The First Noel

The first Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay tending their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

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.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

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.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

This star drew nigh to the northwest,
Over Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Then did they know assuredly
Within that house the King did lie;
One entered it them for to see,
And found the Babe in poverty.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Then entered in those Wise Men three,
Full reverently upon the knee,
And offered there, in His presence,
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Between an ox stall and an ass,
This Child truly there He was;
For want of clothing they did Him lay
All in a manger, among the hay.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made Heaven and earth of naught,
And with His blood mankind hath bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

If we in our time shall do well,
We shall be free from death and hell;
For God hath prepared for us all
A resting place in general.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Words & Music: Traditional English Carol


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
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.”
Luke 2:8 – 15

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 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.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 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. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘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.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 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.”
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. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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.
Matthew 2:1 – 11



I am fascinated by the misconception people have about the Christmas story from carols. But it really isn’t surprising. People sing carols far more that they read Luke 2 or Matthew 2. When I started working on this carol, I hesitated on even doing it. But the more I looked at it, I realized that this beloved carol does not teach anything that is unscriptural, it simply takes some license in speculations of things we are not told. So, I have chosen to look at “The First Noel”

We hear it sung every year. We probably sing it every year. But does anyone really know what Noel means. We know it as the french word meaning Christmas. Now I have no question that this is indeed the contemporary word for Christmas, but what are its origins. One explanation is that it is derived for the Latin, “natalis” meaning birth. (This is where we get the English word Nativity, the Spanish word Navidad and the Italian word Natale.) Now this is the most commonly accepted answer, but it seems interesting that all these other languages maintained some appearance of the original, yet French did not.

A couple other explanation I found are that it is derived from the french word “nouvelles” meaning “news”. This would fit with the idea that the birth of Christ was Good News.

The final one says that is comes from ancient Gaulish. It is derived from the words “Noio” or “Neu” meaning “new” and “Helle” meaning “light”. In this case the Noel is the new light that came upon the world.

All this is fascinating, but I do not speak french and I am certainly not an etymologist. The simple answer is that today, it means Christmas whether it comes from the birth, the announcement or the new light that entered the world.

So the Christmas carol begins by telling us that it “Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.” Yes the news of the birth of Christ, the light of the world, was first proclaimed to the shepherds. Simple shepherds who had done nothing to warrant this gift. But it is to them that it comes. Not the first of this creative license is found in the line, “On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.” Yes, it is true that we do not know if it was cold or if it was a winter night. But this paints a picture for us a shepherd set apart from everything else that is going on.

So the carol continues that the star appeared in the sky. The implication of the verse is that the Shepherds saw the star. Again, while there is nothing that tells us this in the Bible, there is no reason to think that they could not have seen the star. It also says the star shined both day and night, this one I think I am going to have to disagree with, but again it is an attempt to emphasize the brilliance of the star.

The star that beckoned to the wise men “To seek for a King.” Yes it does say three wise men, and most of us are familiar with this one. There were indeed three gifts, but it does not tell us how many wise men there were. So the wise men followed the star until it came to rest over Bethlehem. This is how they knew that they had found the place where the king was. The carol then says, “And found the Babe in poverty.” We don’t know the financial situation of the Holy family, but this is clearly a reference to the fact that he was born in a stable. This is why it later says, “Between an ox stall and an ass.” Of course the wise men did not find Jesus in the manger. Matthew 2:11 tells us that they came to the house.

It is here where they found the child, the young King, and they presented him gifts worthy of a King. The gifts of “gold and myrrh and frankincense.”

Now my intent here was not to ruin a beloved old traditional hymn, but to remind us that our final authority must always be the Bible. It is there that we must always check out facts. Many a well meaning person has been creative with the Bible accounts to the point where they have altered the message. I do not think this is the case here. So I invite you, if you love this carol, continue to sing it for in it we declare the greatest truth of all when we sing, “Then let us all with one accord, Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made Heaven and earth of naught, And with His blood mankind hath bought.”



Read more about “The First Noel.”

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