“The First Noel”

David Bast

READ : Luke 1:68–79

. . . to give light to those who sit in darkness. (v. 79)

“Noel” is the French word for Christmas; a noel is a Christmas carol. The first one, as we well know, was sung “to certain poor shepherds, in fields as they lay.” Its text was the “Gloria in Excelsis”; “Glory to God in the highest,” sang the angels to the shepherds, “and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). The first noel was a short song, but it pretty well summed up the Christmas message. “The First Noel,” on the other hand, is quite long. This anonymous English carol has six stanzas and combines the story of the shepherds (from Luke 2) with that of the magi (Matt. 2).

It does this by connecting the shepherds to the wise men via the star of Bethlehem. In stanza 2, the carol imagines the shepherds looking up to see a star in the east. Then in stanza 3, “by the light of that same star,” the wise men come traveling toward Bethlehem, and we follow them as they followed the star all the way to the place where the child lay, where we watch them come reverently in and open their gifts to him.

In the last stanza we’re all invited into the story to worship our Lord:

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.


O God, our Creator and Redeemer, accept my praises today.