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.
- When Jesus then was born at Bethlehem in Juda, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came Wise men from the East to Jerusalem, Saying Where is the King of the Jews that is born? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him. When king Herod heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief Priests and Scribes of the people, he asked of them, where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, At Bethlehem in Judea: for it is written by the Prophet, And thou Bethlehem in the land of Judah, art not the least among the Princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come the governor that shall feed my people Israel. Then Herod privily called the Wise men, and diligently inquired of them the time of the star that appeared, And sent them to Bethlehem, saying, Go, and search diligently for the babe: and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come also, and worship him. So when they had heard the king, they departed: and lo, the star which they had seen in the East, went before them, till it came and stood over the place where the babe was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with an exceeding great joy. And went into the house, and found the babe with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him, and opened their treasures, and presented unto him gifts, even gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And after they were warned of God in a dream, that they should not go again to Herod, they returned to their country another way. Matthew 2:1–12
- And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them, and they were sore afraid. Then the Angel said unto them, Be not afraid: for behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people. That is, that unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you, Ye shall find the babe swaddled, and laid in a cratch. And straightway there was with the Angel a multitude of heavenly soldiers, praising God, and saying, Glory be to God in the high heavens, and peace in earth, and toward men good will. And it came to pass when the Angels were gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds and said one to another, Let us go then unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath showed to unto us. So they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph and the babe laid in the cratch. And when they had seen it, they published abroad the thing that was told them of that child. And all that heard it, wondered at the things which were told them of the shepherds. But Mary kept all those sayings, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God, for all that they had heard and seen, as it was spoken to them.. Luke 2:8–20
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