The First Noel: where it all began

Published 6:49 pm Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I am a person who loves many kinds of music; but, because of growing up in church, I have an extra special love of hymns and carols.

One of my favorite classes in seminary was hymnology.  More often than not, we learn our theology from the hymns and songs we sing in church.

Many of those songs have made deep impressions upon my heart and soul.  So it is difficult for me to choose a favorite; but, one of my favorite carols has always been “The First Noel.”

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I was not immediately sure what my connection to it was; but, I knew it was one that meant much to me.  Since I have been a Minister of Music for many years, I have sat down each November and tried to plan the songs for the Sundays in Advent (and Christmas Eve).

I always want to use carols that coincide with the theme of the day as well as include as many favorites as possible.

It is all but impossible to sing every carol during worship services of Advent and Christmas.  In the Baptist Hymnal (the one we use at First Baptist, Tryon) alone, there are 40 hymns in the topical sections of Advent, Birth, and Coming of the Wise Men.

Even if we include the Sunday after Christmas and Christmas Eve, if we sing three hymns at each service, we would only sing 24.

That is why it is a good idea to have carol sing-a-longs with your family and friends. That way you will get to sing the ones you love most.

But when I have the task of trying to choose only 24 out of 40, there are only a few that are selected for use almost every year.

“The First Noel” is one of them.

I usually select it for one of the last Sundays in Advent or Christmas Eve.

There are a couple versions of “The First Noel.”

The one I like best is the one that simply tells the traditional story of the birth of Jesus. It begins with the appearance of the angel to the shepherds.  The next stanza tells about the shepherds seeing the star.

The following stanzas complete the story with the third stanza explaining that the wise men are looking for a king and that they will follow the star; the fourth stanza tells of the star coming to rest over Bethlehem; and the fifth stanza is about the offering of gifts by the wise men.  All five stanzas end with the familiar refrain, “Noel, noel, noel, noel, born is the king of Israel.”

When we meditate about the love of God, about the life of Jesus, about the commitments Jesus made, and about our commitments to God and the way of Jesus, isn’t the story of Jesus’ birth where it all begins?

What a wonderful thing to ponder in our hearts during this upcoming season of Advent.