When I was little, “The First Noel” distressed me. The song begins, “The first Noel the angels did say/Was to certain poor shepherds…” I couldn’t understand why the angels only spoke to certain shepherds. Why just those shepherds? What about the rest of the hardy souls keeping watch over their flocks by night? Why were they excluded? Didn’t the angels go on to say they had “good news that will cause great joy for all the people”? When I finally asked my father, he assured me that the angels were assuring all the shepherds, poetically making them certain there was no reason to be afraid. I was quite relieved, and “The First Noel” is now one of my favorite carols.
This memory resurfaced earlier this week, as I listened to the radio. The news was filled with reports about war, hate crimes, and other violence. I changed to a station playing Christmas music, and heard Josh Groban’s recording of the carol. I thought about the angels’ message and all there is to fear in our world today. I thought about all the shepherds, those who were ready for the angels’ message and those who were not. I thought of those who are eager for Christmas to arrive, and those who face the holidays with sadness, loneliness, or anger.
Let us wait in community. Advent can be trying for any number of reasons, but we can find strength in waiting together. We must not let stress or sadness isolate us. We cannot let the sin of the world distract us. Together, we can keep each other focused on the manger, and moving toward the power and beauty of Christmas.
This is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing, in the Advent tradition. Surely our joy in the coming of the Christ Child is multiplied when we share it with everyone. Let us share it with our entire community, unconditionally and inclusively. Let us reach out, to gain strength or to give it, to lift a heart or to have our own lifted. Let us assure one another of the good news, now and always.
“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 hath bought.”
The First Noel, Traditional