Thoughts on Lessons and Carols

Several of us Church of Christ folks snuck over to the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Huntsville last night for A Festival Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest churches in Huntsville and has an interesting piece of history attached to it. During the Civil War, the Union Army occupied Huntsville and began commandeering area churches to use as stables for their horses. One Union officer was sent with a detail to Church of the Nativity for that purpose. However, when he saw the words “Reverence My Sanctuary” (still seen today) above the front entrance, he had second thoughts and gave orders to his troops that the church was to remain untouched.

Lessons and Carols is an Anglican service which was originally conducted at Kings College, Cambridge Univeristy on Christmas Eve in 1918 and has since been adapted for use by other churches around the world. The format follows the story of the fall of man, through the Old Testament with its many promises of Messiah and on to the birth of Jesus using nine scripture readings and various hymns and carols. The King’s College service is still broadcast annually on Christmas Eve by BBC Radio and is often carried by local NPR affiliates.

For my regular readers, it comes as no surprise that I’m a “smells and bells” kind of guy. I’m wired to respond better to the call to worship God with all my senses rather than simply using my left brain to digest a 45 minute lecture, uh, I mean sermon. I also like the quiet, gentle pace of liturgical worship–I don’t feel like my senses have been assaulted with a barrage of loud praise songs featuring the words “I, me and just” and PowerPoint slides filled with bulleted “main points to remember.”

Rather, I sense God’s call to “be still” and to know him, along with a much-needed break from the tyranny of the modern. I sense the power of letting scripture and song speak for themselves without the need for commentary or interpretation. I am healed by hearing what God has done and is doing rather than the constant reminder of “all the things we’re not doing” (note to pulpit ministers: believe it or not, most of us know we’re sinners who are constantly falling short. We are in dire need of encouragement and Good News).

I do sometimes feel like an interloper when I enter a liturgical church. It’s usually a little dark when you go inside and sometimes it takes a few moments for your eyes to adapt (I’ll spare you the physiological explanation). One time when I was entering an Episcopal church I didn’t see the brass infant baptismal font standing in my way and I ran into it, producing a loud clang which I desperately tried to still by grabbing it like a drummer does a cymbal. The folks who had already gathered for contemplation and prayer prior to the service were used to bells sounding off, but not at that particular moment. With all eyes turned on me, I could only offer a sheepish wave and a softly-mouthed “Sorry!” I felt like I needed to tell them I was from the Church of Christ and that I wasn’t used to baptismal fonts and that I promise it will never happen again. I was afraid a vestment-clad bouncer was going to appear and toss my little Anabaptist keister out on the sidewalk. But they didn’t seem too concerned. I suppose they’re used to a steady stream of folks sneeking in for a liturgical fix. No one stood up and said, “Hey, that guy’s Church of Christ. Throw him out of here!”

Last night there were several of us Restorationists taking up a couple of pews. A family soon came in and sat down behind us. A moment later, a young girl exclaimed, “Hey, what happened to our pew?” She was quickly shushed by her father. Oops, sorry about that! Don’t worry–come next Sunday you can have your old pew back for Christmas Day service.

Aside from the songs sung in Latin (once a Latin geek, always a Latin geek), my favorite from last evening was When God’s Time Had Ripened (music by Alfred V. Fedak, lyrics by Carl P. Daw, Jr.):

When God’s time had ripened, Mary’s womb bore fruit,
Scion of the Godhead, sprung from Jesse’s root:
So the True Vine branches from the lily’s stem,
The Rose without blemish blooms in Bethlehem.

More than mind can fathom, limit or untwine,
This mysterious yoking, human and divine,
But what reason fetters faith at length unlocks,
And wise hearts discover truth in paradox.

As the bread of heaven, that we might be fed,
Chose a manger cradle in the House of Bread,
So has Life Eternal mingled in the womb
With our mortal nature to confound the tomb.

For this swaddled infant in a humble place
Holds our hope of glory and our means of grace;
In the Love enfleshed here dawns the world’s rebirth,
Promise of salvation, pledge of peace on earth.

The second stanza especially speaks to me. As a tired, middle-aged, world-weary, left-brained rationalist, I’ve finally waved the white flag and surrendered to the powerful reality of paradox. In fact, I’m finding the letting go of “the need to have all the answers and figure everything out” to be a welcomed relief. The letting go and giving in feels right and good. I want to accept the “mysterious yoking” by faith and allow the “hope of glory” and the “promise of salvation” to fill the empty and dark places of my soul.

So this Christmas, along with the Our Father, I pray:

Dear God, calm my fretting self and settle my busy, troubled, over-reasoning mind. Allow the “mysterious yoking” to wash over me like a soothing bath which cleanses and heals the nicks and cuts of my soul. Give me a “wise heart,” so that I too can “discover truth in paradox.” Amen.

  1. DJG

    Thank you. I felt like I had turned the baptistry over with you!

    ** funny how we CofC’ers think we have the mark of the beast or something**

  2. Anonymous

    I’m glad you chose to protect the names of the innocent …. until proven guilty 🙂

  3. PatrickMead

    Very well done. Thank you for taking us with you!

  4. Hal

    Mike, while I don’t know the doctrines of CoC church very well, I enjoy your comments.

    Regarding your note to pastors, the Christian should never forget the reason that we need God’s grace (ie. sin), nor should we neglect the grace itself. Both aspects are vitally important to our faith and, I believe, to an honest exegesis of God’s word.

    I do know what you’re refering to here. Some pastors focus more on the sin aspect to the neglect of grace. That, I beleive, is just as egregious as preaching about the good things and neglecting the bad.

    Great post. Your writing is always thought provoking, Hal

  5. mike


    You’re welcome. Just writing that made me blush all over again. I did stand out a little bit too much, but the Episcopal folks are very gracious and forgiving.

    Nearly knocking the baptismal font over isn’t nearly as bad, though, as the “unforgivable sin” in the Church of Christ–dropping the communion tray and spilling all the grape juice!

  6. mike


    There was enough grace in that place to wash away any “guilt” over not being “in church!” Your son liked it, I think.

  7. mike

    You’re welcome! I enjoyed all the Gaelic over at your blog, BTW. It’s almost as good as Latin!

  8. mike


    You’re right, balance is essential. It just seems to me that in today’s hustle and bustle, market-driven, evangelical rat race, it’s no longer enough to simply “do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

  9. Hal


    I’ve never found it a simple task to follow the precepts of Micah 6:8. Once my walk with God is consistently humble and I’m able to do justice and love mercy on a regular basis perhaps it may seem like it is not enough for me either. Until then I’ll keep working on it.

  10. mike


    When I said Micah 6:8 is “no longer enough” that was an ironic statement meant as a critique of the “busy equals godly” attitude seen at times in today’s evangelical church. I know people who are living Micah 6:8 in quiet, yet profound ways who are not part of “the team” at the local megachurch. Ironically, they would not be considered “Christian enough” because of their lack of involvement in “sanctioned” church programs and ministries.

    Catch my drift?

  11. Hal

    Thanks for the clarification. I must have been using the wrong side of my brain to catch your irony. I understand exactly what you mean. In fact, these last 15+ months have been enlightening for me. I had to relinquish all of my church, and other community responsibilities because I was going on Active Duty. Now, when I come home for the weekend I can focus on being with my family and worshiping in church. I’ve never been a proponent of the “quality over quantity” philosophy of parenting, but I’ve learned that quality is equally important as quantity. And this, of course, is relavent to our relationship with the Lord. If we are too busy serving Him that we don’t take the time to nurture our relationship with Him, then both will suffer. Thanks again for the clarification.

  12. Ed

    Some of us are “slipping” out to the Southwood Presbyterian ( for a candlelight and communion service tonight.

  13. mike

    You’re welcome. Have a blessed Christmas with your family!


    Wish I had been there. We had a service at the CofC where I grew up but no communion, though. 🙁

Comments are closed.