Joyful Celebration

Today we celebrate our annual Lessons and Carols service and also the fourth Sunday of Advent—Love— for “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). In Jesus, we have eternal life, hope, peace, joy and love. As we respond in worship, we do so with great joy as we remember that for the past two years we were not allowed to sing publicly.

We open our worship with the carol Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Indeed, joy has come. Jesus is our Joy. We remember the gift of Jesus, the blessings of forgiveness, his salvation and his promise to come again.

In the carol, Away in a Manger, we remember Christ’s sacrifice and love for us, when “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us(John 1:14). Jesus was “born in a manger with no crib for a bed”. The final stanza urges us to respond with the writer asking Jesus “to be near us, to stay close to us, and to bring us to heaven when the time comes.”

“Let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass” (Luke 2:15) is the original title of the carol O Come All Ye Faithful. The invitation to come (to Bethlehem) places all worshippers both among the shepherds who rushed to see the Christ child, and in the long procession of the “faithful” that have journeyed to Bethlehem in their hearts for over 2,000 years.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen in the English of the day means “God keep you merry gentlemen”. The first stanza shows the reason for Christ’s coming, “to save us all from Satan’s power / when we were gone astray.” The second stanza points the location of Christ’s birth—Bethlehem. The final stanza invites all to “sing praises” in response to the good news of Christ’s birth and to embrace one another “with true love and brotherhood.”

O Little Town of Bethlehem was written by rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) and organist Louis H. Redner (1931-1908) for their Sunday School children at Holy Trinity Church. The first and second stanza narrated the story of birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the final stanza invites the Holy Child, the Lord Emmanuel, to be born in our hearts.

The First Noel very likely began as a song that was passed along orally and sung in the streets outside of churches, since early Christian congregants participated little in the Catholic mass. The word ‘Noel’ comes from the Latin word for ‘news’. Thus, the song is about a crier, in this case, an angel, spreading the good news that Jesus Christ is born. The final stanza draws all humanity into the story—and with his blood humankind has bought—and extends the birth account to the story of salvation.

We end our worship service with the beloved carol Silent Night reminding us that Christ the Saviour is born.