It is properly a Christmas service - at least the classic King's College Service of Nine Lessons and Carols is. There are Advent Lessons and Carols services, to be sure. And I suppose those churches that genuinely embrace the whole Advent ethos must enjoy them. Where I live and work, we have a lovely Advent season, but not so much the patience to specialize in Advent songs and music. Not so much as we might.
But we love the service of Lessons and Carols, and if we do this Christmas service mid-Advent, there's no reason to be disappointed with that. It is the perfect kind of service for College Church: extensive readings from the Bible, song texts that carry along the story and are rife with scripture, a warmth and wealth of congregational song, and something special for the Choir to do. I can say from personal ministry experience: this trumps a Christmas extravaganza any day. (OK, personal preference.)
There is no time in the life of our Choir that we are not mindful that music is a ministry of the Word. It's how we see the role of music here; it's what we do. But a service like Lessons and Carols highlights that specially in a season that is more culturally prone to ... well, to extraneous accretions to the Christmas story. So it was with a heightened focus and a keen eagerness that we sang this year's Service of Lessons and Carols. Oh yes, and Canticles.
In order to accommodate 3 of the Christmas canticles, we limited the Lessons to six - retaining the arc of the redemptive story-line, maintaining the Genesis to John thread, but limiting Isaiah to one reading (contra last week's post!), regretfully passing over Micah about Bethlehem, and foregoing this year the Matthew reading. We filled in those gaps in our singing - congregational and choral - but I missed them. (Though it was reassuring to hear people say they hadn't realized there were fewer readings this year.)
The canticles we used:
Magnificat - a very close paraphrase set to the Scottish tune CANDLER, by Carl Schalk, sung by the congregation
Gloria in excelsis - using the complete Vivaldi setting in D
Nunc dimittis - a recent Rene Clausen composition for choir and organ
Three very different treatments, for very different forces. Along with plenty of singing for the congregation, and just one more choral anthem; what a rich, full celebration.
The service of Lessons and Carols is broadcast internationally, live, beginning at 3pm GMT, from King's College. You may be able to find it on a radio or computer near you.