Lessons and Carols
On the last day before Christmas break, campus chapel had a brief service of Lessons and Carols–a bit of proleptic Christmas joy in the midst of Advent repentance and expectation. The music was both solemn and celebratory and included bells, guitar, clarinet, violin, piano, percussion, upright bass, and organ. We cannot share the music here, but the outline of the service and the special collects written for the occasion are reproduced below–a Christmas gift to you, our readers:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
O Lord–O how your ancient people longed for light in the midst of their dark exile–for the warm glow of the familiar, the native homeland filled with your promised presence. But the darkness of home lost was deeper than the Euphrates … humanity’s native land was abandoned long ago, each man homesick in the foreign land of his own heart. And so your light has come, shining in a new nativity, in the face of a baby. Grant to us the joy of a true homecoming as we marvel at this “child in a foul stable, where the beasts feed and foam; for only where He was homeless, is all mankind … at last … at home.” * Amen
Hymn: “What Child Is This?”
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel … And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.”
Unusual and unlooked for, your deliverance, O God, comes hidden in the small, the meek, the discounted–David was the youngest of seven, not even deemed worthy to be presented before guests, and yet him you anointed king–a man after your own heart. And in his trivial town in Judah–Bethlehem Ephrathah–another king–one who would reveal your heart–would be born. As we await his return, let his kingdom be among us, we pray–casting out our sin–let him enter in and be born in us today. Amen
Hymn: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”
The Day is coming, O Lord–your Day… dies irae: a day of wrath, of recompense, of redemption. A day when the thick clouds carry not nourishing rains but rather bear the Messiah and the thunder of his judgment. Evil will finally come to its twisted end, and Eden will emerge once more. As your people long ago yearned for the coming of your Messiah, stir up our hearts to live in faithful anticipation of our Lord’s advent, and give us the confidence and hope that comes with having heard the echo of that day’s judgment in the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen. Amen
Hymn: “Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending”
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
How the ages of have unfolded along paths that even the prophets could hardly have presaged! The sturdy stones of Roman roads carried the surging masses to be counted like cattle–the work of empire past and present to reduce humanity to a number and a tax bracket–and yet against expectation there in the very opposite of imperial pomp and impost, a Savior was born. Though even now we remain saddled with Caesar, help our hearts, O Lord, to rest in the great salvation surprise of the manger, wherein we see a glimpse of your kingdom in its coming to the childlike. And let the angelic message of that night–“fear not!”–carry us through the frenzy of this age of empires to that final day of the King. Amen
Hymn: “See Amid the Winter Snow”
“… And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
“The Virgin bears a child whose birth cannot be borne.” ** In the gloomy night the infant lay, but the darkness could not comprehend his glorious day, nor could Herod endure this newborn royalty, nor the world this little one’s divine enormity. And yet she carried him in her womb, that he might bear the cross … and burst from the tomb. “Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child, make thee a bed, soft, undefiled within my heart, that it may be a quiet chamber kept for Thee.” *** Amen
Hymn: “From Heaven Came the Angels Bright” (Martin Luther)
From heaven came the angels bright
To shepherds watching through the night.
A newborn royal Child, they said,
Lies yonder in a manger bed.
To Bethlehem, King David’s town,
As Micah saw, comes great renown;
Your Lord Christ is incarnate there
To save you all from sin and care.
Rejoice, therefore, that through His Son
Your God with you is now at one.
He took on human flesh and bone,
And you, His brothers, are God’s own.
God came to share Himself with you,
Your sin and death He overthrew.
The foe may send his fiery dart;
Your Friend, God’s Son, will shield your heart.
He never will abandon you.
Trust King Immanuel the True.
Yield not to any evil might.
Walk in the Christ child’s saving light.
Then in the end you will prevail;
God’s friends and brothers cannot fail.
In praise to God then raise your voice,
Prepare forever to rejoice!
* G.K. Chesterton, House of Christmas
** Adapted from the Kontakion on the Nativity, Romanos the Melodist, 6th century
*** Martin Luther, Vom Himmel Hoch