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For God So Loved the Cosmos . . . A Service of Lessons and Carols

The Old Testament unfolds the cosmic nature of God’s promised redemption “far as the curse is found.” Reflecting back on the coming of Messiah, Paul not only testified that it was in Jesus Christ that all things were created, but also that in Jesus Christ, God was at work to “reconcile to himself all things.” [Col. 1:15]. In this service of lessons and carols, sung by the Calvin University choirs, hear texts celebrating this all-creation vision of redemption.

View the service outline.

Livestream of the 3:00 pm (EST) service on Dec. 4, 2022 (watch on YouTube if you want to join the chat):

Livestream of the 6:00 pm EST service on Dec. 4, 2022 (watch on YouTube if you want to join the chat):



"For God so loved the cosmos that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
—John 3:16


The Old Testament unfolds the cosmic nature of God’s promised redemption “far as the curse is found.”

Looking ahead to the advent of Messiah, the Prophets foretold not only the forgiveness of sin and the healing of individual trauma that the Messiah would bring about, but also the healing of the nations, indeed the healing of all creation. Isaiah envisions a day where carnivorous animals are healed of their violence, and Ezekiel sees visions of a temple-of-holiness that overflows with fresh water that provides for swarming fish, verdant trees, and abundant fruit.

Reflecting back on the coming of Messiah, Paul not only testified that it was in Jesus Christ that all things were created, but also that in Jesus Christ, God was at work to “reconcile to himself all things.” (Col. 1:15). “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist,” and also there is “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (I Cor 8:6). This vision inspired Augustine to preach Christmas sermons year after year which reveled in paradox: “the one who comes in a manger is the one in whom all things hold together.”

For centuries poets and musicians have evoked this all-of-creation vision memorably during Advent and Christmastide, gracing us with texts and melodies and rhythms which celebrate trees clapping their hands, fish jumping for joy, stars declaring their maker’s praise, and animals gathered around the manger.

Resolving to resist any tendency to downplay or distort or narrow this robustly cosmic vision, our singing this semester, and now in this service, recounts the grand narrative of the Christmas gospel, wonders at the mystery of the Word-made-flesh, announces the redemption of all creation, and rests in the grandeur of this promise. This theme challenges and inspires us in a year that has given us our most vivid glimpse yet of the far reaches of the cosmos through the James Webb Space Telescope, a year in which we have been “considering the heavens, the moon and the stars which you, God, have established.”

In this year’s succession of lessons and carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” find their place, but so do “For the Beauty of the Earth,” and “This Is My Fathers’ World.” We receive with gratitude not only the Christo-centrically creational hymns of medieval poets and mystics Prudentius and Hildegard, but also of living hymnwriters, who have been exploring this theme with renewed intentionality. And how splendid it is to sing together some of the most creational carols of all—“Of the Father’s Love,” “Joy to the World,” and “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”

It is fitting that our “preachers” in this service are 80+ singers from the full range of programs of study at Calvin University—the arts, humanities, sciences, business and social work, education and health care. Every year in every discipline and field of study, we are called to explore this all-of-creation vision for God’s redemption in Christ, drawing deeply on the gifts of biblical prophecy and sung prayer that we receive together in this service.


For God So Loved the Cosmos . . .

Prelude: "Partita on 'All Creatures of Our God and King'" by Charles Callahan; "O magnum mysterium" by Giovanni Gabrieli;"Noel votre bonté grand dieu" by Claude Balbastre

Choral Introit: “Caritas abundat (Love Abounds)” by Hildegard von Bingen, adapt. Alexis VanZalen

Processional Carol: "Hail to the Lord's Anointed (Psalm 72)" arr. Roy Hopp

Greeting: Revelation 1:5-6

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.

Bidding Prayer:

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 foretold that God would visit and redeem his waiting people and bring healing to the world God so loves. We rehearse the account of the loving purposes of God—from the glorious creation of the world, through the first days of our disobedience, to the glorious recreation brought us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation, through whom all things were made. In carols and anthems, we rejoice that the good purpose of God is being mightily fulfilled, encourage each other in Christian hope, and unite our hearts to pray—for the nations of the world, for the care of earth, for those who have not heard the good news of God or who do not believe it; for those who live today in the valley of the shadow of death, and for the church in this place and everywhere, that it may be freed from all evil and fear as it bears witness to the coming of the Lord. We do so, remembering with gratitude those who rejoice with us, but on another shore, that multitude no one can number from every nation, whose hope was in the Word made flesh. 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!

Lesson 1: Advent hope grounded in Creator God

Scripture: Psalm 33:1-9,20-22

Carol: "For the Beauty of the Earth" arr. John Rutter

Congregational Carol: "Of the Father's Love" arr. David Wilcocks

Lesson 2: All creation groans in expectation

Scripture: Romans 8:18-24

Carol: "In the Bleak MidWinter" arr. Mack Wilberg 

Carol: "This is My Father's World" arr. Elaine Hagenberg

Lesson 3: Visions of wolves, lambs, leopards, lions, cows, bears, asps and fish in a renewed creation

Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-9; Ezekiel 47:6-12

Carol: "The Lamb" by John Tavener

Carol: "En Belén tocan a fuego (In Bethlehem they ring the bells)" adapt. Conrad Susa

Congregational Carol: Joy to the World arr. David Cherwien

Lesson 4: Mountains, hills, leaves and trees singing and clapping praise

Scripture: Isaiah 55:6-13

Carol: "Now the Heavens Start to Whisper" by Thomas Keesecker

Carol: "Light Dawns on a Weary World" by Mack Wilberg

Congregational Carol: "God Reigns! Earth Rejoices!"

Lesson 5: The humble birth of Messiah, the majestic song of angels

Scripture: Luke 2:1-15

Carol: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!" arr. Philip Ledger

Carol: "O magnum mysterium" by César Alejandro Carrillo

Congregational Carol: "Angels from the Realms of Glory" arr. John Ferguson

Lesson 6: Looking to the heavens in faithful hope and expectation

Scripture: Deuteronomy 4:1-2,14-19; Matthew 2:1-6

Carol: "Psalm 8" by Dan Forrest

Congregational Carol: "O Little Town of Bethlehem" arr. R. Vaughn Williams

Lesson 7: The Word, the Son, making all things new

Scripture: John 1:1-5,14; Hebrews 1:1-3

Carol: "All Things New" by Elaine Hagenberg


Acclamation: 
1 Timothy 3:6; Psalm 96:11-13

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


Pastor: Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
All: let the sea roar and all that fills it;
let the field exult and everything in it.
Pastor: Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
All: The Lord will judge the world with righteousness
and the peoples with his truth.

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 cosmos that you so love,
and for the multitudes you are gathering,
from every nation, tribe, people, and language.


All: Send your Holy Spirit, we pray,
to renew the face of the earth,
to bring healing to the nations,
and to strengthen us to be people of eager expectation
and ministers of your peace.
Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Benediction:

Pastor: May the God of peace 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.

Recessional Carol: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" arr. John Ferguson, desc. by David Wilcocks

Postlude: "Variations on 'Joy to the World'" by Michael Helman