December 20 – The First Noel (A Christmas Carol Advent)





This carol is a traditional English Christmas Carol dating from the 18th century.  It was first published in its current form in 1823.

Commentary & Analysis

This song reflects on three of the preeminent events that people think of when they think of Christmas.  First, of course, is the birth of Christ.  “Born is the King of Israel” is the final line of each and every verse.  The first two verses discuss the angels’ appearance to the shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem to announce the birth of Jesus.  Although this song is fairly faithful to the biblical account, there are a couple of items in the first couple of verse which are not in the original stories.  First, there is no indication that it was a “cold winter’s night” on the night when Jesus was born.  Although many of here in the west dream yearly of a “white Christmas,” the Bible gives no indication of the weather on that historical night.  Secondly, although they may have seen it, the Bible does not indicate that the Shepherds noticed the star which later guided the wise men to Bethlehem.

The final three verses of the song deal with the wise men from the east that came to see Jesus.  Although much has been made of the wise men that came to see Jesus, and numerous songs have been written about them, the entire biblical account of their visit is as follows:

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” [Matthew 2:1-12 ESV]

Questions for further Reflection / Devotion

The following questions are meant for your reflection and or devotion.  Feel free to meditate on them, discuss them with your family or others or post your responses here.  I would love to hear from you.

  1. The wise men came to worship a King they had never met.  When you think of Jesus, do you think of him more as the baby in the manger or King of the Universe?
  2. The song also reminds us that the wise men followed the star wherever it went.  Like Abraham who left his home without being told by God where he was sending him, the Bible is full of stories where God calls someone to do something but doesn’t give them full details of his plan.  What are you being called to do by God that you are holding out on because you are waiting for all the details?
  3. The song reminds us that the wise men fell down to worship Jesus upon seeing him.  How can you show more reverence for Christ this Christmas season?
  4. Much has been made throughout church history as to what the three gifts of the wise men might represent.  Do you think they have symbolic meaning?  If so, what?
  5. Angels came to some of the lowest members of society (the shepherds) to announce the birth of Jesus.  What can you do this Christmas to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who might not otherwise hear it?


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.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

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.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

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.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

This star drew night 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.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Then entered in those wise men three,
Full reverently upon their knee;
And offered there in his presence,
Their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Return to a Christmas Carol Advent index page.

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