Wisdom of God, Word of God: A service of lessons and carols

This service of lessons and carols is rooted in the story of God’s eternal Word made flesh and living among the people. The readings, prayers, carols, and other folk music were chosen to embody this theme.

Our pipe organ, never a great instrument, gave up the ghost a number of years ago. Our congregation has tried to turn a loss into a blessing by encouraging instrumentalists to add their music to the service. We now have an astonishing array: flutes, recorders, violins, trumpet, mandolin, a concertina, percussion of all kinds, and even a psaltery!

We have learned that the choice of instruments can add a layer of meaning to the service. The same is true of readers: a child’s voice reading a certain passage can change how we hear it. Choose readers, both adults and children, male and female of various ages, and rehearse the passages ahead of time. Encourage them to read slowly, letting the emotion of the passage show in their voices. It might help some readers to imagine themselves a character (Isaiah as a young man, for example, or Wisdom as an older woman); for others, it might help to almost “sing” the passage, especially if it is a psalm or a poetic prophecy.

Recruit instrumentalists well ahead of time and determine their strengths and weaknesses. For example, even a beginning guitarist can play a single-note drone for “Noel Nouvelet” (“Now the Green Blade Rises”).

Teach unfamiliar refrains (such as the “Gloria” by Pablo Sosa, or any others) before the service begins. Show the congregation where the “Gloria” will be sung, and prepare them to repeat it strongly or softly, as the Spirit—and the music leader—moves.

The congregation could sing almost all the music suggested here if you do not have a choir.

This service refers to The Book of Psalms (1995, The Presbyterian Church in Canada) for its psalm selections, but other psalm settings can be used. The service can be scheduled for Christmas Eve or any service of lessons and carols just before Christmas. It uses some of the texts from Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary but can be used in any year.

Call to Worship

In your wisdom, O God, you call us here to worship you.

We gather, alive to the Word of God.

You call us to be fully alive with your life abundant, ready to listen and respond with heart, soul, strength, and mind.

We listen, alive to the Word of God.

You call us to be always watchful for your Word of wisdom, sometimes startling and unexpected, sometimes still and quiet, but always dwelling among us.

We watch and wait for the Word of God.

Processional

“O Come, O Come, Immanuel” CBP 122; PsH 328; PH 9; RL 184; SFL 123; RL 194; TWC 133; UMH 211
st. 1-2, all; st. 3, women; st. 4, men; st. 5, solo (male); st. 6, solo (female); st. 7, all

Opening Prayer

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

O God, for your Word of Wisdom, with you from the foundation of the world,

we give you thanks and joyful praise.

We thank you that her voice cried out in the streets, and sought those who seek after God.

We give you thanks and joyful praise.

With Miriam and Moses we sing and rejoice at your mighty works.

We give you thanks and joyful praise.

With Joseph the dreamer and Joseph the carpenter, we thank you for visions of glory and warning.

We give you thanks and joyful praise.

With Sarah and Hannah, Elizabeth and Mary, we thank you for new life, longed-for but always surprising.

We give you thanks and joyful praise.

We thank you for your Word of Wisdom that does not return to you empty. We gather in joyful anticipation of the coming of Immanuel, the Word made flesh, who is and who was and who is to come. Amen.

Lesson 1

Reader 1: God’s Word of Wisdom creates the world; a reading from the book of Proverbs. (Proverbs 8:1-4)

Reader 2: (Proverbs 8:22-31) The Word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

Carol (choose one)

“Creator of the Stars of Night” CBP 111; PH 4, UMH 692
st. 1-3, choir (a solo voice can sing the 1st phrase, with the rest of the choir joining for the rest of each stanza); st. 4, all; st. 5, solo (male or female); st. 6, all
“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” PsH 342; PH 309; RL 190; TH 162; TWC 145

Lesson 2

Reader: God gives wisdom to those who seek him. We read responsively from the book of Psalms.

Reading/Carol (choose one)

“Psalm 14” CBPs 14

If this setting is used, sing the second refrain, “Oh, that salvation would come from Zion!” to end the reading; if the psalm is read with no refrain, end the reading with a doxology according to the tradition of your congregation.

“Toda la Tierra” (“All Earth Is Waiting”) CBP109; UMH 210;   RW 49, p. 26

st. 1, all; st. 2, women; st. 3, men; st. 4, all

Lesson 3

Reader 1: The Word of God will fulfill its purpose; readings from the book of Isaiah. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Reader 2: (Isaiah 55:12-13) The Word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

Anthem (choose one)

Three anthem possibilities follow, all chosen for their roots in popular forms. Handel’s oratorios were popular entertainment before they occupied concert halls. Bach’s cantatas were usually based on hymn tunes. The third suggestion is in a contemporary idiom.

“How Beautiful Are the Feet,” G. F. Handel (soprano solo; available in any standard edition of Messiah)
“Zion Hears the Watchmen’s Voices,” J. S. Bach (from Cantata 140, Carols for Choirs 2, David Willcocks and John Rutter, Oxford University Press, New York)
“Waiting for Messiah,” Richard D. Leach and Andrew Donaldson (Canadian Computer Printing, 2-334 Wilson St. West, Ancaster, ON L9G 1N5; 905-648-5607; http://www3.sympatico.ca/palin
dromes.ccp/; CS 115). This is an accompanied anthem (piano) with some syncopation, easy to medium harmony, and an optional cello part.

Lesson 4

Reader 1: Rejoice, O Daughter of Zion! Our Hebrew sisters and brothers, our spiritual ancestors, lived in expectation of God’s salvation; a reading from the book of Zephaniah. (Zephaniah 3:14)

Reader 2: (Zephaniah 3:15-19)

Reader 1: (Zephaniah 3:20)

Reader 2: The Word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

Carol (choose one)

“Comfort, Comfort You, My People CBP 113; CVH 131; PsH 194; PH 113; RL 169; SFL 121; TH 197; TWC 132
“Hark, the Glad Sound!” CBP 118; CVH 125; PsH 335; RL 251

Lesson 5

Reader 1: The Word of God comes to Joseph in a dream.

Readers 1 and 2: (Matthew 1:18-25; one reader is narrator, the other is the voice of the angel.)

Reader 2: The Word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

Prayer Response

O God of dreamers and visionaries, thank you for Joseph the dreamer, who set aside the wisdom of his age, its desire for vengeance, and forgave the brothers who had wronged him.
Thank you for Joseph the carpenter, who set aside the wisdom of his age, heeded your dream of promise, and became the husband of Mary. We thank you that he heeded your dream of warning and fled to Egypt.

Carol (choose one)

“The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” CBP 156; CVH 139; PH 16
st. 1, all; st. 2, men; st. 3, women; st. 4, all

God’s Word appears to those on the fringes, on the hillsides far from the halls of power.

“‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” (Huron Carol) CBP 144; PH 61; SFL 139; UMH 244

st. 1, choir, all on refrain; st. 2, choir men, all on refrain; st. 3, choir women, all on refrain; st. 4 and refrain, all

Lesson 6

Reader: God’s Word comes to Mary, who sang this song to the Lord as recorded in the gospel of Luke.

“The Song of Mary” (Magnificat) CBP 123; PsH 212; PH 600; SFL 125; UMH 199

The Song of Mary may be read responsively or dramatically. Or it may be sung by choir in an anthem setting or by the congregation from your hymnal.

Lesson 7

Reader 1: God’s Word appears to those on the fringes, on the hillsides far from the halls of power. God’s Word appeared not to the wise of this world, but to shepherds; a reading from the gospel of Luke.

Readers 1 and 2: (Luke 2:8-13; one reader is the narrator, the other the voice of the angel)

Carol (choose one)

“Gloria,” Pablo Sosa (Songs of the World Church, Vol. 1, G.I.A.; RW 45, p. 32)

Accompany this carol with rhythm instruments and guitar. Repeat strongly or gently as the shape of worship requires. You might want to have the instruments softly play under the following reading, letting it fade gradually.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” CH 278; CVH 162; PsH 347; PH 23; RL 206; SFL 133; TH 214; TWC 152; UMH 238

Reader 2: (Luke 2:15-20) The Word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

Lesson 8

Reader 1: God’s folly is wiser than our wisdom; a reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 1:25-26)

Reader 2: (1 Corinthians 1:27-31) The Word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

Carol (choose one)

“Before the World Began” (Iona Community, G.I.A.) CBP 341

st.1, all; st. 2, women; st. 3, men; st.4, all

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” CBP 139; CH 277; CVH 157; PsH 345; PH 31, 32; RL 196; TH 203; TWC 171; UMH 240

Lesson 9

Reader 1 (female): God’s Word became flesh and lived among us; a reading from the gospel according to John. (John 1:1-5)

Reader 2 (male): (John 1:6-13)

Reader 1: (John 1:14) The Word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

Reader 2: Let us go out rejoicing, for the Wisdom of God, the Word of God, the one who is and was and is to come, is born among us, and we have seen God’s glory!

Note: Add a congregational blessing, if appropriate.

Recessional Options

“Il est né” CBP 169; UMH 228

All sing verses in English, refrain in French.

“People, Look East” CBP 125; PH 12; UMH 202

Congregation and choir.

 

Excerpt

Hymnal Abbreviations
Used in This Article

CBPs       Book of Psalms, Canadian Presbyterian
CBP        Book of Praise, Canadian Presbyterian
CH         Celebration Hymnal
CVH      Covenant Hymnal
NOBC   The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols
OBC      Oxford Book of Carols
PH         Presbyterian Hymnal
PsH       Psalter Hymnal
RL        Rejoice in the Lord
SFL      Songs for LiFE
TH        Trinity Hymnal
TWC    The Worshiping Church
UMH   United Methodist Hymnal
 

Performance Notes for Instrumental Prelude

Note: The following arrangements are created directly from the hymnal and are intended for available instrumentalists. Feel free to create your own.

1. “Noel Nouvelet” (“Now the Green Blade Rises”) BP 226; NOBC 110; OBC 149; UMH 311
Often sung in English as an Easter carol, this was originally a Christmas carol.

Introduction: 2 measures; guitar (or cello) plays a drone (on F or G depending on the key chosen) with drum ad lib.

Stanza 1: all available instruments

Stanza 2: flute, recorder, or other wind instrument (or organ flute stop), guitar drone, drum

Stanza 3: violin or other stringed instrument, solo or with soft keyboard accompaniment; guitar and drum silent

Interlude: guitar or cello and drum, 2 measures; same as for the introduction, except that they should crescendo into:

Stanza 4: all available instruments

2. “Il est né” (“He Is Born”) NOBC 114; CBP 169

This is a French carol in the pastoral tradition. Its charm is given depth by its devotion to the Christ child. It could also use guitar or cello drone and drum, in a manner similar to “Noel Nouvelet.” Note that in most arrangements, the refrain lends itself to full harmony, while in the stanza, a duet is often featured. Two wind instruments (flute, recorder, etc.) or a soloist could play this duet, with the second part carried by the keyboard.

Introduction: guitar, cello, (bassoon or 8-foot organ reed stop) and hand drum ad lib

Refrain and stanza 1: soft and distant; melody on any treble wind instrument (or a light, 4–foot organ reed stop); guitar and drum continue

Refrain and stanza 2: stronger and more “present”; add harmony on the keyboard

Interlude: guitar drone, hand drum similar to Introduction, except that they crescendo into:

Stanza 3: all available instruments; strong and joyful

Refrain: If desired, the players could end the carol by repeating the refrain, playing more and more softly and “dropping out” one by one, ending with the drum, pianissimo. This can create a quiet anticipation for the rest of the service.

3. “Toda la Tierra” (“All Earth Is Waiting”) CBP109; UMH 210; RW 49, p. 26

This piece is in an easy key for guitarists. Several guitars strumming in the following pattern can add an air of urgency and expectation to an instrumental rendition of this song. A horn or trumpet can add a note of heralding for the last stanzas. If this is an unfamiliar carol, using it as a prelude can help teach it to the congregation just before they sing. Three instrumental stanzas are suggested here, though the congregational version has four.

Introduction: guitars strumming strongly; drum optional, ad lib, two measures.

Stanza 1: all available instruments except brass

Interlude: guitars strumming for two measures, becoming softer into:

Stanza 2: gently, add flute or flute stop on keyboard

Interlude: guitars strumming; crescendo into:

Stanza 3: all available instruments; add horn or trumpet if available

Texts in Biblical Order Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Psalm 14 Isaiah 55:10-13 Zephaniah 3:14-20 Matthew 1:18-25 Luke 2:8-20 1 Corinthians 1:25-31 John 1:1-14.

Andrew Donaldson is a Canadian writer, composer, and church musician with extensive background in global song. He worked for five years in Geneva, Switzerland, as the worship consultant for the World Council of Churches. His work may be found at www.andrewdonaldson.ca.