Angels, from the Realms of Glory

The service of Lessons and Carols from 2016 highlights the importance of angels in the drama of the Christmas gospel, startling us to focus our awareness on how the angels enlarge our perception of the beauty and glory of the triune God through their nearness and through their mysterious, wonder-filled transcendence.


Throughout the scriptures, angelic visitations are a vivid sign of the immanence or nearness of the triune God, markers of God’s providential involvement in the drama of salvation history. Angels came with messages of both divine call and divine comfort as they visited Hagar, Lot, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Manoah, David, Daniel, Elijah, Philip, Cornelius, and more.

Throughout the scriptures, angels are also an evocative emblem of the numinous transcendence, mystery, and wonder of the triune God, as dreams and visions of the heavenly hosts, and their choruses of praise echo through the life and witness of Jacob, Job, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John.

In the Christmas drama, these two strands of angelic participation weave deftly together, conveying the nearness of God to Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah, and conveying a glimpse of heavenly glory to the startled shepherds. In Jesus Christ, the transcendent glory of God comes near, opening our eyes to help us perceive the vistas of divine transcendence.

This service of lessons and carols highlights the importance of angels in the drama of the Christmas gospel. The point, however, is not primarily to focus the end of our attention on these angels, but rather to be startled to see how our awareness of these heavenly beings enlarges our perception of the beauty and glory of the triune God.

So much in our weary and contentious world flattens out our worldview, diminishing our capacity to perceive the glory of God. Thanks be to God for poets, composers, artists, and musicians who help us enter into the scriptural drama, and for the sheer gift of God’s Holy Spirit who longs to open our eyes to behold God’s glory and to offer our thanks and praise. Come and worship Christ, the newborn King.

Organ Prelude:

Variations on “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” Marcel Dupré (1886–1971)
Meditation on “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” Gerald Near

Quiet

Choral Introit: Cherubim Song, Pavel Chesnokov (1877–1944)

Campus Choir and Capella

Processional Hymn: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, Lift Up Your Hearts, 821

Choirs and congregation St. 2–4 arr. by Robert A. Hobby
Stanzas 1–3: All
Interlude
Stanza 4: All

Bidding Prayer, Revelation 1:4–6

Pastor: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

All: To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Pastor: Beloved in Christ, in this season of Advent, 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 and the apostles of Jesus foretold that God would visit and redeem his waiting people. We rejoice, in carols and hymns, that the good purpose of God is being mightily fulfilled. We encourage each other in Christian hope, so needed in a world filled with sorrow and despair.

We unite our hearts to 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 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.

I.  Angels Sing Creation's Story

A Reading from Job 38

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

Reader: The word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

Of the Father’s Love Begotten, Lift Up Your Hearts, 78

Women’s Chorale and congregation
Stanzas 1–2, 4: Choir
Stanza 5: All

When the Morning Stars Together, arr. John Ferguson

Campus Choir and congregation

II. God Places Cherubim to Protect the Holiness of The Tree of Life

A Reading from Genesis 3

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees  of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

What Adam’s Disobedience Cost, Lift Up Your Hearts, 34

Campus Choir and congregation, arr. Greg Scheer
Stanzas 1–3: Choir
Stanza 4: All
Stanza 5: Choir

Midnight Clear, Russell Schulz-Widmar

Campus Choir

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900), descant by David Hill

Congregation

III. Bethel, Gate of Heaven

A Reading from Genesis 28 and Hebrews 1

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.

Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

Reader: The word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

For God Commanded Angels to Watch Over You, Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847)

Capella

Advent Glorias: We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, arr. Greg Scheer

Choirs and congregation

IV.  A Vision of the Heavenly Temple

A Reading from Isaiah 6 and Psalm 80

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

Duo seraphim clamabant, Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611)

Women’s Chorale

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, Edward Bairstow (1874–1946)

Capella

My God, How Wonderful You Are/O Little Town of Bethlehem

Congregation, descant by Michael Burkhardt

V. The Angelic Visitation to Mary

A Reading from Luke 1

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also
conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

The Angel Gabriel arr. Robert A. M. Ross

Women’s Chorale

Unexpected and Mysterious, Calvin Hampton (1938–1984), arr. John Ferguson

Campus Choir

VI. The Angelic Choir Celebrates Jesus’ Birth

A Reading from Luke 2

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reader: The word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

Angels’ Carol, John Rutter

Women’s Chorale

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night, descant by David Willcocks (1919–2015)

Congregation

VII. Angelic Praise of the Incarnate Lord

A Reading from John 1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Reader: The word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

Out of the Orient Crystal Skies, Richard Zgodava (1924–2011)

Capella

Angels, from the Realms of Glory, Henry T. Smart (1813–1879), arr. Daniel Forrest

Women’s Chorale

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, Lift Up Your Hearts, 80

Congregation setting by John Ferguson
Stanzas 1–2: Harmony
Stanza 3: Unison

Acclamation, 1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Pastor: Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
All: Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

Prayer

Pastor: God of grace and glory, in this world so filled with despair, we cling to your promise: surely Christ is coming soon. As we wait for this glorious appearing, we pray for the world that you so love: we long for your Holy Spirit to bring healing, justice, and peace that surpasses understanding to every place of suffering and hopelessness.

All: Challenge and strengthen us to be people of eager expectation and ministers of your peace. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Recessional: O Come, All Ye Faithful, Lift Up Your Hearts, 76

Congregation setting by John Ferguson
Stanzas 1–2: Harmony descant by David Willcocks (1919–2015)
Stanzas 3–4: Unison

Blessing, 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24

Pastor: May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

All: Alleluia! Amen.

Organ Postlude: Carillon-Sortie, Henri Mulet (1878–1967)

 

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