Even if the distinctly non-liturgical church of my childhood had had anything like “Lessons and Carols,” which it didn’t, our family always had a party at our house on Christmas Eve, so we wouldn’t have been there.[*]

I had to grow up and move here and become a Presbyterian to learn that there is something called Lessons and Carols, and that it’s to love.

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Read the Bible. Sing songs. Light candles. Tell the story:

The people God had made to live in God’s beautiful world got tangled up in death. God came to fix that. By way of Jesus.

Give thanks. Sing songs. Be glad.

Be grateful.

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King’s College, Cambridge, seems to have invented the Lessons and Carols format, in 1880. They have celebrated A Festival of Lessons and Carols in something like its modern form since 1918; it has been broadcast on the BBC since 1928. The King’s College Chapel website has links to the BBC’s broadcast of the service (which will be accessible online through January 21), along with the full order of service.

Our little church is not King’s College, Cambridge. There’s no danger the BBC will show up to broadcast our choir and congregation reading and singing. I believe, however, that for all the differences in denomination and size and skill and grandeur, when we read the Bible and sing songs and reflect on that story we share, which is our story, we are every bit as glad and grateful, this Christmas Eve, for the Lessons and the Carols and the story they tell and the joy and hope in it and the grace to know it.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

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[*] That party was an annual delight, though, and a labor of love – my parents invited their friends from work and church, and it always included various people my mom wanted to make sure “had a place to go at Christmas,” along with whatever relatives happened to be in town that year – always my grandmother, usually my aunt from San Diego, and one year we even had cousins from “back east.” It had its own order of service, too, which my brother and I looked forward to every year: cleaning and chopping vegetables in the morning, then picking up tamales from the taqueria in El Monte, then crushing avocados and mixing dip, laying out the serving dishes on the buffet in the living room …

And, there were lots of candles.

It was, in its own way, an “exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world” – a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, which will surely include red cabbage, and my dad’s sautéed chicken livers and mushrooms.

That’s what I’d tell my mom, if she were here.

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adotration of the shepherds, 1907 illustration
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.” Luke 2:15-16