Leave it to the grad student who is studying English to research the etymology of noel…
Noel is a French word which means Christmas (go figure), but it is derived from the Latin word nātālis, meaning birthday. As I thought about nātālis, I geekily marveled at the phonestheme: natalis, natal, nativity, native, nation, natural…
But I digress; I am not giving an English lesson today. Instead, I want to talk about the first noel, the holy nativity.
Most of us have heard the story hundreds of times. We know that Jesus was born in a stable, wrapped in cloths, and laid in a trough. We can sing “glory to God in the highest” with the angels, and we can figuratively count the sheep that the shepherds watched. To most of us, the story of Christmas is nothing new.
But on the first noel, the world experienced something very new. The holy Creator “became flesh,” stepping into a broken world and breaking a barrier between the only righteous God and the very unrighteous humanity (John 1:14). God–the same God who formerly could only be approached with utmost purity and a sacred sacrifice–lay in a manger. Anyone who wanted could stand in the physical presence of Emmanuel and worship Him.
Remember those shepherds who “were filled with great fear” at the sight of a singing angel army (Luke 2:9)? After they rushed to the stable see the God-Man, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). The Shepherds could not withhold the message of Christ incarnate.
On this third Sunday of advent, let’s celebrate–and proclaim!–the good news of unbroken fellowship with God, a gift that Christ delivered on the first noel.