It’s simple, it’s short, and it’s impossibly beautiful. For a long, long time, this was my very favorite of the fourteen Christmas hymns in the LDS hymnal. (It was replaced a couple of years ago by “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” because, seriously, come on.) The soaring soprano part intertwines with the equally beautiful tenor part during the chorus of “Noel! Noel!”, bringing goosebumps to my flesh every single time I hear it.
The simplicity of the tune is wonderful, but the simplicity of the message is equally lovely. The King, the Lord of all, came to earth not in glory and splendor, but in a humble stable, laid to rest in a manger surrounded by animals. Here He was, the Savior of the world, the focus of ages past and ages to come, and His coming was relatively unheralded. I say relatively unheralded, but in honesty, His birth was heralded in a way very few other events are; His coming was literally announced by heralds. In keeping with the quiet nature of the event, though, the heralds didn’t appear to kings, rulers, or anyone of particular prominence. They appeared to “certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay keeping their sheep.” These were ordinary men, tending to their flocks as they did every night when angels appeared to announce what was, without question, the greatest event in the history of the earth. I imagine they were terrified, not only because of the unexpected nature of the announcement (I’d be terrified of an angelic appearance), but also because they, meek and lowly men, had been appointed to witness this event.
They made their way to Bethlehem, and they bore witness to what they had seen. The King had come to His own. He had come to the poor, the humble, the lowly, and the ordinary. He had come to redeem them from their sins, and He had come to give them hope.
He came not only for those in Jerusalem, of course, but to the whole world. His star was seen by the wise men coming from the east, and it was seen by those in the Americas. The signs were there, made clear to anyone who cared to read them. His coming was not a secret, no more than His gospel is a secret today. It was freely available to anyone who listened.
The chorus of “Noel! Noel!” is beautiful in its simplicity. We sing the same word over and over, rising to a D in the soprano part and that towering E in the tenor part. The word means Christmas, but more specifically, it refers to a Christmas carol. We sing about his coming in the most simple and distilled way we can. We sing that one word, the word that tells us that He has come, He is here, and we sing it jubilantly, as directed. We sing full of joy, full of hope, and full at His coming.
Born is the King of Israel. He has come to His own, and He comes to His own still.