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A Pentecostal Christmas

This service of Lessons and Carols from 2014 highlights the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Christmas narrative.

Carpet page by Jan L. Richardson

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. This service features some of the sturdy few that do. Our goal 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. We celebrate a “Pentecostal Christmas.”

This perspective 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.

…hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
—Romans 5:5

Organ Voluntary

Partita on “Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele,” Georg Böhm
Choral Varié on “Veni Creator Spiritus,” Maurice Duruflé

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, along with provided that we never think of the Spirit apart from Father and Son.

Choral Introit: “Veni Creator Spiritus: Come, Holy Spirit, Our Souls Inspire”

Processional Hymn: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"/"Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus"

Both texts set to HYFRYDOL, alternating stanzas


Pastor: Our help is in the name of the Lord,
All: who made the heavens and the earth.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Amen. (2 Corinthians 13:14, NIV)

Prayer for Illumination based on Psalm 43:3-4 and Ephesians 1:17-19

Pastor: Send out your light and your truth; let them lead us;
All: let them bring us to your holy hill and to your dwelling.
Then we will go to the altar of God, to God our exceeding joy;
and we will praise you with all our strength, O God, our God.

Lord God, give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Help the eyes of our understanding to be enlightened;
that we may know the hope of his calling,
the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
and the immeasurable greatness of his power for those who believe. Amen.

"Now May God, the God of Hope," Larry Visser

I. The Spirit of God Forms and Renews the Creation

Scripture: Genesis 1:1-4; Psalm 104:24-34

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

"Of the Father's Love Begotten," concertato by Robert J. Powell

"Sopla, sopla fuerta"

Lift Up Your Hearts 14
St. 1: Choir in Spanish
St. 1-3: All in English

II. The Trauma of Sin and the Promise of Comfort

Scripture: Genesis 3:14-15; Isaiah 40:1-5; John 14:15-17a

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

Advent Triptych on GENEVAN 42

I. "As a Deer in Want of Water," Claude Goudimel

II. "Comfort, Comfort Now My People," Johann Pachelbel

III. Introit for Pentecost: "O Thou Sweetest Source of Gladness," Philipp Ledger

A Note on GENEVAN 42

In 1551, composer Louis Bourgeois wrote a melody—both haunting and hopeful—for John Calvin’s Genevan congregation to use when singing Psalm 42, a Psalm of lament and longing. Within a few years, the tune crossed geographical, cultural, and denominational borders and was used by Lutherans, first for a joyful funeral hymn “Rejoice Greatly, O My Soul,” and later for the Advent text “Comfort, Comfort Now My People,” a hymn of deep longing for the coming of Christ. Many years later, the very same tune was chosen for Anglican worship on Pentecost to convey a sense of deep longing for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Tonight, we follow the tune in three movements, from Geneva to Germany to England, from Reformed to Lutheran to Anglican texts, from Old Testament lament to Advent longing and Pentecost hope.

"God Rest Ye Merry, Christians All," arr. David Willcocks

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

III. The Terror of Shadows and the Promise of Light

Scripture: Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7; 2 Corinthians 3:7-8, 17-18

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

"O Lux Beatissima," Joan Szymko

Advent Triptych on "O Morning Star"

I. "O Morning Star," Johann Christian Bach

II. "O Morning Star," Johann Sebastian Bach

III. "O Holy Spirit, Enter In," arr. Daniel Moe

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure. I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone. –Titus 3:4-8

IV. Isaiah Foretells the Coming of the Spirit-Anointed Messiah

Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 61:1-3

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

"The Spirit of the Lord Shall Rest on Him," Lee Dengler

"Come Down, O Love Divine," concerto by David Ashley White

Lift Up Your Hearts 234
St. 1: All, unison
St. 2: Choir alone
St. 3: All, harmony

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

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

Scripture: Luke 1:39-45; Matthew 1:18-20

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

"Annunciation," Lloyd Pfautsch

"Savior of the Nations, Come," Johann Sebastian Bach

BWV 61, from an extended arrangement in a Bach cantata

For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen,” to the glory of God. But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment. –2 Corinthians 1:20-22

VI. The Birth of Jesus of Nazareth/Simeon

Scripture: Luke 2:8-14, 25-32

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

"Night of Silence/Silent Night," Daniel Kantor

"A Babe Is Born," William Mathias, Opus 55

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

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

Scripture: John 1:1-4, 14; Galatians 4:4-7

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

"In Your Pentecostal Splendor," arr. Greg Scheer

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

Response of Faith and Prayer

Profession of Faith: The Nicene Creed

Charge and Blessing: (from Ephesians 4:1-6 and Romans 15:13)

Pastor: Lead a life worthy of the calling
to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness,
with patience, bearing with one another in love,
making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit
in the bond of peace.

All: There is one body and one Spirit,
just as we were called to the one hope of our calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is above all and through all and in all.

May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Alleluia! Amen!

Recessional Hymn: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"

Lift Up Your Hearts 80
St. 1-3: All

Postlude: Festival Postlude on "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," Neil Harmon


It should be no surprise that this dimension of the Christmas gospel should be emphasized at a college named after John Calvin. To the surprise of Calvinists and Charismatics alike, Benjamin Warfield once called Calvin a “theologian of the Holy Spirit,” arguing “it is probable that Calvin’s greatest contribution to theological science lies in the rich development which he gives to the doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is a gift from Calvin to the Church” (in Calvin and Augustine). Similarly, David Willis, in his study of Calvin’s theology, concludes: “One of the strengths of Calvin’s Christology and of his Pneumatology [doctrine of the Holy Spirit] is his representation of the person and work of Christ in constant reference to the Spirit, and the reality and work of the Spirit in constant reference to Christ” (in Calvin’s Catholic Christology).

This emphasis continues throughout the Calvinist tradition (though perhaps more in theory than practice?). Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper maintained that “The Church has never sufficiently confessed the influence the Holy Spirit exerted upon the work of Christ” (in The Work of the Holy Spirit). Arnold Van Ruler maintained that “the christological always remains the background of the pneumatological. Without Jesus Christ and his work there would be no outpouring or indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Messiah and the Pneuma [Spirit] are two gifts and acts of the same God. There are always similar characteristics in God’s activity in Christ and in his activity in the Spirit” (in Calvinist Trinitarianism). The Christmas narrative bears witness to God’s dramatic action in the past. The witness of the scriptures to the Holy Spirit teaches us that dramatic divine action is equally a part of our future in Christ—a theme that
is equally at home in worship that is formal or informal, spontaneous or carefully planned.

Of course, there is nothing innovative about the close integration of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is as old as the gospel of John, the letters of Paul, and the witness of the early church as seen in the Nicene Creed. Calvin and Kuyper simply help us see again what scripture teaches.