For a long time, this was my very favorite of the fourteen. My placing it at number three is less an indictment of the song and more of a mark of how much I've grown to love the top two. The melody is absolutely beautiful to me, rising and falling gently as the refrains of noel, noel float over everything. I'm not sure what it is about the tune, but it even feels a little cold to me. I can picture myself rubbing my hands together, blowing in them, and stamping my feet to keep warm in a field with my sheep.
There's no scriptural evidence that I'm aware of that the birth of the Savior took place in winter (I suppose you could figure it out if you knew when all the world was taxed by Augustus), but it's inarguable that no matter the time of year, the shepherds could have looked up that night and seen a star. The account in Luke doesn't actually mention the star, but I picture the shepherds seeing the star before the angels. They looked up into the night sky and saw something unmistakable. I don't think the shepherds were intimately familiar with the stars. They probably didn't need to use them for navigation, so they may not have known the constellations, but they wouldn't have needed to in order to see the star of Bethlehem. The sign wasn't given so that you could only see it if you knew just when and where to look. It was given to announce the birth of the King of Israel to the whole world, and to the earth it gave great light.
To all the earth, no less. We've talked about them before, but there were those in the Americas looking to the birth of their Savior, too. When He was born, there was no darkness that night as a sign to them, and after that day and a night and a day, a new star appeared in the sky. I couldn't say whether or not it was the same star, or whether or not it was a star at all or a supernova or a nebula or what, but I can say that it was the same God who provided the sign. He tells us so himself. Listen:
Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given. (3 Nephi 1:13-14)He promised, and He delivered. That night was the sign given. He came to His own, whether it be shepherds, wise men, a humble virgin mother, or even the animals in the stable. So too can we look up, see the star, and be of good cheer. He comes to His own.
Previously in this series
#4 Away in a Manger
#5 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
#6 Oh Come, All Ye Faithful
#7 Far, Far Away in Judea's Plains
#8 Once in Royal David's City
#9 Angels We Have Heard on High
#10 It Came upon the Midnight Clear
#11 O Little Town of Bethlehem
#12 With Wondering Awe
#13 Joy to the World
#14 While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks