “noel” in the refrain is equivalent to our singing out “happy birthday” to someone.
It is interesting to observe that the “King of Israel” was first announced to “certain poor shepherds” only, but in the final stanza the phrases “let us all” and “mankind hath brought” remind us that Christ came to redeem the whole world.
The first noel the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay—in fields where they lay keeping their sheep on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
They looked up and saw a star shining in the east, beyond them far; and to the earth it gave great light, and so it continued both day and night.
And by the light of that same star, three wise men came from country far; to seek for a king was their intent, and to follow the star wherever it went.
This star drew nigh to the northwest; o’er Bethlehem it took its rest; and there it did both stop and stay, right over the place where Jesus lay.
Then entered in those wise men three, full rev’rently upon their knee, and offered there, in His presence, their gold and myrrh and frankincense.
Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heav’nly Lord, that hath made heav’n and earth of naught, and with His blood mankind hath bought.
Refrain: Noel, noel! Noel, noel! Born is the King of Israel!
For Today: Matthew 2:1–12; Luke 2:8–20
Let’s allow the joy of Christ’s birth to be reflected on our faces and heard in our glad singing of praises to Him all through this Christmas season.