The First Noel Was Just the Beginning!


It’s a Christmas carol, right? Most people have sung, The First Noel, but I wonder how many have considered what the word, Noel, actually means. My curiosity was piqued this year since we had chosen Noel to be the theme for our annual Women’s Christmas party at church. Interestingly, the definition wasn’t just a simple answer and so my search began.

Perhaps we don’t quickly know the definition of the word, Noel, because it has multiple root meanings. 
  • The French root comes from the word, nouvelles, which often translates into the word, news.
  • From the English root we get the word, nowell which means ‘shout of joy.’
  • And, the root word in Latin brings us to the word, natalis, which means birth and has often been associated with our word, nativity.

News, Shout of Joy and Birth!

If we consider just those simple words from our modern English language, they actually sum up a big piece of the Christmas story. It’s found in Luke 2, but not the part that begins “In those days Caesar Augustus issues a decree…” Nope. It’s just a few verses later where we find the shepherds in the field, and they are about to get the biggest surprise of their life!

“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 of great JOY that will be for all the people.’” (9-10)

The angel continues by describing the fulfillment of the prophesied Messiah. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been BORN to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.” (v. 11)

As if seeing and hearing the long-awaited news from one angel isn’t enough to get these shepherds excited, God sends a whole “company of the heavenly host”! And, what did they begin to do? They praised God saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (v. 14) What an amazing moment that must have been. There is no hesitation. There is simply faith. They believe what the angel has told them and they break out in praise! Oh, how I would have loved to been there that night – one minute enjoying the beautiful night sky and the next moment surrounded by an eclipse of angels! An ordinary night at work just got turned upside down, and the excitement is contagious! The shepherds say to each other, Let’s go! (v. 15), and they surely weren’t disappointed. Everything was just as the angel had told them – Bethlehem, the manger, the baby wrapped in cloths. No room for coincidence.

These shepherds had no doubt that they had just experienced a pinnacle moment in time, and their response leaves no room for doubt. They couldn’t contain their excitement. Instead, “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.” (v. 17b-18)

Birth – News - Shouts of Joy!

The shepherds witnessed the birth of the Messiah, they spread the news and then when they returned back to the fields they couldn’t contain their joy. So, they started “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (v. 20)

I wonder if they had to “pinch themselves” just to make sure it wasn’t all a dream. What an amazing night of unexpected celebration and confirmation. The Messiah. God incarnate. A baby. Our Savior!

The shepherds truly did experience The First Noel on that first Christmas night! We too can experience a joyful Noel when we sing a Christmas carol or wish someone a Merry Christmas. But, even more importantly, we can follow the example of the angels - and the shepherds - by sharing the good news that Jesus Christ was born. Not just for Israel, but for all of mankind! We need not live in fear, because we know the One who holds the key to everlasting peace and hope. 

So, the next time you see or hear the word, Noel, remind yourself that we have life-giving, life-changing news to share - the birth, death and resurrection of our Savior, 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!


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