The First Noël
[The wise men] went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9–11)
On the night Jesus was born, that First Noël, one star sang a song for the ages. In all of its brightness, it declared, “Glory in the Highest!” with the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. It was a long-awaited star proclaiming a long-awaited Messiah, a star of stars that announced the King of kings.
Matthew writes that wise men studied the skies and saw this star, a star that told them something profound had happened, something that would change the course of history. They came to Jerusalem, walked into the town in which Herod is king, and asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). Not, “where is the baby who will become the king one day?” No, a star told us that there is a baby King — a baby who is already King — and we are here to worship him.
No Way to Treat a King
And how do Herod and the Jews respond? With joy and excitement and gratitude? Remember these — the people of Jerusalem — are Jesus’s people. This is Israel, the ones to whom Jesus was promised, their King, their Savior.
But unlike the wise men, Herod was threatened by this baby King and didn’t want to worship the child. He wanted to kill the baby, and so he was willing to kill every young boy in Bethlehem to make sure that Jesus was dead. Jesus’s own people hear that the promised King has arrived to save them, and how do they respond? Over and over throughout the Gospels, we see that the Jews were troubled. They were filled with fear and pride and faithlessness. They try to stop Jesus.
Like so many of us today, the Jews were clinging to what they knew. They were content with the king they knew, the world they knew, the life they knew. They knew that if this child really was the Christ, everything had to change. They were terrified of what changes Jesus might bring or of what he might take away. Instead of running to the newborn King, exalting him, welcoming him into the world, they feared him and they rejected him.
The Brightness of His Rising
But in the very same moments with the very same news, the wise men responded very differently. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10). The wise men were beside themselves with joy because of this star. These guys weren’t Jewish priests. They weren’t Jewish at all. They were men from the east. From the moment of his birth, the joy Jesus brings is a joy for the nations, for the whole world. It happened just like Isaiah predicted, “The Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:2–3).
And by the light of that same star,
Three wise men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!
The wise men were enamored with the star, the way we might be with the first snowfall of the year or a best friend’s engagement ring or a last second shot to beat our biggest rival. They couldn’t take their eyes off of it. Nothing would distract them or get in the way because they knew the Savior would come by that great light.
The Poor Child, the Promised King
They finally arrive at Bethlehem. “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). Wouldn’t you think they would be completely disappointed, confused, defeated? The star led them to a humble home with a humble family, who had given birth in a stable.
Yet the wise men are not fooled or caught off guard by the strange circumstances. No, they fall down and they worship the baby Jesus. Give us a poor child with modest accommodations and little fanfare. Just give us Jesus. We need our King.
They brought expensive gifts, but they knew nothing they brought would be enough. This wasn’t just a king; this was the King, the King of kings. And it had been given to them to see his star and to see him — the little baby — with their own eyes.
With His Blood, Mankind He Bought
Why did this baby King come? He came to save his people from their sins, and to bring them to God (Matthew 1:21–23). How do you respond to this Jesus? How do you respond to the baby wielding all power and authority before he’s even spoken a word, the baby whose birth stopped the stars? How do you respond to this unassuming answer to years of promise — little hands and ears and a nose in which infinite almighty God dwelt? Do you rejoice? Are you confused? Is it threatening? Maybe even offensive?
Make no mistake. If you follow this Star, your life will change. When we pursue Jesus and his light, he uncovers and confronts our sin, our selfishness, our resistance to him. But fear not! Through this King, by his death years later on the cross, we are saved from ourselves, and from death, into eternal life with him. Don’t miss the Star, and don’t fear its message. It brings the best news any of us has ever heard.
Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made heaven and earth of nought,
And with his blood mankind has bought.
Desiring God has partnered with Shane & Shane’s The Worship Initiative to write short meditations for more than one hundred popular worship songs and hymns. The Worship Initiative is an online platform devoted to training musicians for worship leading and songwriting. “The First Noel” is off their new album, A Worship Initiative Christmas, which is now available through iTunes.
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