Last night Greg Wilbur, along with the choir and orchestra he leads at Christ Community Church, conducted a wonderful service of Lessons and Carols. It is one of my favorite Advent traditions. And once again, the evening was a complete delight.
The service of Lessons and Carols has long been associated with the King's College Chapel, Cambridge but over the years it has become a staple of the Advent repertoire all around the world. The service consists of nine Scripture lessons which alternate with carols of a similar theme. The lessons and carols tell of the Fall of Man, the promise of a Savior by the prophets, the annunciation to Mary, the shepherds and angels, and ends with the reading of John's Gospel prologue.
In the book Christmas Spirit, Greg Wilbur has written:
The service, originally intended for Christmas Eve, follows a form laid down by the King's College Dean, Eric Milner-White, in 1918. As he saw it, the strength of the service lay in the Scripture readings which outline the need for redemption, the promise of a Savior, and the Nativity itself. Milner-White patterned his service on an Order of Worship drawn up by E.W. Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury, for use in the wooden shed which then served as his cathedral in Truro for 10 PM on Christmas Eve 1880. A.C. Benson recalled, "My father arranged from ancient sources a little service for Christmas Eve--nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the Church, beginning with a chorister, and ending, through the different grades, with the Bishop."
The suggestion for the service had come from G.H.S. Walpole who later became the Bishop of Edinburgh. The service in Cambridge has been adapted and emulated throughout the world. With the exception of 1930, the BBC has broadcast the concert annually since 1928. This includes the period of the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel and the name of King's College could not be broadcast for security reasons.
The combination of prayers, liturgy, carols, Scripture, and congregational worship creates a solemnity that recognizes the historic nature of the Christian faith as well as a celebration of the fulfilled promise of redemption.
For me, Yuletide is really not altogether underway until after this service. Afterward, I cannot help but be in the "Christmas Spirit."