Born to Die, Born to Rise

This service of Lessons and Carols from 2001 dwells in the richness of Christmas, completed with the grace of Good Friday and Easter.

David J. Hetland (detail of cover art)

You wouldn't know it from our culture, but Christmas is not the most important Christian celebration. The Christian year culminates not at Christmas, but in the celebration of the paschal mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. Christmas is incomplete without Good Friday and Easter.

The earliest Christian preachers sensed this. Fifteen centuries ago, Caesarius of Arles' preached these words on Christmas Day: "The nativity could not be preached without the passion, nor could the passion without the glory of the nativity. Christ was born in order that he might suffer, he suffered in order that he might die, he died in order that he might descend into hell, he descended there in order that he might free the dead." In our time, Lewis Smedes concurs: "It is always evident that the cross casts its shadow over the manger, that Jesus was born in order to die, that God became human in order to do something for our salvation."

For centuries hymn writers have followed suit. In the early church, the canticle "Glory to God in the highest" (sung tonight after Lesson 7) didn't stop with the angel's song, but offered praise for Christ as "lamb of God." Several familiar carols, such as "Savior of the Nations, Come;" "What Child Is This?" and "We Three Kings," sing not only about Christ's nativity, but also about his death and resurrection. In fact, one of the marks of many theologically rich Christmas texts is that they convey the significance of Christ's whole life.

There is something safe about Christmas without the cross. Who doesn't like a story about a baby in a manger? But especially in a time of uncertainty and fear, the world needs more than a sentimental story. It needs a savior. So this service is a bit of a time warp, collapsing December and April, the "Rose, e'er blooming;' and the "Lily of the Valley." Tonight, we celebrate Christmas by proclaiming the Easter Gospel: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!"

Prelude: 

"In Dulci Jubilo," Johann Sebastian Bach
Partita on “O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High,” Michael Burkhardt

Processional: "O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High"

Psalter Hymnal 364

Greeting:

Pastor: Our help is in the name of the Lord,
All: Who made the heavens and the earth.
Pastor: Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
All: Amen.

Bidding Anthem: "Lift Up Your Heads," John L. Bell

This text became the choir's theme song in a year marked by fear and uncertainty following the attacks of September 11. At Christmas, we declare with hope and trust: "God redefines who best can save. Alleluia!"

Bidding Prayer:

Pastor: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 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,
and the dead are raised up.

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 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. God's Redemptive Promise Anticipates Christ's Death and Conquest

Scripture: Genesis 3:8-15

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

"The Frozen December," Thomas A. Miller

"I will heal their disloyalty;
    I will love them freely,
    for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he shall blossom like the lily,
    he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out;
    his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
    and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
    they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine,
    their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon." Hosea 14:4-7

II. The Prophet's Promise Hails the Coming of a Kingdom of Peace

Scripture: Isaiah 9:6-7

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

"Savior of the Nations, Come"

Stanza 1: choir, from Cantata 61, Johann Sebastian Bach
Stanza 4:organ only
Stanza 6: all, unison
Stanza 7:all, harmony

III. The Promise of a Suffering Lord

Scripture: Isaiah 53

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

"Child of Peace," Jeffrey Van

"For Me, Dear Jesus, Was Your Incarnation"

IV. The Promise of a Risen and Royal Savior

Scripture: Psalm 110; Jeremiah 23:5-6

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

"Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened" (from Coronation Anthem no. 4), George Frederic Handel

In 1739, an English printer published this then brand-new carol (with its original text "Hark! how all the welkin rings") to the then thirty-year-old tune we associate with Easter Sunday, a perfect fit for us to proclaim the Easter gospel this Advent and Christmas!

"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," Charles Wesley

V. The Promise of Christ's Coming Kingdom

Scripture: Isaiah 35

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

"View the Present Through the Promise," Roy Hopp

VI. The Birth of One Whose Death Brings Life

Scripture: Luke 2:1-7

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

"Is a Murmuring Dove Nearby," David Ashley White

"What Child Is This?" arr. David Willcocks

VII. The Angels Praise the Lamb of God

Scripture: Luke 2:8-14

"Festival Gloria," Richard Proulx

This setting of the traditional liturgical canticle was written for the installation of John Cardinal Bernadin as Archbishop of Chicago in 1982. The composer has set this canticle alternating strong unison declamation of the angel's song at Bethlehem and sections of poignant dissonance. Unexpectedly, the text "you are seated at the right hand of the Father" is set to one of those dissonant sections, a musical depiction of the fact that our Lord appears in heaven as "a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered." (Revelation 5)

VIII. The Magi's Gifts Foreshadow Christ's Death and Resurrection

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

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

"We Three Kings of Orient Are," arr. Richard Drakeford

"After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews." John 19

IX. Christ's Birth, Death, and Resurrection Are Taken Up into Universal Praise

Scripture: John 1; Philippians 2

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

"Te Deum," Herbert Howells

Prayer:

All: Almighty God, you wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature. 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

Benediction:

Pastor: 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: Amen!

Recessional: “O, Come, All Ye Faithful”

Psalter Hymnal 340

Organ Voluntary: "Grand Choeur Dialogue," Eugene Gigout

 

 

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