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A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

Conservative churches that want to do a special service around Christmas time often have a hard time finding cialis price quality “pre-packaged” programs. So what are other alternatives?

One of the best and most flexible options, in my opinion, is “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.” I used this service all but one of the years I was ministering in Rockford, and we really benefitted from it.

Wikepedia actually gives a good description of this service order:

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a format for a service of Christian worship celebrating the birth of Jesus which is traditionally followed at Christmas. The story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus is told in nine short Bible readings, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols and hymns.

The format was based on an Order drawn up by Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury, for Christmas Eve (24 December) 1880 in Truro, Cornwall. It has since been adapted and used by other churches all over the world. In the UK, the service has become the standard format for schools’ Christmas carol services.

The best-known version is broadcast annually from King’s College, Cambridge, on Christmas Eve. It features carols by the famous Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

Here are what I love most about using this festival for a special service at Christmas:

  • A firm believer in the Regulative Principle of Worship, I love that this service adds nothing extra to the Church’s worship. It is simply singing and Scripture readings in a logical progression.
  • The gospel is clearly proclaimed in this service. The Scripture readings follow a progression through the story of Redemption in Scripture (more on this below).
  • Using this service provides a lot of flexibility (especially for smaller churches). A pastor or music director can choose music for between the lessons that fits his groups. Or, the carols can simply be congregational hymns. Or you can do a mixture of choral anthems, congregational hymns, instrumental numbers, etc. You choose what works with the skills and philosophy of your church; you’re not caged by someone else’s choices.
  • Using this service connects my church with others around the world and throughout history.
  • Using the service year after year (adding variety by changing the carols) provides stability and a good tradition.

Here is the service order:

  • Processional (traditionally uses “Once in Royal David’s City”)
  • God tells sinful Adam that he has lost the life of Paradise and that his seed with bruise the serpent’s head. Genesis 3.8-19
  • God promises to faithful Abraham that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. Genesis 22.15-18
  • The prophet foretells the coming of the Savior. Isaiah 9.2-7
  • The peace that Christ will bring is foreshown. Isaiah 11.1-9
  • The angel Gabriel salutes the Virgin Mary. Luke 1.26-38
  • Luke tells of the birth of Jesus. Luke 2.1-7
  • The shepherds go to the manger. Luke 2.8-16
  • The wise men are led by the star to Jesus. Matthew 2.1-12
  • John unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation. John 1.1-14

In between each of the readings are inserted one or more musical selections — a hymn, a choral anthem, an instrumental number, etc.

Let me encourage you to get out of the rut of pre-packaged Christmas musicals (especially ones with a skit), and try a service like this for the upcoming Christmas season. I think your church will really benefit.

Here are some examples of programs from Lessons & Carols services:

06 Lessons & Carols Program

08 Huron Lessons & Carols Program

08 Marshall Program

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.