Let Heaven and Nature Sing!

This service of Lessons and Carols from 2000 goes back to the beginning, to Genesis 1, to understand Christmas more broadly, not only as the undoing of the fall, but as a step in the restoration and completion of all creation.

Peaceable Kingdom (detail) by John August Swanson

Welcome to a creation-centered Advent and Christmas service! For 25 years, the Campus Choir has sung the traditional Lessons and Carols service, which begins with a reading from Genesis 3 about the fall of Adam and Eve. Tonight, however, we begin not with Genesis 3, but with Genesis 1, the account of divine creation. Here Christmas is understood more broadly, not only as the undoing of the fall, but as a step in the restoration and completion of all creation.

True, we've had hints of this creational theme before. "Joy to the World" doesn't mention a word about the manger, but sings rather of "fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains" repeating the sounding joy, while Christ comes to spread blessings "far as the curse is found." But then, how often haven't we sung that on automatic pilot, not realizing the profundity of the message we've been singing?

It turns out that "Joy to the World" is not alone. Once we start with this creational motif, we hardly know where to stop. Isaiah's prophecies and hundreds of carols and anthems have painted a picture of Christmas with rich, creational details: with stars moving around in the heavens, with animals gazing on the newborn Christ-child, with carols chock-full of fish, flowers, and mountains, of sight, sound, and fragrance.

This come as no surprise once we remember that Christ is the "firstborn of all creation," the One "through whom all things were created," the One in whom "all things hold together." Our Lord is ushering in a kingdom that extends to the farthest reaches of the cosmos! And so, at Christmas, with great joy, we pray not only for God to "bless all the dear children in your tender care," but also for God to "carpet with green the whole new earth" and to "redeem the rainbows in the skies!"

Tonight we join with all the angels who sing creation's story. May God's Spirit move among us and open our hearts to the music of the spheres that echoes our Creator's praise.

Following this service, we invite you use these texts as a guide to your personal and family Advent worship. Reading one lesson per day, beginning on December 17, will bring you to the final reading from John 1 on Christmas Day. Also, consider framing the cover of this program for use in your home or workplace.

Organ Voluntary: 

"O Come, O Come Immanuel," arr. John Ferguson
"Of the Father’s Love Begotten," Gerald Near

Choral Prayer: "Christ, Mighty Savior," Richard W. Dirksen

Processional Hymn: "At the Name of Jesus"

Psalter Hymnal 467
Stanzas 1 and 2: all
Stanza 3: choir
Stanza 4: all
An Additional Stanza: choir
Stanzas 5 and 6: all

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 creation. We rehearse again 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. 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 creation itself is being renewed.

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!

God's Greeting and Congregational "Amen"

I. All Things Are Made through Christ

Scripture: Genesis 1; Proverbs 8 

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

"All Things Bright and Beautiful," John Rutter 

"Not yet can we fathom that he was born of the Father before the dawning of the day. Let us, nevertheless, commemorate him who was born of a virgin in the hours of the night. Not yet can we fathom that his name endures from before the sun. Let us, nevertheless, recognize his tabernacle set in the sun. Not yet fit for the banquet of our Father, let us recognize the manger of our Lord Jesus Christ." Augustine of Hippo, Christmas sermon


"O Come, O Wisdom from on High"

II. All Creation Groans in Lamentation

Scripture: Genesis 3; Romans 

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

"Lost in the Night," arr. Kyle S. Haugen

"Creator of the Stars of Night," medieval chant Conditor alme siderum, Sarum plainsong

III. The Promise of a Peaceable Kingdom

Scripture: Isaiah 11; 35

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

"The Kingdom of Love," David Ashley White

"O Christ! Come Back to Save Your Folk"

Psalter Hymnal 330
Stanza 1: choir
Stanza 3: all
Stanza 5: all

IV. God’s Creation Anticipates Redemption

Scripture: Psalms 72; 98

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

"What Is This Lovely Fragrance," arr. Chester Alwes

"Joy to the World! the Lord Is Come," arr. John Rutter 

Psalter Hymnal 337
Stanza 1: all
Stanzas 2 and 3: choir
Stanza 4: all

V. The Creator Is Born of the Virgin Mary

Scripture: Hebrews 1; Matthew 1

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

"Behold, the Great Creator," Anthony Baldwin

"Embracing all the world, he lay in a manger; a speechless child, he was the Word; he whom the heavens could not contain was born from the womb of a single woman." Augustine of Hippo, Christmas sermon

VI. The Creator Is Born in a Manger

Scripture: Luke 2 

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

"O Magnum Mysterium," Tomas Luis de Victoria (1549-1611)

"Angels from the Realms of Glory," Michael Burkhardt and John Ferguson

Psalter Hymnal 354

VII. The Angels Sing of Shalom on Earth

Scripture: Nahum 1; Luke 2

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

"Gloria—Carnavalito," Ariel Ramirez, from Misa Criolla

This "Gloria" is perhaps the most famous South American choral piece ever written. The text is the same elaboration on the angel's song that was set by Bach and Mozart, only translated into Spanish. Both the earthly "carnavalito" energy of the opening and closing of the piece, and the percussive insistence of the middle section challenge us to learn from worshipers in this other part of God's kingdom. Might we, also, pray with the same intensity in response to the angel's song of praise? 

VIII. God Moves the Stars to Signal Judgment and Hope

Scripture: Matthew 2 and 24

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

Two Advent Spirituals

"My Lord, What a Morning," arr. John W. Work

"Rise Up Shepherd and Follow," arr. Larry Farrow

Like many spirituals, "My Lord, What a Morning" was sung in oral tradition for many years before it was ever written down. When it was notated, the text appeared in different sources with at least three equally valid spellings: what a moaning, what a mourning, what a morning. Tonight we sing all three, mindful of the powerful lesson that God's comings are never innocuous. In the words of Peter of Blois, twelfth century preacher, "There are three comings of our Lord... the first in the flesh, the second, in the soul, the third at judgment. The first coming was humble and hidden, the second is mysterious and full of love; the third will be majestic and terrible. In the first, a lamb, in his third, a lion; in the one in between, the tenderest of friends."

IX. All Creation Sings for Joy at the Coming of the Cosmic Lord

Scripture: John 1; Colossians 1

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

"Ring Out Ye Crystal Spheres," Ralph Vaughan Williams, from "Hodie: A Christmas Cantata"

"...All nature sings and 'round me rings the music of the spheres..." from "This Is My Father's World"

"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?" Job 38:6-7

"In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." Genesis 1:1-2

"Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky." Psalm 85:10-11

"And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' And he said to me, 'These are true words of God.'" Revelation 19:9

We Leave to Serve in God's World

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 Hymn: "O Come, All Ye Faithful"

Psalter Hymnal 340

Organ Voluntary: On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry, arr. Aaron David Miller

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