The First Noel: Advent Hymn for Christmas


How many people love the Advent hymn The First Noel, but don’t know what the word noel means? Perhaps more people than would care to admit!

The simple definition of the word is “Christmas,” but more precisely, noel, from Old French, means “of or born on Christmas.” This classic hymn is for those who love the Bible’s stories about the birth of Jesus Christ, as it recalls the journey of the shepherds and magi.

Some of the greatest moments of the Christmas story are the reactions it evokes in people who understand, at least in part, the significance of the birth. In each reaction, Bible readers learn more about the baby boy born to Mary in Bethlehem.

The shepherds are humble people who lack fame, power, and wealth. It’s people like this who are drawn to Jesus. The magi are foreigners to Israel, who come from another land with its own belief system. They represent the fact that the baby isn’t just the Savior of one people and one nation, but he is the world’s Savior.

Also see 151 Advent Hymns and Songs for the Season of Christmas for more.

The First Noel Advent hymn
What is the story behind The First Noel? See below

Lyrics to the Advent Hymn The First Noel

The lyrics to the hymn The First Noel summon worshipers to travel in their mind’s eye to the field of the shepherds. The hymn doesn’t want singers to merely recount the shepherd’s journey, but in a sense, travel with them to Bethlehem.

Similarly, the hymn encourages the faithful to deeply ponder the magi’s pursuit of the star and where it led them. The First Noel invites worshipers to awe at Christ’s birth all over again.

1 The first Noel the angel did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Refrain:
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
born is the King of Israel.
2 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.
3 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.
4 This star drew nigh to the northwest,
o’er Bethlehem it took its rest;
and there it did both stop and stay,
right over the place where Jesus lay.
5 Then entered in those Wise Men three,
full reverently upon the knee,
and offered there, in his presence,
their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

Christian theologian, J.I. Packer, writes, “The [Christian] message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity – hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory – because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross.”

Also see Silent Night Holy Night for more.

Christmas tree ornament
What Bible verses are related to this hymn? See below

Story of The First Noel

This carol tells a story loosely based on the Gospel accounts in Luke 2 and Matthew 2 of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, with the shepherds, the star, and the wise men.

The first two lines of the final stanza calls us to action – as the wise men reverently worshiped the Christ, so we should “with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord.”

The last two lines recall that our Lord is the Creator and the Savior of the world. (From hymnary.org)

Advent: Meaning, Dates, and History

The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word Adventus, meaning a “coming” or “arrival.” It describes the ecclesiastical season immediately before Christmas.

In the Western world, Advent Sunday, i.e. the first day of Advent, is the Sunday nearest to Saint Andrew’s Day (i.e. Nov. 30). Four Sundays in Advent precede Christmas Day. In the East, Advent is longer, beginning in the middle of November.

Advent Sunday is traditionally the day on which the ecclesiastical year begins. The first clear references to the season in the West come from the latter half of the 6th century.

Advent is observed as a time or preparation for Christmas like Lent is for Easter.

Also see O Come All Ye Faithful for more.

Christian church
Christian church in Switzerland

Bible verses related to the hymn for Advent

  • Matthew 1:18, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
  • Matthew 1:23, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”
  • Luke 2:7, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
  • John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
  • John 1:49, “Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!
  • Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law”
  • Hebrews 1:3, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”

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Christmas manger
Advent means coming or arrival

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