By Dr Agnes Tan
During this time of the year, our church celebrates a service called A Festival of Lessons and Carols. Let me share with you the story behind this special service.
In 1880, Edward White Benson, the first Bishop of Truro in Cornwall, England and later the Archbishop of Canterbury, created a new service called The Nine Lessons with Carols for their Christmas Eve worship. Benson created this service to bring his congregation together as their new cathedral was being constructed and to discourage members from going to pubs during the Christmas season. The first service took place in a large wooden structure with more than four hundred people in attendance.
As the name implies, The Nine Lessons with Carols is a service of nine lessons taken from both the Old and New Testaments interspersed with the singing of carols, hymns or anthems to tell the Christmas story. Beginning with the fall of Adam and Eve, the lesson marks mankind’s need for a Redeemer, recounts the fulfilment of God’s promise, the coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus and what this means for us today. The music (carols) not only allows the congregation to reflect and respond to the scripture but it also appeals to the worshippers. The service is theologically sound and creative and today, numerous Christian denominations including our church have adopted this service or a variation of this service, as part of their Christmas celebrations.
In case you are wondering why we should keep this tradition, here are a few of my perspectives. (1) We are reminded that Christmas is all about Jesus Christ—the “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” (2) Lessons and Carols service is a spiritual preparation for the first and second coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (3) We will hear God’s Word. Lessons and Carols is not a musical concert but rather the story of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind as revealed in His Word. (4) We will worship in spirit and truth. After hearing His Word, we will be able to respond appropraitely to Him in worship. (5) As the readings highlight God’s love and our need for a Redeemer, we are reminded of the Great Commission.