The First Noel (Advent: Day 15)

Noel is “a term signifying the holiday season. Noel comes to us form the Latin verb “nasci,” meaning to be born. A variation of (the word natalis), “nael,” made its way into Old French as a reference to the Christmas season and later into Middle English as “nowel” (Etymology of Noel).

Yesterday we talked about the significance of the priestly shepherds and the temple lambs being raised outside of Bethlehem. I have continued to research this and amazed by what I found and wanted to share with you.

“The shepherds’ fields outside of Bethlehem, to this day, play a central role in the Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land…The church historian Eusebius linked these fields to a unique biblical location called Migdar Eder, which translated means the “tower of the flock” (Dr. Juergen Burhler).

Genesis 35 has the first mention of this tower.

So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is Bethlehem), And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

Genesis 35:19-21

“Migdal Eder was only 1000 paces from Bethlehem, and was a place of elevation, where shepherds would go to watch over their sheep that grazed in the valley’s meadow below. It was a good vantage point and ideal for watching over the sheep and keeping an eye on what might come down the road from Jerusalem. Several generations later, it became the place where they raised the unblemished and unspotted sheep used for Temple sacrifice” (powerofhumility.org).

And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.

Micah 4:8

“Based on that prophecy, prominent Jewish writers concluded in the Midrash that from all of the places in Israel, it would be the Migdal Eder where the arrival of the Messiah would be declared first”(dawsoncreekmirror .ca).

The Migdal Eder had a cave-like room on the ground floor that was used as a birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Priestly shepherds would wrap the newborn lambs “tightly swaddled in specially designated temple cloths, and they would be laid in a manger to keep them contained while they were being examined for blemishes. At the appointed time, the shepherds would separate the lambs, selecting only the firstborn males that were without mark or blemish, and would lead them to Jerusalem, where they would be purchased by people wanting to present a sacrifice before the Lord to atone for their sins” (dawsoncreekmirror .ca).

Images of similar structures. Notice the stone manger in the bottom middle photo. (Images from Charles E. McCracken Ministries)

Some people think Mary and Joseph may have found shelter in the Migdal Eder, and that’s where Jesus was born. If that is true, the shepherds would have known exactly where to go to look for a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger. This is just another theory added to the ones we have discussed in a previous Advent post. We can’t prove that Jesus was actually born in this birthing room of the Migdal Eder or in one of the caves nearby. We can only speculate, but it is fascinating to consider.

And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

Luke 2:12 NKJV

The Migdal Eder is no longer in existence, but the Christmas story most likely took place in its general vicinity because of the tower’s connection to the sacrificial lambs and its proximity to Bethlehem.

Before I close, I wanted to mention the Sheep Gate. As stated in yesterday’s post, once the sheep were a year old and ready for sacrifice, the shepherds would take them through several valleys into the Kidron valley area to the Sheep Gate near the pools of Bethesda. It is said that the sheep Gate was the “gate of no return” because sheep that entered there were sacrificial lambs.

This photo is taken from the Holyland Model in Jerusalem. this model is a 1:50 scale model of the late Second Temple era in Jerusalem.

Jesus called Himself the gate (door) of the sheep (John 10:7). He also referred to the Narrow Gate (Matthew 7:13-14). Did He have the Sheep Gate in mind when He spoke of these things? I’m not sure, but I find it incredibly interesting. He probably walked through that gate many times during the course of his earthly life. I absolutely love the symbolism of the sacrificial Lamb of God walking through the Sheep Gate.

Therefore Jesus said again, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved, they will come in and go out, and find pasture (John 10:7-9 NIV).

Another depiction of Jesus being the “door” of the sheep.

Noel, Noel! Noel, Noel! Born is the King of Israel!

THE FIRST NOEL

Advent Reflections:

1. Read John 10:1-18. What does Jesus compare Himself to in verses 1-6 and 7-10? What does Jesus call Himself in verses 7 and 11?

2. What does a hired hand and a shepherd do differently based on verses 11-13?

3. What is Jesus’ relationship to His sheep in verses 14-15?

4. Did you know that Gentile believers today (i.e. you and me) are referred to in this passage? Read verse 16 and notice what Jesus said about His “other sheep.”

5. According to verse 18, by what authority does Jesus lay down His life? Take some time to praise Him for all He has done for us!

Click here to listen to City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir perform this Advent hymn on YouTube.

Click here for Michele McLaughlin’s piano version on Spotify.

2 thoughts on “The First Noel (Advent: Day 15)

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