Saturday, December 5, 2015

The First Noel

The angels announced the birth of the Savior to a bunch of ragtag shepherds.
Christians have been singing
"The First Noel" for almost 200 years. The tune and the words were composed in the early 1800's. The word "Noel" originates with a late 14th century French word for the "feast of Christmas" or "the Christmas season." It is a variant of the Latin natalis "birth (day) and in church Latin, was used to refer to the birthday of Christ. [1]

When we sing the First Noel, we are singing about a very special day - the day Christ was born. 

The coming of Christ, the Messiah, was foretold by Old Testament prophets and the expectation of a Messiah by the Jewish people is clearly expressed in the gospels. Simeon and Anna (Luke 2) both recognized the significance of the birth of Jesus. Later in the gospels, John the Baptist speaks about the Messiah (John 1:20). The apostle, Andrew, called his brother Peter, telling him that "we have found the Messiah" (John 1:41). The Samaritan woman at the well was also aware that a Messiah was coming (John 4:25).

The first prophecy that Jesus would come to save mankind was given way back in Genesis, right after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. I find it particularly striking that God did not wait long to tell them that a rescue would be coming. Right after He dealt with Adam and Eve about their sin, He told the serpent "And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15) Jesus was the promised offspring of the woman, who would "strike the head" of the serpent.

Fast forward about 4,000 years [2] to the town of Bethlehem. The rescue mission had begun! A baby was born. That baby was God, incarnate, the Son of God, the promised Messiah.

All of heaven rejoiced at this next step in God's big plan. 

In Luke 2 we read:

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us." (Luke 2: 8-15 KJV)

The Lord came first to humble people. 

I find it particularly appealing that God sent His messengers to poor humble people, rather than to wealthy or powerful people.

The first noel was to certain poor shepherds, in fields as they lay. Shepherds were very lowly people in Bible days - not the ones you would expect God to honor with the first news of His Son's birth. We always picture the angels in the clouds, but a careful reading of the scriptures does not say that they hovered in the air. It does say that "the angel of the Lord came upon them." How utterly glorious it must have been! "The glory of the Lord shone round about them." What a picture of the Light of the World, coming into the darkness of a sinful world!

I love that the angels made the announcement of His birth to a group of ragtag shepherds. That means that His love is for all, not just those respected and esteemed by the world. That means that He loves you and me. As I write this, I weep for joy! To know that God came, in the flesh, to redeem me, to redeem you, is beyond comprehension.

Born is the King of Israel!

[1]noel. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved December 05, 2015 from website

[2]Kitchen, Kenneth A. and J.D. Douglas, eds. (1982), The New Bible Dictionary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale), second edition.

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