Midweek Meditation – December 22, 2021



Nine Lessons and Carols

This may be a little too “inside baseball” but every once in a while we get a question about our Christmas Eve service. Why do we have communion some years but not others? Why do we sing lessons and carols? What happened to candlelight?

Through some years of experimentation we’ve settled into a pattern. On Christmas Eve, every year, we adapt a service of lessons and carols to celebrate the coming of Jesus. (Don’t worry: there’s still candlelight. We light candles at the end of the service during “Silent Night” in order to welcome the light of the world coming to us.)

The format of the worship service is borrowed from the Festival of Lessons and carols begun at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge (UK) in 1918. The service is so beloved that the BBC sends the broadcast over the radio to millions around the world. You can find it sometime on the morning of Christmas Eve.

Begun in 1918 as a way to reintroduce imaginative worship into worship that wanted some renewal, the service follows the story of salvation history, beginning with Adam and Eve in a garden, and ending the Gospel of John: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Interspersed with the readings are musical pieces sung by the choir or congregation to celebrate Christmas.

The choir is famously good, and shares a bit of high drama. One of the notable traditions on the musical side is picking a young boy to sing the first verse of the old hymn, “Once in Royal David’s City” as a solo. Remember, the broadcast is heard by millions around the world, so who gets the solo could be a fraught question. Rather than picking a soloist days or weeks ahead, and risking an enormous amount of pressure on a ten year old, the choirmaster begins to conduct and, a few beats ahead, points to the young boy who will sing about the coming of Jesus to millions.

The service is long enough that communion doesn’t quite fit, which is a shame. But the scope of the service focuses us on the saving work of God which, in its enormity, demands all our attention.

The story begins in a garden, telling of our well-known separation from God. The rest of the service is about our healing—in God’s promise to Abraham, in the prophecies of Isaiah, in the annunciation, in shepherds and angels, in wise men, and in the Word made flesh.

It’s long enough, then, that we realize the depths of the story of salvation. It is not a picturesque Christmas card creche, but the response of a God who has been at work for a long time in order to shine light into darkness.


Genesis 3:8-15, 17-19

Genesis 22:15-19

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Isaiah 11:1-4a, 6-9

Luke 1:26-35, 38

Luke 2:1-7

Luke 2:8-16

Matthew 2:1-11

John 1:1-14

Come share God’s story with us!

Lessons and Carols:

5:30 p.m. on Friday, December 24.

Midweek Meditation – December 22, 20212021-12-21T12:24:33-05:00

“Gloria” by Vivaldi during December 19 worship

When the modern-day Vivaldi revival began early in the twentieth century, attention focused mainly on the composer’s concertos.  Those were particularly interesting to scholars and musicians because of their influence on J. S. Bach.  But then, in the late 1920’s their view of Vivaldi changed, when a large collection of his vocal music was discovered in Turin.  Suddenly, he was much more than a composer of violin concertos.  The Gloria, part of that Turin collection, received its twentieth-century premiere in 1930 and has remained the most popular of all Vivaldi’s vocal works ever since.

In addition to concertos, Vivaldi was asked to write a good deal of religious music for the accomplished musicians at the Ospedale della Pietà, the girls’ orphanage in Venice where he served as music director.  In all likelihood, the present Gloria, in which all the vocal solos are for female voices, was written for the girls at the school.  It is a setting of a single section of a mass, but it is almost certainly a complete work and not a fragment, since it was not uncommon to write individual mass movements for specific occasions.

The orchestration, which may have been inspired by the roster of students at the school, calls for relatively limited forces — only a single oboe and a single trumpet (with no timpani) are added to the strings —  and there are only three vocal soloists.  The work opens with the kind of strong motoric rhythm that is reminiscent of Vivaldi’s concertos but then shifts into the beautiful harmonic world of the Et in terra pax, a movement that wanders meditatively through unexpected keys.

The closing fugue (Cum sancto spiritu) is in a more conservative style than the rest of the work and is in fact not originally by Vivaldi.  He “borrowed” it from a work by a contemporary, Giovanni Maria Ruggieri.  Here Vivaldi has considerably improved the original, altering the orchestration, giving a greater role to the trumpet, and condensing Ruggieri’s double chorus to a single four-voice chorus.  The Ruggieri fugue may be an unexpected choice for the ending of this work, but Vivaldi seems to have been so impressed with it that this was the second time that he used it. The first was a rather different adaptation in one of his earlier works, which was also a setting of the Gloria.

-Martin Pearlman

“Gloria” by Vivaldi during December 19 worship2021-12-15T10:19:02-05:00

Midweek Meditation – December 15, 2021

Imagine you are a shepherd in ancient Israel: Your job is mundane, dirty, and maybe even a little frightening. You’re out in the wilderness, away from town, and the only light you see at night comes from the fire around which you are huddled and the moon hanging overhead. With that small field of vision, you’re supposed to not only keep track of your sheep, but also protect them from attack.

Suddenly, a supernatural brightness—“the glory of the Lord”—blinds your eyes, and there’s somebody there, unlike anything you’ve seen before. Perhaps you immediately realize that it’s the angel of the Lord, or maybe you are so consumed with confusion that it takes a minute to sink in that this being is from the heavenly realm. Either way, you’re so awe-struck that the angel’s first words are, “Do not be afraid.”

“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

I wonder if the shepherds collapsed to the ground during this overwhelming experience. We know they felt fear, of course, but imagine the flood of emotions as they begin to realize that the angel of the Lord is proclaiming the news of the arrival of the Messiah!

What is the Messiah? The One promised since Genesis 3, who would come and rescue all of mankind. For the Jewish people, this is the One they had been longing for. And the shepherds are some of the first to hear of His arrival.

If the knees of the shepherds hadn’t buckled by that point, you can be sure that they did when suddenly the skies lit up and one angel became “a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’”

It’s no surprise that they immediately ran to find the Child in the manger, and returned passionately glorifying and praising God!

Fear, confusion, awe, joy—the shepherds experienced the gamut of emotions that historic night.

How about you? As you read this passage, are you still filled with awe? Do you empathize with the confusion and fear? Can you feel their joy? If not, re-read Luke 2 and try to envision it from the shepherd’s perspective once again, and pray that the Holy Spirit will fill you with His joy this Christmas season.

 – Luke 2:8-18, NKJV

Midweek Meditation – December 15, 20212021-12-13T14:00:46-05:00

Advent Sunday School Reunion – December 19, 2021

Join us at 9:30 a.m. on the 19th for an Advent reunion in Hollis Hall

Our time of “Picturing Advent” will begin with Henry Tanner’s striking depiction of “The Annunciation” as Mary receives the news of her expectancy. This stunning painting raises questions both of Mary’s reaction and of how Tanner’s own background may have influenced his approached to rendering the scene.

We’ll share together as we “picture” the anticipation of the Jewish people waiting for the promised Messiah, of the disciples waiting for Christ’s return, of the waiting of Bonhoeffer in an uncertain future (Our Advent devotional book) and more.

And for all of us, there is the waiting in our own uncertain times. Use the following prayer each day leading up to our gathering and note how God’s Spirit is speaking to you in the circumstances of your own life. How do you “picture” Advent this year? How do our bonds as a church impact our individual perspectives on life in God’s unfolding Kingdom?

Sally Burran, Walter Jones and Rev. Will Scott will lead our 9:30 – 10:15 a.m. reunion of kindred souls as we find reassurance both in the stories of the faith and in the welcomed presence of the faithful who “Love first, love all.” Please join us for time together.

Prayer by Dr. Christine Roy Yoder
J. McDowell Richards Professor of Biblical Interpretation
Columbia Theological Seminary

We’ve been waiting for a long time, O God.
Waiting for vaccines to be available for everyone everywhere.
Waiting to gather without counting and distancing and masking.
Waiting to have to worry less about so many things.
Waiting for good news—any good news.
Some wait this day for a phone call, a diagnosis, a cure.
Some wait for a job. A meal. A home. A loved one.
Some wait for the words to come. The seed to sprout.
The fighting to end. The pain to ease.
Some wait for courage. Some wait for justice. Some wait for safety.
Some wait when they should not wait.
Bless our waiting, O God,
waiting that in these days is so heavy and weary and spent, and
Open in us the waiting of this holy season: our waiting for you.
Waiting with roots in your sure promises of old, your words that never pass away…
the days are surely coming… 
Waiting that stays awake and wonders and listens and learns.
Waiting that hopes, loves, prepares, and hangs on as the world shakes and terrors roar.
Waiting that stands up, helps up, lifts up, and looks up
for your light—
the true light coming into the world.
Bless our Advent waiting, O God.

Cover Art: Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937. Annunciation, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54838 [retrieved December 6, 2021]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_The_Annunciation.jpg.
Advent Sunday School Reunion – December 19, 20212021-12-08T10:58:34-05:00

Midweek Meditation – December 8, 2021

Thy Kingdom Come

The Last Temptation

“I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.” -Luke 4:6

As prophesied, Israel’s true king came, born in the royal city of Bethlehem, born King of the Jews to reign on David’s throne. They called him Jesus, the Christ.

But death set its sights on Jesus from the beginning. No sooner had he been born than Satan tried to kill him. Herod sent soldiers to search and destroy every male child in Bethlehem. The king of the world tried to kill God’s King while he was still in the cradle.

But Satan could do nothing to prevent Jesus’ coming.

Having failed at murder, Satan later attempted bribery while Jesus fasted in the desert. And what did Satan have to offer? A kingdom. We read in Luke 4:5-7:

The devil led him [ Jesus] up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Satan was tempting Jesus to use his deity to his own advantage, to win the kingdom without enduring the cross. He was tempting Jesus to trade the kingdom of God for the kingdom of this world.

But Jesus knew which kingdom he would rule. Jesus mentions the coming of the kingdom more than one hundred times in the New Testament. From beginning to end, the gospel, according to Jesus, is the good news about God’s kingdom—a kingdom Jesus would wait for his Father to give him.

It takes a king to establish a kingdom, which is why God sent Jesus into the world.

From Wheaton College 2021-22 Advent Devotional Series

Midweek Meditation – December 8, 20212021-12-08T10:38:43-05:00
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