The First Noel

Angelic Choir and Shepherds

In Luke 2:8-15 we read of the first song ever sung in response to the birth of Jesus. It is indeed the first noel, the first Christmas carol.

There are two things that I find amazing about the first noel:  who sang the song and to whom they sang it.

1) Who sang the song?

The first noel was sung by a choir of angels. They sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

We do not know much about angels, but the Bible tells us that they are non-corporeal, spiritual beings, created by God to perform his will. Psalm 103:20 calls them “mighty ones who do the LORD’s bidding.”

This is important to note. Angels always do God’s bidding. They act only in response to his directives. This means that, though angels were the ones singing, the One who commissioned the song was God. You might say God himself conducted the choir.

Why is this important? Because Jesus was God’s Son sent into the world to die for sinners. You would think the Father’s response to the sacrifice of his Son would be weeping or groaning. But it wasn’t. God’s response to the costly gift of his Son was to order his angels to sing! The Father rejoiced to send the Son to save us.

What does this show us? It shows us that, though the price paid for our salvation was costly, God delighted to pay it. What further proof do we need of God’s love? 1 John 4:9-10 says, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

2) To whom was the song sung?

Luke tells us that the audience who heard the first noel was a group of shepherds who were spending the night in the fields with their flocks on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

This is astonishing. In the first century, shepherding was not a respected profession. Shepherds were poor, uneducated, and unskilled. They were not held in esteem. In fact, it has been reported that the testimony of shepherds was not considered admissible in court. 

So why did God choose shepherds to be the first people to hear angelic news of the Savior’s birth? Jerusalem is just seven miles from Bethlehem. Both the temple and King Herod’s palace were in Jerusalem. God could easily have sent his angels to the temple to share the news with the priests. He could have sent his angels to the palace to share the news with the king. Why did God choose to announce this good news to a group of people who would have been viewed as undeserving?

I wonder if it is because, at heart, the good news of Christ is only for people who are undeserving. The message of Christ is a message of grace. The gospel is not a congratulatory word for people who have their act together. Nor is it a set of instructions for people eager to work hard to improve themselves. The gospel is a promise of God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance for people who do not deserve it. It is grace offered freely to anyone humble enough to admit they need it, honest enough to confess that need to God, and trusting enough to open their hand and receive God’s mercy.

Have you received God’s gift of grace in Christ?