Connecting With Carols | “The First Noel”

This Advent season, we will add to our time of worship the wonderful melodies of selected Christmas carols. While not always viewed as worship music, these carols give us the opportunity to respond to the birth of Jesus with joy-filled celebration and gratitude. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we will provide you with some explanation and meaning behind the lyrics we will be singing. Join us as we celebrate this special season!

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 a keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

 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 nought,
And with his blood mankind has bought.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,

The First Noel is an English folk carol that’s been sung with gusto at Christmas time for several hundred years. The lyrics we sing today were officially published in the mid-1800s, and since then the song has been adapted and neatly packaged in Christmas-album form by almost every famous musician imaginable. The melody is automatically familiar to us, but sometimes this familiarity causes us to forget the rich meaning behind the actual words we are singing.

The song combines two important parts of the Christmas story: the angels appearing to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20 and the wise men from the East following the star in Matthew 2:1-12. For some of us, this narrative has been on repeat in our brains every December since before we can remember. But this is so much more than a children’s story that we re-enact in our nativity plays with old sheets and fake beards!

The story that the verses recount is the rising action of a much grander story of a loving God who is in reckless pursuit of a rebellious people. Mankind rejected God, an autonomous choice of creature over Creator that demanded separation between a perfect God and a now sinful people. But God promised a savior, someone who would redeem all of the brokenness we created by sacrificing himself in our place. The First Noel tells how this savior came to earth, and how God revealed this glorious secret not to kings or religious rulers, but to lowly shepherds and foreign astronomers.

“We sing carols like The First Noel to remind our hearts of the true joy that is ours to discover in the magic of the Christmas story.”

The chorus of the carol is an exclamation: “Noel, noel, noel, noel, born is the king of Israel!” Noel is the French word for “Christmas”, but it is also thought to come from the French word nouvelles, which means “news.” Essentially when we sing noel over and over again, we are exclaiming that there is good news—news that our king has been born! The king who came to earth as a baby to rescue a broken people from their sins, the king who is Emmanuel and Messiah, the king who “with his blood mankind hath bought.” It is such good news! And as the angel said to those terrified shepherds that night—it is good news that will bring “great joy to ALL people.”

It can be easy for us to get lost in the holiday rush of wrapping gifts and feeding relatives and forget why we are celebrating in the first place. We sing carols like The First Noel to remind our hearts of the true joy that is ours to discover in the magic of the Christmas story. So this Christmas season when we sing the same old familiar carols, take a moment and ponder the words in your heart. And as the last verse of the song rings, “let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly lord!”