What are the words that come to mind when you think of Christmas? I think for most of us, a list of words related to this festive time of year would include: Christ. Lights. Carols. Angels. Prophets. Shepherds. Mary. Joseph. Magi. Presents. Love. Peace. Hope. Life. Promise. If we were asked to summarize the message of Christmas, we would have varied answers that would, hopefully, involve the theme of God becoming man so that people might be reconciled with God. There are, of course, many details that would need to be added to that summary statement so that it would be understood and announced in a faithful way.
As I write this article, I think of the song The First Noel. Its word are familiar to us: “The First Noel the Angels did say . . .” As I think further of this song, it strikes me that the word noel is a good way for us to understand Christmas and to make its importance known to others.
The word noel comes from noël, the French word for Christmas. That word, in turn, comes from the Latin, natalis, the word for birthday. Noel, then, at its root means “birth.” Thus, the beloved carol sings of that first “birth announcement,” given by an angel of the Lord to the lowly and lonely shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night” (Lk. 2:8). The activity of announcing this birth is something that should occupy the time of each person who confesses the Name of Christ. That being the case, what do we mean when we announce this “noel?”
‘N’ stands for news. The darkness of that night was alit with the glory of the Lord as the angel revealed himself to the startled shepherds. Speaking in a voice of authority that not only shattered the silence, but also echoed down through the corridors of history, the angel announced that he was bringing important news. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11). One can only imagine the surprise this amazing event gave to these shepherds, who were used to being on the outskirts of society, both literally and metaphorically. Yet, in their enthusiasm, they rushed out to find out if what the angel had announced was indeed the case. When they discovered the object of this announcement, the Lord Jesus Christ, they glorified God for all that they had seen and heard. They had heard the good news and they were changed thereby. Have you heard this “Good News” in your own life?
‘O’ stands for offering. This news is to be “for all the people.” Yes! This news is for people from all walks of life, from all kinds of backgrounds, from all kinds of places and social positions. How kind of God to announce this news first of all to lowly shepherds, to whom middle eastern society would not have given priority or preference when it came to the sharing of good news. But this “Good News” is to be preached to all creation (Mk. 16:15) and it is to be offered to all without exception and without prejudice. It is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The Savior himself gives us the promise that He is at work in our evangelism efforts. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn. 6:37). So, this Advent season, let us be among those who offer this news freely to all, and who call all people to repent and believe the Gospel.
‘E’ stands for eternal. Think of the amazing message of Christmas. The one, true, holy, almighty, and everlasting God, sends His Son to earth to live among us and to show us who God really is. In this divine condescension, he is born of a virgin, lives a fully human life among those in rebellion against God, fulfills the requirements of the Law and the Prophets, and dies an ignominious death to purchase God’s People to be His chosen and cherished possession. The words of the angel to Mary were: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:32-33). The Eternal One enters into space and time so that those trapped in sin and death can enter into the eternal Kingdom of God that will have no end. Those God calls to enter this Kingdom will come from everywhere (Mt. 8:11; Rev. 5:9-10) and remain with Him forever. To those who enter this world of sin, which is all of us, and who suffer the wages of sin, again all of us, this promise of something eternal is both astounding and mesmerizing. As another carol says, Jesus was “born that man no more may die.”
‘L’ stands for life. To those who are under the curse of sin and death, the announcement of life is good news indeed. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). The Apostle John testifies: “And this is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:11-12). This life has a relational aspect to it because it is tied to a relationship with the One who created all things. “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn. 17:3). This life also has a time dimension to it. It is life that will never come to an end. This latter element flows out of the previous one. To know and be in an unbreakable relationship with the One who is eternal means we who are in Christ are in an eternal relationship because we are now in Him! That means we will live forever in His presence. What an amazing promise and hope we have! Do you know the Eternal One? Is He the One you confess as your Lord and Savior?
So, as you have seen, we can summarize the message of Christmas by using the word N.O.E.L. – “News Offering Eternal Life”! May this acronym stimulate you to be active in sharing the message of Christmas with your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers during this season of Advent! The decorations on the houses, the music in the shops, the advertisements in the newspaper and on TV all remind us that Christmas is near. What they do not remind us of is the meaning and purpose behind this season: the Noel, the announcement of the birth of the Son of God, who is the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people”. As you interact with those around you this Christmas, may you remember that each person you meet needs to encounter the only One who can give eternal life, the Lord Jesus Christ! He calls us to proclaim Him to others and He will save those who call upon Him. To whom will you announce “The First Noel” this Christmas?