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A Pentecostal Christmas

This service of Lessons and Carols from 2002 examines the role of the Holy Spirit in the stories of Advent and Christmas.


Our Christmas cards, crèches, and storybooks are filled with the characters of the Christmas drama: Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, angels, shepherds, magi, even Simeon and Anna. But the biblical account of Jesus’ birth in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke refers repeatedly to another participant in the Christmas drama, the Holy Spirit. Though often unnoticed and uncelebrated, it is the Holy Spirit who comes upon Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and Simeon. Similarly, the Old Testament prophecies that foretell the inbreaking of God’s kingdom frequently speak of the coming of the Spirit of the Lord, though these texts are strikingly underrepresented in most Advent worship services. The Holy Spirit is the forgotten participant in the Christmas drama.

This omission is seen not only in the Christmas card selection at Hallmark, but also in music for the season. There are dozens of shepherd carols, magi carols, angel carols, and Mary and Joseph carols, but precious few that acknowledge the work of the Spirit. Tonight’s service features some of the sturdy few that do. Our goal tonight is to challenge our imaginations to sense the dynamic work of Father, Son, and Spirit in the Christmas drama, and to recover our awareness of the work of the Holy Spirit in both the life of Christ and in us—a theme equally at home in charismatic prayer meetings and in cathedral liturgies. Tonight we celebrate a “Pentecostal Christmas.”

The juxtaposition of “Christmas” and “Holy Spirit” challenges our understanding of each. First, it anchors our understanding of the Spirit’s work in the person of Jesus Christ: the Holy Spirit is not just any Spirit we feel, it is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every Spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (I John 4:2).

Second, it makes our understanding of Christmas more dynamic and personal: the same Spirit that came upon Mary, the same Spirit that anointed Jesus to preach good news to the poor and raised him from the dead, has now been poured into our hearts. The same God who sent the Spirit to answer the waiting people of Israel is at work restoring creation and giving us hope. The Spirit makes us participants in the Christmas drama. (Notice how many musical settings tonight move toward prayers for and celebrations of our reception of the Spirit’s work!)

It is true that many orthodox theologians have called the Holy Spirit “the shy member of the Trinity,” because the Spirit always points us to Christ. Still, the biblical witness is clear in explicitly identifying the work of the Spirit, in part to reassure that our recognition of Christ, our coming to faith, and our sharing in Christ’s anointing is not something dependent on our own striving, but rather is something we receive as a gift.

Organ Voluntary:

"Veni Immanuel" arr. John Hebden Schaffner, John Ferguson
"Choral Varié du Veni Creator Spiritus" Maurice Duruflé

Processional Hymns:

"Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" 

Stanza 1, to HYFRYDOL

"Blessed Jesus, at Your Word"

Psalter Hymnal 280
Stanzas 1-3: all

"Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus"

Stanza 2, to HYFRYDOL

According to some historians, “Veni Creator Spiritus” was perhaps the most widely-sung of all hymns in the early and medieval church, sung at Pentecost, church assemblies, the opening of the academic year at schools and universities, and evening prayer services. The hymn arose out of significant theological controversy about whether it was appropriate to pray to the Holy Spirit as a fully divine person. The hymn reflects the church’s answer: the Holy Spirit, with the Father and Son, is fully divine, fully personal, and thus can be addressed in prayer, provided that we never think of the Spirit apart from Father and Son. The hymn, which will recur later in the service, has been translated into English sixty times, including the masterful translation of seventeenth-century poet John Dryden, “Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid.”


Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord,
People: Who made the heavens and the earth.
Leader: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
People: Amen.

Bidding Prayer

Leader: Beloved in Christ, as we await the great festival of Christmas, we prepare ourselves so that we may be shown its true meaning. We have gathered to hear, in readings from the holy scriptures, how the prophets of Israel foretold that God, by the power of the Spirit, would visit and redeem his waiting people.

We rehearse again the account of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience to the glorious appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice, in carols and hymns, that the good purpose of God is being mightily fulfilled: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and all creation is given hope by the power of the Spirit.

But first, we pray for the world which God so loves, for those who have not heard the good news of God, or who do not believe it; for those who walk in darkness and the shadow of death; and for the church in this place and everywhere, that it may be freed from all evil and fear, and may in pure joy lift up the light of the love of God. These prayers we humbly offer as we meditate on each of the readings from holy scripture, and also now, in the words that our Lord Jesus Christ taught us.

All: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen!

"Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!" 1 Peter 1:10-12

"First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." 2 Peter 1:20-21

"Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God." Revelation 2:7

I. The Spirit of God Forms and Renews the Creation

Scripture: Genesis 1 (excerpts); Psalm 104:24-34

Leader: The Word of the Lord. 
People: Thanks be to God.

"Veni Creator Spiritus" medieval plainchant

"Of the Father’s Love Begotten" arr. David Willcocks

Stanzas 1-2: choir
Stanzas 3-4: all

II. A Fallen People Pray for the Spirit of God

Scripture: Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 51:1-2, 10-15

Leader: The Word of the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.

Psalm and Hymn in Alternation:

"Psalm 51" (Genevan Psalter), arr. Gárdonyi Zoltán
"O Come, O Come, Immanuel"

"Therefore thus says the Lord God: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for my holy name. They shall forget their shame, and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they live securely in their land with no one to make them afraid, when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies’ lands, and through them have displayed my holiness in the sight of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind; and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God." Ezekiel 39:25-29

"And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
'This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,'"
Hebrews 10:15-16

III. The Spirit of God Leads the People of Israel

Scripture: Isaiah 63:11-14; 2 Corinthians 3:7

Leader: The Word of the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.

"In Your Pentecostal Splendor" Dale Wood

Stanzas 1-2: choir
Stanzas 3-5: all

"Every Time I Feel the Spirit" arr. Moses Hogan

"Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory?" 2 Corinthians 3:7-8

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Galatians 3:13-14

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

IV. The Prophet Foretells of the Anointed One Who Would Receive God's Spirit

Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9

Leader: The Word of the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.

"The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me" Edward Elgar, from "The Apostles," op. 49

"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," arr. John Rutter

Psalter Hymnal 469
Stanza 1: all
Stanza 2: choir, harmony by Johann Sebastian Bach
Stanza 3-4: all

"When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.'
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, 'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'" Luke 4:16-21

V. The Prophet Tells of the Shalom that the Anointed One Will Bring

Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10

Leader: The Word of the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.

"Dona Nobis Pacem," Z. Randall Stroope

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father." Ephesians 2:13-18

VI. Mary Is Found to Be with Child by the Holy Spirit

Scripture: Luke 1:39-45; Matthew 1:18-21

Leader: The Word of the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.

"Savior of the Nations, Come"

Psalter Hymnal 336
Stanza 1: choir
Stanza 2: choir, harmony, Johann Crüger
Stanza 3-4: all, harmony, Johann Sebastian Bach

"A Babe Is Born" William Matthias, opus 55

"I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:16-19

VII. The Birth of Jesus of Nazareth

Scripture: Luke 2

Leader: The Word of the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.

"Night of Silence" Daniel Kantor

VIII. The Holy Spirit Reveals the Redeemer to Simeon

Scripture: Luke 2:25-34 and Titus 3:4-8

Leader: The Word of the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.

"Presentation of Christ in the Temple" Johann Eccard

"Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me" K. Lee Scott

Stanzas 1-2: choir
Stanzas 3-4: all

"If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you." Romans 8:11

IX. The Sending of the Son and the Spirit of the Son

A Reading from John 1:1-4, 14 and Galatians 4:5-7

Leader: The Word of the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.

"If You Love Me" Thomas Tallis

"Veni Sancte Spiritus" Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, K. 47

"By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them." 1 John 4:13-16

Response of Faith and Prayer:

The Nicene Creed

Leader: Let us join together in love
and with one heart and one voice
confess the faith of the church
at all times and in all places:

All: We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.

"Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" arr. John Ferguson


Leader: Let us pray:

All: O God Almighty, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:
you wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature. Grant that we may be grounded and settled in your truth
by the coming of the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
Reveal to us what we do not yet know.
Fill up in us what is wanting.
Confirm what we know.
And keep us blameless in your service.
In your mercy, let us share the divine life of Jesus Christ
who came to share our humanity,
and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen. 

"Song of Simeon," Claude Goudimel

Charge and Blessing:

Leader: Go out in the power of the gospel.
Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord. When you suffer for the gospel, rely on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. And may the God of peace make you holy in every way and keep your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—free from every fault at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

All: Alleluia! Amen!

Recessional Hymn: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" 

Psalter Hymnal 340

Organ Voluntary: "Fanfare," J. Lemmens