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Eastertide 2018

24 December 2017
Lessons and Carols from King's in 1918

Sinden.org has published its annual preview of the music list for the 2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge.

You may interested to view a spreadsheet of carols sung at this service from 1997 to the present, as well as some information about services prior to 1991. That can be accessed at Sinden.org/carols

This year on this website, for the days leading up to the service, we have offered a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung this year.


Every year I'm again amazed by this service. It is a phenomenal liturgy. But don't take my word for it. Just ask the millions around the world who tune into it live.

As we approach the centenary of the service, it seems only natural to look back to its origins once again.

The first service Lessons and Carols service is always referenced in the write up in the service booklet, but I have to say that until this year I had never actually seen the order.

But all of a sudden, here it is! Order of Service for 1918.

If you are an aficionado of this liturgy, there is much to explore here.

As I've already mentioned, the opening hymn is preceded by the Invitatory Carol in this liturgy. Also, the lessons are quite different from what we know now. The inclusion of the Magnificat at the end is fascinating.

But there's another element that's almost easy to overlook: the short "benedictions" that follow each carol. After Milner-White's famous bidding prayer (how awesome it is to see this first printing of it!) comes a hymn, after which follows an additional benediction before the First Lesson. Devotees will recognize many of these phrases from the single blessing used in the service now.

This service, from the outset, seems to be have been conceived as a gift and a blessing. The words and the music bless us (again, how sacramental this sounds!). It is a Benediction, not exactly of the Blessed Sacrament, but of the Word Made Flesh.

Viewed this way, Lessons and Carols is not a concert stuffed between some liturgical bookends; it is a deeply liturgical offering of words and music undergirded by a theology of blessing and grace.

This service is meant to do more than outline or celebrate a theological concept: it is meant to draw us near the Incarnational reality of Jesus so that we may find him a blessing.

In that spirit, I wish you a very blessed Christmas, and I reproduce here the short benedictions that follow each carol in the service in 1918.

  1. With perpetual benediction may the Father Everlasting bless us.
  2. God, the Son of God, vouchsafe to bless and aid us.
  3. May the grace of the Holy Ghost enlighten us heart and body.
  4. The Almighty Lord bless us with his grace.
  5. Christ give us the joys of everlasting life.
  6. By the words of God's Gospel be our sins blotted out.
  7. May the fountain of the Gospel fill us with the doctrine of Heaven.
  8. The Creator of all things give us His blessing now and for evermore.
  9. Unto the fellowship of the citizens above may the King of Angels bring us all.

Amen.

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23 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: the second organ voluntary

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month.

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offering a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

The order of the service concludes with today's entry, following discussions of


As the second organ voluntary thunders out (Prelude and Fugue in B Major, Op. 7, No. 1), let's quietly discuss a few things.

First, the wrong number is listed for this voluntary in this year's service leaflet, which is an unfortunate error.

The booklet has undergone a redesign which I generally find unobjectionable. I am puzzled, however, to the lack of first names of the composers. This seems an odd choice and is a change from previous years' booklets.

Aside from this, the design this year is marred by justification and capitalization inconsistencies. It is a poor partner to a liturgy and music which have undoubtedly been prepared with great care and attention.

But I don't want to dwell too much on that. I want to turn our attention to the director of music.

Stephen Cleobury directed his first Lessons and Carols service in 1982, and by my reckoning that makes this year his 35th.

It is an impressive tenure by length alone. And then consider his influence on this famous service. The institution of the "commissioned carol" has surely breathed new life into what could have become much more of a museum piece.

Consider also the way that the service captures our attention in the modern era. There are webcasts to listen to (thank goodness, because otherwise, how would American church musicians listen this year?), and the commissioned carol has lately been released for download shortly after the service ends. If you're a fan of Carols from Kings (the separate, pre-recorded service for television) you can even pay to download that too.

The service has no shortage of fanatics, and I pray that it continues its storied tradition for many years to come.

But given that next year is the 100th year of the service, and that Cleobury is surely nearing retirement, we at Sinden.org predict that we are listening to his penultimate service this year and that 2018 will be his last.

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22 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: the first organ voluntary

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month.

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offering a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, The Lamb – John Tavener, The Angel Gabriel – Pettman, The Linden Tree Carol – arr. Cleobury, this year's commissioned carol by Huw Watkins, Away in a manger – Willcocks. Can I not sing but hoy – Francis Jackson, the hymn "God rest ye merry, gentlemen", We three kings – arr. Neary, The Magi's Dream – Whitbourn, the hymn "O come, all ye faithful", and the hymn "Hark! the herald angels sing".


The first organ voluntary is always "In dulci jubilo," BWV 729 by J. S. Bach.

There's not much more to say about that. It would be hard to imagine the service concluding any other way.

This is not to say that there couldn't have been some variability with this over the last 100 years, but this would require a close examination of all the services. At least from 1982, this voluntary has been a fixed element.

Note what has happened in this service toward the end. Since the Ninth Lesson all the elements have been "ordinary" and unchanging. The lesson, the two hymns, the collect and blessing, and now the first voluntary.

This is a clear signal, year after year that the service is ended. It is at the second organ voluntary that the organists again have some input into the music. And we address that tomorrow.

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21 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Hymn: "Hark! the herald angels sing"

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month.

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offering a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, The Lamb – John Tavener, The Angel Gabriel – Pettman, The Linden Tree Carol – arr. Cleobury, this year's commissioned carol by Huw Watkins, Away in a manger – Willcocks. Can I not sing but hoy – Francis Jackson, the hymn "God rest ye merry, gentlemen", We three kings – arr. Neary, The Magi's Dream – Whitbourn, and Hymn: "O come, all ye faithful".


After "O come, all ye faithful", we get a final collect and blessing.

Then, we have what is perhaps the very oldest musical tradition in this service, going all the way back to 1918: the singing of "Hark! the herald angels sing".

In the first year of this service at King's, the service opened not with a hymn, but with an Invitatory Carol (Up! Good Christian folk and listen). The familiar processional hymn "Once in royal David's city" then followed.

A brief tangent to say how fascinating it is to actually see the 1918 service. From what was written about it, I had always assumed that a different processional hymn was sung, but this is not the case.

But even with this slight alteration, one can argue that the service did not technically open with "Once in royal David's city.

And, as I wrote yesterday, "O come all ye faithful" did not follow the Ninth Lesson in the first year of the service (it followed the Sixth).

So then, the very oldest completely unchanged part of this liturgy is the final hymn, "Hark! the herald angels sing".

The arrangement of the third and final stanza is by the director of music.

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20 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Hymn: "O come, all ye faithful"

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month.

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offering a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, The Lamb – John Tavener, The Angel Gabriel – Pettman, The Linden Tree Carol – arr. Cleobury, this year's commissioned carol by Huw Watkins, Away in a manger – Willcocks. Can I not sing but hoy – Francis Jackson, the hymn "God rest ye merry, gentlemen", We three kings – arr. Neary, and The Magi's Dream – Whitbourn.


We have reached that tipping point in the service when we know everything that follows.

The Ninth and final Lesson is read, introduced, as always, with that most wonderful of the pithy lesson summaries: "Saint John unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation."

When I was growing up in a Presbyterian Church that was duly Angliphiliac at Christmas, the long-tenured pastor intoned these words with great solemnity. They lodged in my mind. It wouldn't quite be Christmas without them.

And whatever does "unfold" mean? It doesn't mean "explain", because who could ever truly explain a mystery? But it does lay it out in all it's fullness.

Interestingly, we had that word "unfolds" quite a bit earlier in the service in Howells's "A spotless rose", sung after the Fourth Lesson. But, as usual, I digress.

After all this unfolding, our best response is to worship. And the hymn "O come, all ye faithful" is perfectly suited to this task. "O come let us adore him" indeed.

There's a nice symmetry to hearing this carol service "wrap up" with this hymn at the end. So many services of Holy Communion begin with this same hymn.

Starting at least as far back as the 1930s, this hymn has been traditional in this slot after the Ninth Lesson. In the first service at King's in 1918 the hymn was "The First Nowell", but there's something not quite right about that. It doesn't carry the same weight that the Ninth Lesson does. (Although it should be noted that the Ninth Lesson that year was Galatians 4:4-7 – can you imagine not ending with John? Some liturgical changes are for the better!).

The hymn is sung this year in the well-known arrangement by David Willcocks. (Tuba solo on stanza 3 with descant, stanza 4 in unison with alternate harmonization).

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19 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: The Magi's Dream – Whitbourn

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month..

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offering a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, The Lamb – John Tavener, The Angel Gabriel – Pettman, The Linden Tree Carol – arr. Cleobury, this year's commissioned carol by Huw Watkins, Away in a manger – Willcocks. Can I not sing but hoy – Francis Jackson, the hymn "God rest ye merry, gentlemen", and We three kings – arr. Neary.


Having heard the obligatory "three king's" tune immediately prior to this carol in the service, we can venture a bit farther afield, musically speaking.

With the rest of the service prescribed (Ninth Lesson, "O come", Collect, Blessing, "Hark", In dulci jubilo) this carol really has the last word in many ways. And what a raucous last word it has! (Listen to the whole carol.)

James Whitbourn was last heard in 2004, but with a rather tame, acapella arrangement of a Praetorius tune with English words.

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18 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: We three kings – arr. Neary

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month..

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, The Lamb – John Tavener, The Angel Gabriel – Pettman, The Linden Tree Carol – arr. Cleobury, this year's commissioned carol by Huw Watkins, Away in a manger – Willcocks. Can I not sing but hoy – Francis Jackson, and the hymn "God rest ye merry, gentlemen".


Martin Neary's arrangement of "We three kings" has not been performed at this service before, though it has been sung twice on "Carols from King's" broadcasts (note that this is a separate, pre-recorded service).

Rather than yammer on about this carol, and why I like it (particularly the soprano bit during the "Myrrh" solo) I'll just let you view the score. Thanks to Tim at Encore Publications for sharing this with me.

Here's the nicest version I can find on YouTube, much nicer than what I linked to in the preview.

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17 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Hymn: "God rest ye merry, gentlemen"

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month..

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, The Lamb – John Tavener, The Angel Gabriel – Pettman, The Linden Tree Carol – arr. Cleobury, this year's commissioned carol by Huw Watkins, and Can I not sing but hoy – Francis Jackson.


"God rest ye merry, Gentlemen" is already a fantastic carol (hymn?). And in David Willcocks's fabulous arrangement, it's even better.

I find it a bit curious that the word "ye" appears in the title of this carol (and it's written this way on in the note on page 48 of this year's service booklet), but at least as far back as 1998 it has always been sung "you", as in "God rest you merry, gentlemen".

The short intro of the first phrase played on what sounds like the Choir Tromba is a hallmark of the singing of this carol at King's (listen here). At least, it's usually introduced that way. It has also been harmonized recently (listen here). It has also been introduced just on 8s and 4s (listen here).

But this quick intro is a reminder of how little we need to give for congregations to join in the singing of a familiar carol like this.

Then after that, the second stanza sung by the choir is a splendid thing. Likewise the fourth stanza. Certainly, the full congregation could sing the whole thing all the way through. But it gives the hymn (carol?) a nice texture, lets the words speak more intimately, and lets the Willcocks harmonies have center stage. Also, thinking about the perspective of the congregant, there's something so magnificently visceral about joining in the refrain after a stanza in harmony like that. It also sounds rather satisfying on the radio, which is a real consideration here.

The three-part descant is marvelous. And such restraint for it not to continue into the refrain. It's as we had after the a capella stanzas of the hymn, a visceral re-joining. It is surely a contender for best Willcocks descant.

Oh, by the way, it's sung a lot at this service.

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16 December 2017
Star Wars: The Last Jedi - liturgical timing of

Still not quite sure what is going on with the liturgical timing of Star Wars films these days, but we are here to document it anyway.
Film and yearUS Release DateO Antiphon
Episode VII (2015)18 DecemberO Adonai
Episode VIII (2017)15 Decembertwo days prior to O Sapientia (Dec. 17)

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2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Can I not syng but hoy? – Francis Jackson

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month..

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, The Lamb – John Tavener, The Angel Gabriel – Pettman, The Linden Tree Carol – arr. Cleobury, this year's commissioned carol by Huw Watkins, and Away in a manger – Willcocks.


This year, after the Seventh Lesson, we hear music of Francis Jackson for the first time at this service. Jackson was born in 1917. He is still living and celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this year.

He was for many years the organist and director of music at of York Minster. He succeeded Edward C. Bairstow in this position and wrote a biography about Bairstow called Blessed City: The Life and Works of Edward C. Bairstow. His own autobiography, published in 2013, is called Music for a Long While.

Many church musicians will be familiar with music published in the Eboracum Choral Series under Banks Music. Francis Jackson was the general editor of this series, and this carol was their first choral publication (bearing the number ECS 1).

Hoy! Can I not syng but hoy!
Whan the jolly shepherd made so mych joy.

The shepherd upon a hill he satt,
he had on hym his tabard and his hat,
hys tar-box, his pipe, and his flagat;
hys name was called jolly, jolly Wat;
for he was a gud herdès boy.
 With hoy!
For in hys pype he mad so myche joy,
 With hoy!

The shepherd on a hill he stode,
round abowt hym his shepe they yode;
he put hys hond under his hode,
he saw a star as rede as blode.
 With hoy!
For in his pipe he mad so myche joy,
 with hoy!

The shepherd sayd anon ryght:
‘I will go see yon farly syght,
whereas the angell syngeth on hight,
and the star that shynyth so bright.’
 With hoy!
For in his pipe he mad so myche joy.

When Wat to Bedlem cum was,
he swet, he had gon faster than a pace;
he found Jhesu in a sympyll place
between an ox and an asse.
 With hoy!
For in his pipe he mad so myche joy.
 With hoy!

‘Jhesu, I offer to The here my pype,
my skyrte, my tar-box, and my scrype;
home to my fellowes now will I skype,
and also look unto my shepe.’
 With hoy!
Can I not sing but hoy!
When the jolly sheperd made so mych joy?
 Sing hoy!

 
15 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Away in a manger - arr. Willcocks

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month..

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, The Lamb – John Tavener, The Angel Gabriel – Pettman, The Linden Tree Carol – arr. Cleobury, and this year's commissioned carol by Huw Watkins.


David Willcocks needs no introduction to anyone familiar with music at King's College, or with Christmas carols in general.

Most years include music by Willcocks. If one considers the descants to the hymns, then it might be said that every year includes some Willcocks.

His "Away in a manger" was last sung in 2013. It was also sung in 1998, 2006, and 2012. In 2005 a different setting of this text was commissioned from John Tavener.

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14 December 2017
BREAKING: 2017 Service Booklet from King's posted

A PDF copy of this year's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College is now available

The choral music is exactly as we described in our preview, published here on November 24.

It's also interesting to see that the booklet has undergone a full redesign this year.

The concluding voluntary will be the Dupré Prelude and Fugue in B Major, Op. 7, No. 3, which was last played in 2010.

More on this story as it develops.

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2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Carol Eliseus – Huw Watkins

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month..

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, The Lamb – John Tavener, The Angel Gabriel – Pettman, and The Linden Tree Carol – arr. Cleobury.


When I wrote about "The Lamb" a couple days ago, I tried to capture the importance and appropriateness of the tradition of new music at this service under the tenure of Stephen Cleobury.

This year's commissioned carol by Huw Watkins is in Welsh.

Pwy sy’n gorwedd yn y Preseb?
Anfeidroldbeb rhyfedd iawn.
Pwy all ddirnad ei diriondeb?
Gabriel, na, er maint ei ddawn.
Ei amgyffred Ef nis gellir,
Goruwch nef a daear yw –
Y mynyddoedd oll a dreulir
Erys ein Meseia gwiw.

Pwy mewn gwael gadachau
rwymwyd?
Tragwyddoldeb dim yn llai.
I ba beth y’i darostyngwyd?
Er mwyn codi euog rai.
Cyfrin bydoedd a olrheinir;
Daw’r dirgelion oll heb len,
Erys un nas, erys un nas
Llwyr ddatguddir
Erys un nas llwyr ddatguddir
Wedi elo’r byd i ben.

Which being translated means

Who is it who lies in the manger?
A very strange immortality.
Who can discern his gentleness?
Not Gabriel, despite his skill.
It is not possible to imagine him,
he is above heaven and earth –
the mountains, the mountains
may all be worn out - the
mountains may all be worn out,
our wonderful Messiah remains.

Who was wrapped in poor napkins?
None less than eternity.
To what purpose was he subjected?
In order to raise up the guilty.
Secret worlds shall be described;
all secrets shall be without a
curtain before them.
One remains, one remains
who will never be completely
revealed. One remains who will
never be completely revealed
When the world comes to an end.

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13 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Linden Tree Carol – arr. Cleobury

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month..

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, The Lamb – John Tavener, and The Angel Gabriel – Pettman.


At this point in the service – we are now at the second carol after the Fifth Lesson – we hear what is surely a new carol arrangement by the Director of Music. (The service booklet lists no publisher for this carol.)

Cleobury's "Cherry Tree Carol" was sung as far back as 1986. But here he has written a new "Tree" carol, this time setting another traditional carol text. My scattered records indicate that "The Linden Tree Carol" was sung in at least two services in the 1930s, but I don't think it has been included since.

In heaven stood a linden tree
with pure white flowers laden;
yet not a bloom was fair as she,
sweet Mary, chosen maiden.

Great Gabriel, God’s angel bright,
from high above came winging
to one, the purest in God’s sight,
a joyful message bringing.

‘Hail, Mary, blessed Virgin mild,
with God you have found favour;
you shall conceive and bear a child,
to all the world the Saviour.’

‘My soul does magnify the Lord!
I am His servant lowly;
be all according to His word,’
said Mary, meek and holy.

Away the angel flew to share
the news of Mary’s duty;
and heaven rejoiced that she would bear
the Blossom of all Beauty.

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12 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: The Angel Gabriel – Pettman

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month..

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", A spotless rose – Herbert Howells, and The Lamb – John Tavener.


"The Angel Gabriel" is quite a familiar carol indeed. Episcopalians can sing it right out of the Hymnal 1982: it's Hymn 265.

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11 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: The Lamb - John Tavener

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month..

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem", and A spotless rose – Herbert Howells.


How funny the little word "carol" is.

Really a whole essay should be written (and perhaps has) about what it is that makes a Christmas carol, and why William Blake's poem "The Lamb" qualifies in this instance, and how John Tavener's mirror-image counterpoint helps the whole thing work.

But more to the point, Stephen Cleobury's retirement is on the horizon (more on this later), and this carol was sung in 1982, his first Carol Service, 35 years ago.

It was not technically commissioned – all lists of commissioned carols begin 1983 with Lennox Berkeley's "In wintertime" – but, having been composed earlier in 1982, Tavener's "The Lamb" was the first truly new carol heard at the service.

There is a real excitement that new music brings to this story, and the stability of the architecture and the liturgy seem to harness it, and amplify it. This doesn't mean that composers don't fail here. I think they sometimes do. But if they have succeeded in making something of worth, the Chapel, the Choir, and the Service prove willing and ready partners.

For Cleobury be able to bring something of such radiant simplicity to his first Carol Service at King's was a real feat. Unrepeatable, even. Except that he has brought new sounds and new ideas into the music of this service year after year.

That is, in part, what I think this carol means in this year's service – perhaps the last time that Cleobury will direct it on a December the 24th. It is a nod to the ethos of this service under the Cleobury era. From 1982 to now: from Tavener to Watkins.

It is no less than being open to those possible moments of profound ecstasy in the light of the Incarnation.

It is new music that can "gather into one things earthly and heavenly".

It is writing and performing new music as a sacramental act.

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10 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: A spotless rose – Herbert Howells

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge late last month..

For the days leading up to the service, we have been offering a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir, and the hymn "O little town of Bethlehem".


"A spotless rose" is one of Herbert Howells's (1892–1983) very earliest choral works. It was written in 1919.

It is well-known to choral aficionados and frequently sung at this service. (In fact, with the exception of "Here is the little door" in 2015, it is the only Howells ever sung at this service.

Patrick Hadley famously wrote to Herbert Howells about this piece in 1955.

O Herbert, that cadence to A Spotless Rose is not merely ‘one of those things’. Brainwave it certainly is, but it is much more than that. It is a stroke of genius. I should like, when my time comes, to pass away with that magical cadence. I expect you’ll say you hadn’t to think, it was already there

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09 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Hymn: "O little town of Bethlehem"

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge on November 24.

Now, for the days leading up to the service, we'll offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, I saw three ships – arr. Ledger, and Illuminare Jerusalem – Judith Weir.


We have reached the second piece of music after the Third Lesson. At this point in the service, we get a hymn, the first since the opening hymn "Once in royal David's city.

While the first hymn is fixed every year, there is some variability in which hymn is sung here. But the choices seem to be limited to four hymns in recent years:

Allow me to get ahead of myself a bit to say there is far less variability in the two hymns that are sung after the Seventh Lesson; at that point, the hymn choices are either "God rest ye merry, gentlemen" or "While shepherds watched their flocks by night".

You'll notice that "God rest ye merry, gentlemen" appears on both lists. There was the great Crossover of 2009 when this hymn jumped from the repertoire for after the Seventh Lesson into the slot after the Third. As I'm sure you recall it was quite a scandal, and it has not been repeated. So, more accurately, one might say that there are three choices of hymns for after the Third Lesson.

And one of them is "O little town".

Most in Cambridge and its environs surely know this hymn to the tune FOREST GREEN.

Americans tend to know the tune to ST. LOUIS.

Among American Episcopalians, I think preference is fairly evenly split between the two tunes. With Choirs almost invariably preferring FOREST GREEN, and congregations at large (particularly those members that were raised in other Protestant denominations) preferring ST. LOUIS.

The Episcopal Hymnal 1982 includes both tunes and seemingly expresses a preference for FOREST GREEN, the "first" tune, appearing at Hymn 78. The other appears at Hymn 79.

Speaking as someone who actually lives and works in St. Louis, I have come to understand that there is no geographical affinity for the eponymous tune here. I've created a handy graphic to help you remember that:

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08 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Illuminare Jerusalem - Judith Weir

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge on November 24.

Now, for the days leading up to the service, we'll offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach, and I saw three ships - arr. Ledger.


For me, this carol has always been a standout. It's so totally unexpected. It maintains the air of a true medieval carol, albeit one with hypercharged harmonies.

And the scoring information doesn't really give the whole picture: yes, it is accompanied by organ, but only for a beautifully conceived special effect. It's essentially a homophonic a capella carol. When the organ comes in, it serves only to extend the range of the choir to the bottom. And as soon as it speaks, with it's brief, booming oscillation, it is silent again.

It is a work of near-genius in my estimation. And I wonder if Cleobury agrees. It was commissioned in 1985, early in Cleobury's tenure. It was performed back in 2001, but in recent years (as Cleobury's storied tenure slowly winds to a close), it has been sung quite a bit more regularly: 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, and now 2017.

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07 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: I saw three ships - arr. Ledger

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge on November 24.

Now, for the days leading up to the service, we'll offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury, and How shall I fitly meet thee – Bach.


I did not remember that Ledger's arrangement of "I saw three ships" is unaccompanied. It's a nice foil to the Preston arrangement, which was used the last time "I saw three ships" was sung in 2013.

Why not have a listen to Ledger's?

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06 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: How shall I fitly meet thee - Bach

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge on November 24.

Now, for the days leading up to the service, we'll offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones, and Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury.


I hate to admit that Bach's Christmas Oratorio is a real blind spot for me. I've never been involved in a performance of it, and I can't really say that I've ever taken a close listen to it. (Note to self: rectify this!)

In regards to this service, movements from the Christmas Oratorio have been employed from time to time. In particular, the recitative "And there were shepherds" followed by the chorale "Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light" were fixtures of the service under the tenure of David Willcocks. They were sung after the Bidding Prayer as the Invitatory.

I don't clearly recall hearing the Bach the last time it was sung at this service in 2000.

This chorale is sung to the tune most churchgoers know as "O sacred head now wounded" or "O sacred head sore wounded" which is most often sung in Holy Week. This means that people who don't know any better will complain about this chorale.

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05 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Love came down at Christmas – arr. Stephen Cleobury

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge on November 24.

Now, for the days leading up to the service, we'll offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

So far, we've covered the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke, and Adam's Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones.


It won't surprise you that the Director of Music, Stephen Cleobury, tends to include one of his carol arrangements in the service every year.

Last year, it was his Joys Seven (as it was in 2014, 2009, 2003, 2000, and 1998).

In 2015, Cleobury chose not to include one of his arrangements. Rather, he chose three arrangements by David Willcocks, his predecessor, who died in September of that year.

Over the years, Cleobury has been able to include a wide selection of his carol arrangements.

In 1999 there was no Cleobury carol, though in 2013 we got two. So the average remains about one a year.

This year, we get a repeat of one of those two arrangements heard in 2013: "Love came down at Christmas"

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04 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Adam’s Fall – Richard Elfyn Jones

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge on November 24.

Now, for the days leading up to the service, we'll offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

This series began with the opening hymn, Bidding Prayer, and In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke.


As far as I can tell, a very serious break with recent precedent occurred in 2013. It was in this service, notably, that we did not hear a setting of "Adam lay ybounden".

In every other record I have, as early as 1957, a setting of this carol was always sung after the First Lesson.

Boris Ord's setting of this text dates from this same year. It was in this same year that he left King's, so perhaps this work was maintained in the service repertoire as a tribute to him. Interestingly, this is Boris Ord's only published composition.

This is not to say that there weren't other settings. Peter Warlock wrote an "Adam lay ybounden" in 1922. But the earliest I've been able to find that this carol was sung at this service is 1987.

A more recently composed setting is by former Director of Music Philip Ledger. I know that his setting was sung in the service as early as 1980. It was most recently sung in 2014.

I still haven't quite gotten about what will be sung this year, but I think it's notable that it's not "Adam lay ybounden". One of the three settings named above was "always" sung in recent years.

In 2012 a new setting by Christopher Brown was sung. Then, as I mentioned above, no "Adam lay" was sung in 2013.

We have the same situation this year. But I think it's important to understand the weight of that text at this service after the First Lesson.

With that in mind, have a look at a perusal score of this new carol: Adam's Fall - Richard Elfyn Jones

You'll notice that there's plenty about Adam (beginning with the title). But this modern carol text gives us a unique resonance with the Christmas story: "you cannot have a lodging here", thereby drawing a surprising parallel between stories in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament in the best of the Christian liturgical tradition.

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03 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge on November 24.

Now, for the days leading up to the service, we'll offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

This series began with the opening hymn and the Bidding Prayer.


A few years ago, the BBC Music Magazine polled directors of music about their favorite Christmas carol. Guess which one took the number one spot?

That's right: "In the bleak mid-winter" by Harold Darke.

It's hard to argue with this carol by Darke, who deputized for Boris Ord at King's in 1941.

It's a bit of a chameleon, this carol. It appears at this service many times and in different places in the service.

This year it's being sung as the Invitatory Carol (after the bidding prayer), just as it was in 2000.

It has been sung after the Fourth Lesson in 1997

It was sung after the Sixth Lesson in 2015.

It was sung after the Eighth Lesson in 2009. In the scattered records that I have from services in the 1970s, it seems to have been frequently sung after this lesson.

Nowadays, it is most often sung after the Seventh Lesson, as it was in 1998, 2002, 2003, 2012, and 2016.

A bit more on Christina Rosetti's text here: Best Christmas carol ever? Christina Rosetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter”

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02 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Bidding Prayer

Sinden.org published its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge on November 24.

Now, for the days leading up to the service, we'll offer a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

We began with the opening hymn. Today we continue with – not a piece of music – but the Bidding Prayer.


Who does not love this prayer?

Given that the hymn "Once in royal David's City" was not sung in the first year of this service (1918), this prayer may, in fact, be the oldest fixed element of the service.

It was written by Eric Milner-White, then the Dean of King's.

Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas Eve our care and
delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of
the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem
and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying
in a manger.

Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving
purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto
the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and
let us make this Chapel, dedicated to Mary, his most blessèd
Mother, glad with our carols of praise:

But first let us pray for the needs of his whole world; for peace
and goodwill over all the earth; for unity and brotherhood
within the Church he came to build, and especially in the
dominions of our sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth, within this
University and City of Cambridge, and in the two royal and
religious Foundations of King Henry VI here and at Eton:

And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at
this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the
cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in
mind and them that mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the
aged and the little children; all who know not the Lord Jesus,
or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of
love.

Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with
us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude
which no man can number, whose hope was in the
Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for
evermore are one.

These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne
of heaven, in the words which Christ himself hath taught us:

Our Father …

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01 December 2017
2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: "Once in royal David's city"

For the first time, this blog has offered its traditional preview of the music list for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge a full month before Christmas Eve.

Now, for the days leading up to the service, we'll take a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung.

We begin with the opening hymn. (This is a slightly revised version of an essay published here in 2015.)


There's a famous discussion that happened when Gustav Mahler came to visit Jean Sibelius. The two composers discussed the nature of the symphony itself. Mahler made the case for romanticism: for him, the symphony must be all-encompassing. It must be "the world". Sibelius, the modernist, disagreed. For him the symphony was about the "inner logic", the interconnection and interplay of ideas.

These two approaches need not be and, in fact, are not mutually exclusive. Mahler and Sibelius, if pressed, could probably find examples of their preferred creative worldview in each other's work.

The discussion these composers had is instructive in naming parts of the particular liturgy that is Lessons and Carols. Given the nature of the subjects of religion, one would expect the catholic (romantic) view of liturgy: it must be "the world". And yet, for liturgy to be Protestant (modernist) it must also provide an "inner logic".

“the Anglican Church's ongoing liturgical apotheosis is found in the service of Lessons and Carols”

And there is no greater flowering of the two streams of Catholicism and Protestantism than the Anglican Church.

And the Anglican Church's ongoing liturgical apotheosis is found in the service of Lessons and Carols (a service not found in the Book of Common Prayer!).

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge, England on Christmas Eve begins with the processional hymn "Once in royal David's city" sung to the hymn tune IRBY. This tune was written by Henry John Gauntlett, and his original harmonization can be found in Carols for Choirs 1 (Oxford Univ. Press).

Gauntlett claimed to have composed 10,000 hymn tunes, and this may explain the tune's success. Whether or not he composed precisely that high a number is irrelevant. What we see with the melody of IRBY is the steady hand of a master at work. One could imagine for this hymn tune a scenario similar to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy": draft after draft, revision after revision, until the melody that emerges is as perfectly crafted as the parameters of acoustic science will allow.

Of course when we talk about IRBY we must talk about its use, since 1919, as the opening hymn at the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. While Gauntlett was able to refine this tune with pen and ink, its modern performance practices have been forged from the particular alchemy of the stone of a gothic chapel, boys voices, and a small, significant red light from the BBC.

It is in the cool air of King's Chapel that the tune was first paired with its harmonization by Arthur Henry Mann. Mann, the Organist of King's College since 1876, had worked together with the Dean Eric Milner-White to direct the music at the very first service of Lessons and Carols at King's in 1918. The following year, the two settled on "Once in royal David's city" as the opening hymn, and it has remained the opening hymn of the service ever since.

Like Mann, attendees and listeners to this service first confront the tune itself, unadorned, and sung by a single treble voice. The red light comes on. The director nods. The chosen treble, who only moments before did not know for certain if he would be singing the solo verse, begins the story in the winter light of the chapel as millions around the world hold their breath to listen.

The tune begins on one note (the dominant, the fifth scale degree), rises a bit (to the leading tone), and then resolves just higher than that (to the tonic). The first two notes are readily heard as members of the Dominant (V) chord, especially in the ample acoustic of King's Chapel. In conventional harmony, the V chord always resolves itself to the Tonic (I), as it does here.

“these three notes succinctly resolve our waiting for the Incarnation to arrive”

The question must be asked -- and we at Sinden.org cannot readily find the answer -- when did the excellent custom of presenting this tune unharmonized and sung by a solo treble begin?

It is an understated elegance with which the tune unfolds. In the same way that it is St. John himself, later in the service, who "unfolds the mystery of the Incarnation", these three notes succinctly resolve our waiting for the Incarnation to arrive. Together, they are the unequivocal end of Advent.

From its arrival on the tonic, the rhythm picks up steam. The arrival is weighted so that the first tonic pitch lingers over the next beat, resulting in a succession of five eighth-notes and a melodic turn and cadential appoggiatura. The rhythm is repeated exactly in the consequent phrase.

It's the kind of thing that in a very sprightly tempo (and with the right kind of instrumentation) would make for a rather convincing country dance. In a slower tempo, as it must be sung, it becomes quite regal, as befits the word "royal" in the first line.

Mann's harmonization, found in Carols for Choirs 2 and most hymnals that carry the tune, is heard on the second stanza when the choir enters. It complements the shape of the tune's "unfolding". Harmonized not with a V chord, but with only scale degree three in the bass. This gives more than a hint of the tonic chord for a melody that is about to outline V, but the tonic chord is not heard in root position on a strong beat until the tail end of the consequent phrase. This is a sophisticated harmonization with narrative power.

After this, beginning at the third stanza, the organ and congregation join the festivities.

The words of the hymn work to tell this story beautifully. Cecil Frances Alexander was storyteller type of hymn-writer. See, for instance, her lyric opening "There is a green hill far away / without a city wall". You may also know her work from the hymn "All things bright and beautiful". Alexander had a particular fondness for the word "little", using it almost as much as the Book of Mormon uses the phrase "and it came to pass". But here, she seems to be at the height of her powers, giving the narrative a "rare clarity and dignity" (J. R. Watson, The English Hymn).

The notes tell a story just as much the words do. The opening pitches of the melody are well-matched to the words' "Once upon a time" aesthetic, but they also have the effect of a certain set of blue words on a black screen. This story is an epic tale that many are drawn to and love hearing year after year. This story is "the world", in Mahler's terminology, or at least a key part of it.

Taken together, the words and the tune of this opening hymn have set the stage for this service for over nine decades. Perhaps there is contained in the implied harmonies of opening melodic motive (V-I) the possibility of a kind of reverse liturgical Shenkarian analysis of the pattern of the whole service: longing and fulfillment; tension and release; sin and redemption.

Like the unexpected beginning to Beethoven's First Symphony (V7-I), in the pattern of lessons we hear a repeated V-I resolution, in different keys, and within a larger scheme.

  1. The First Lesson relates to the Ninth in this scheme. See below.
  2. In the Second Lesson we come in media res ("because thou hast done this thing") to the story of Abraham and Isaac. The cries of Isaac are not heard, but the promise of God is: "in blessing I will bless thee"
  3. Third Lesson: people walked in darkness and they have seen light.
  4. Fourth Lesson: a branch shall grow and peace will come.
  5. Fifth Lesson: a virgin is impregnated.
  6. Sixth Lesson: a pregnant woman gives birth.
  7. Seventh Lesson: shepherds are afraid of angelic visitors, but then they're excited and go "with haste" to Bethlehem
  8. Eighth Lesson: wise men seek the King of the Jews and find him (the sub-plot with Herod is not resolved in this service; that's what Epiphany is for!)
  9. Ninth Lesson: What began in the First Lesson as unresolved is ultimately wrapped up in the Ninth (like a good baseball game). In the First Lesson, Adam and Eve do a bad, bad thing, and they are punished for it, but their world has changed. They are separated from God.

    And let's note that in a contemporary world where the concept of sin is mocked, and confession is increasingly ignored, it is helpful that this origin story is preserved in this liturgy at Christmas. Sin is properly understood as separation from God, and Christmas can change this. Through another famous hymn we sing, "cast out our sin and enter in". (See a rather beautiful essay on these things at Sed Angli "Confession and Grace")

    The Ninth Lesson provides the massive crashing resolution of the entire thing, including that niggling part about the apple in the First Lesson ("to them gave he power to become the sons of God"). Christ is the Second Adam. Like the exuberant "Ode to Joy" in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the Ninth Lesson is the Incarnation as Easter story. A fitting resolution if there ever was one.

Make no mistake: "O come, all ye faithful" after the Ninth Lesson is sung in the same key as "Once in royal David's city" because there is an "inner logic" to this service.

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