Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.
The refrain of the song, The First Noel, calls for the joyful celebration of Christmas because the King of Israel was born on Christmas day. The magi from the East came looking for the new-born Jesus because they were convinced that the star that appeared marked the birth of a special king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2). That Jesus was this special king is affirmed many times in Scripture.
When Jesus revealed that He possessed extraordinary knowledge of Nathaniel even before laying eyes on him for the first time, the latter testified, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel” (John 1:49). When Jesus led the procession into Jerusalem, before His crucifixion, the people greeted Him with palm branches by singing, “Blessed is the king of Israel” (John 12:13).
When Jesus was crucified, a board was fastened to the cross, as ordered by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate; it read “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews” (John 19:19). It was common at Roman public executions to state the crimes of the condemned prisoner. Because Pilate could not pin any charge on Jesus (John 19:6), he simply wrote what Jesus claimed to be when he had asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33).
The words on the cross were written in three languages: Aramaic (the local language), Latin (the official language of the Roman government), and Greek (the language of trade and academia). It was as if the truth that Jesus was the King of the Jews (which Pilate had unwittingly placed as a sign on the cross) was being declared far and wide, to every sphere of life and society. The Latin words on the sign were “Jesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum”, which is why in paintings of the crucifixion the sign on the cross often reads “INRI”, which are the initials of the Latin phrase.
The first stanza of The First Noel refers to the story of the shepherds who, while watching over their flocks, saw an angel come down from heaven to tell them the good news about the birth of the Saviour. The reference to “a cold winter’s night” (Stanza 1) is due to cultural influence in Western Christianity. Because Christmas falls at the end of December, it became associated with the cold deep winter, as is often depicted in songs and paintings.
Scripture says that the shepherds were out with their flocks “at night” (Luke 2:8). They would not have been out in the open if it had been winter. Many scholars think that the original Christmas event took place in spring, in a warmer climate. But people like to set Christmas in winter (a nostalgic idea in the Western hemisphere), and that is what the last line of the stanza conveys.
The next four stanzas speak of the experience of the magi from the East. They saw the star that signified the birth of Jesus, and were led by it “day and night” (Stanza 2) to the very place that Jesus was. Their arrival was not on the same night that Jesus was born. Scripture says that they found Jesus in a “house” in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:11). There is no mention of a stable or manger.
Also, when King Herod sought to kill the new-born king, he ordered his soldiers to kill all boys in Bethlehem “two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16), suggesting that some time had elapsed between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the magi.
What the magi did upon arriving at the house is the subject of the fifth stanza. They “bowed down and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:11), “Full reverently upon their knee” (Stanza 5). They then “presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). They paid homage to the child and recognised Him for who He was.
We too are inspired to do the same, to make every attempt to find Jesus, to come to Him and humbly worship Him (we are never too important to bend our knees before Him), and offer Him our best, even our own lives.
The final stanza is a rousing call to all to worship and thank God for what He has done for us through Christ. He who made heaven and earth from nothing, creatio ex nihilo (see Hebrews 11:3), has bought humankind and redeemed us from our sins with the blood that was shed on the cross by the One who was born on Christmas Day, born to die that we may live.
Take time to reflect on what it means to look for Jesus, find Him, go to Him, and worship Him. In what way does Jesus exercise His kingship over you, and what do you have to offer Him?
Excerpted and adapted from Songs of Christmas by Robert Solomon. © 2018 by Robert Solomon. Used by permission of Discovery House. All rights reserved.
Windows on Christmas
Experience the Christmas story in a new way! Join Our Daily Bread author Bill Crowder as he highlights history that points us back to God’s heart for humanity.
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