The first Noel is a famous Christian carol and the word Noel is often used to mean Christmas. But what exactly does Noel mean in the context of Scripture? The word Noel is adapted from both Latin and French to refer to Christmas. Noel, in the context of Christmas, was first used in English in the 14th century. Since then, the word has become synonymous with Christmas. Let’s take a closer look at the origins of this word as well as its biblical significance.
The origin of the word Noel can be traced to the Latin root word “natalis” which means birth. This word was used with reference to the nativity of Jesus. The word later metamorphosed into nowel in Middle English to mean “shout for joy.” Today, the word Noel is used to mean Christmas or Christmas carol.
But the French adaptation would perhaps make more sense to English speakers. When adapted from French, the word Noel could mean three different things – all related to Christmas. These are:
Joyeux Noël is a French word that loosely translates to “good news.” When used in Christian circles, it points to the Gospel, which is the good news of Salvation. This phrase was originally adapted from the Latin word for new (Novus).
The Gospel (or the good news) in the Bible refers to the message that God sent his son to die for humanity. It is good news because God’s plan for salvation came to deliver mankind from eternal damnation. Man deserved punishment due to the sinful nature that entered Earth following the fall of man in Eden. But after Jesus paid the ultimate price on the cross, man had a way out.
The Good news culminates in the afterlife when man will be ushered into the kingdom of heaven. But it begins in Bethlehem where Jesus was born of a virgin. Noel, therefore, is a word used to denote the Good News in its entirety. From the beginning point in Jerusalem to the finish line in the kingdom of heaven.
The French phrase “Joyeux Noël” could also mean Merry Christmas. This is why it is used as a common greeting during Christma in French-speaking nations. Christmas is arguably the most important Christian festival. It marks the birth of Jesus Christ who came as the lamb of God to be the ultimate sacrifice for man’s sin. Were it not for the birth of Jesus, man would be condemned to eternal damnation. But the birth of Jesus was the beginning of the salvation miracle.
Today, Christmas may mean all sorts of things to people. It is often thought of as a time of merry and a time of reconnecting with family. It is often thought of as a time of buying gifts for friends and family. It is often thought of as a time to decorate and shop. But Christmas has a deeper meaning than that – it is the celebration of the birth of Christ.
When the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, his birth was celebrated in a unique way. The Bible describes how the magi traveled a long distance just to come and worship the newborn baby (Mathew 2:1-12). Scripture also describes how an angel of the Lord revealed to a group of shepherds the birth of Jesus and how they joined up with throngs of angels to worship the newborn baby (Luke 2:8-20). These scriptures encapsulate the real meaning of Noel – a time to celebrate the birth of Christ. A time to worship Christ the King of kings.
Apart from Merry Christmas and Good News, the word Noel can also be used to refer to a poem or a song that was written to celebrate Christmas. A Noel song is typically religious in nature because the theme is the celebration of the birth of the Messiah. However, there are some instances where some circular songs are thought of as Noel songs because of their Christmas inspiration and theme.
In the Biblical context, Noel songs have to be the ones that are written to celebrate the birth of Christ. The word Noel, in this case, comes from the Latin word “Natalis” which is translated to mean “birthday.” When the shepherds were visited by the Angel of the Lord to announce the birth of Christ, they also heard the Angels singing to celebrate the birth of Christ (Luke 2:14). This may well be the first recorded Christmas Carol.
Noel poems are typically composed as carols and they are usually about the story of the Birth of Jesus. Apart from celebrating the birth of Christ, Noels are great teaching instruments. They teach kids (and even adults) about the birth of Christ and the significance of Christmas. There are thousands of Noel songs and poems that have been composed over time. Some popular examples include:
- O Holy Night
- Silent Night
- Joy to the World
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas
- A Visit from St. Nicholas (commonly known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”)
- The Little Drummer Boy.
- The Twelve Days of Christmas
The modern-day concept of Christmas has largely been distorted and misrepresented. Some people think of Santa Claus and gifts more than they think about Christ. The word Noel should jerk us back to the reality of Christmas. Even though Christmas comes only once a year, Noel should not be reduced to a mere annual tradition. On the contrary, it should be seen as a celebration of God’s greatest gift. It should be looked at as a revelation of God’s grace which is demonstrated by God giving heaven’s best to die for earth’s worst. In the words of scripture, a child was born and a son was given for us (Isaiah 9:6). Noel is more than just a greeting or a carol – it is an affirmation that Jesus was born of a virgin as prophesied by the prophets. So the next time you hear the word, Noel, let it remind you of the son go God that was sent to die for you.