The First Noel
The First Noel, the Angels 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.
N-O-E-L. I remember four differently-patterned red and green fabric letters stuffed with cotton batting and sewn together into a Christmas decoration in our home growing up. I remember asking, “What does NOEL mean?” and I remember being answered, “Christmas.” I remember looking it up in our big, old, Oxford dictionary, because who doesn’t love etymology at any age?
I remember bits of what I read: Nowell, the English transliteration of French Nouel or Noel. In college I learned these all derived from Latin roots related to birth and newness (natalis, novellus). My professor summed it up like this: “When we sing of the First Noel, we sing about the first and best Good News, the birth of the One who saves us.”
And so we sing about the first Good News that the Angel shared with the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks: “Fear not. I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” Sometimes I have to remind my modernly-sensitized heart that the First Noel should sing to my soul the newness of God’s love and light just as fresh and fearful as those same words of grace and joy were to the Shepherds.
In my favorite Advent devotional book, The Night of the Child, Robert Benson reminds us that it is up to us to look up from our holiday-ness to see the star that lights our days and nights with Christmas’s first good news afresh: “It will be up to us to follow the star when we see it. We are the ones who must somehow summon the courage to believe in its Light and to follow wherever it leads. We might begin to know in our hearts that no darkness we find ourselves in is too dark for us…that the One who made us will come searching for us, choosing to be among us, choosing to share in that darkness and to burst it apart with light and life and hope and love.”
May God’s first and best Good News be light and joy born to our hearts anew this day and always.
— Amy Grizzle Kane