We’re grateful for friend of The Center and Hymn Society member Greg Scheer for sharing his document of “Lessons and Carols Brainstorms” that includes general background on this type of service, guidelines and advice on how to pull it off, and specific songs and resources for each lesson. We hope you find it as helpful as we have! – Brian Hehn, Director of The Center for Congregational Song
Greg’s Master List
For a number of years I planned an annual lessons and carols service at Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, MI. In my own humble and objective opinion, it was freaking awesome.
If you’re new to the idea of the “lessons and carols” service, it’s simply a service of scripture readings (below) and songs that trace the arc of redemption from the Fall to the birth of Christ. It’s a simple, yet powerful format. My L&C services weren’t quite as stuffy as a traditional British cathedral L&C service, but not as tacky as most Christmas musicals. The services included a mix of music styles from choral anthems to folk songs, and always included plenty of congregational singing. They were relatively easy to organize, and included no live animals.
A few bits of wisdom I gained over the years:
- Let the people sing. Seriously, this is the one time of the year when everyone wants to sing. No matter how much you want to show off your choir and other musicians, don’t take away from the congregation’s voice.
- Don’t ruin people’s favorite Christmas carol. You may think your 7/8 rendition of “O Come, All You Faithful” is full of musical intrigue, but your people will hate it. I guarantee they will smile politely while inside they seethe and wonder why the music guy can’t just leave their favorite songs alone.
- Keep it simple. There’s no need to kill yourself for Christmas, right? People have enough school concerts and work parties to attend during the Christmas season without you putting a gazillion rehearsals and services on their calendar. Just keep things easy on everyone. Invite them to come read scripture and sing some Christmas songs; maybe eat some cookies afterward. Your congregation—and your family—will thank you.
About this list:
What you will find below is the list of songs I consulted every year as I planned the upcoming L&C service. If there is a date in parentheses beside the song title, it means we sang it the year listed. Other songs were options for future services. If you have ideas, questions, or comments on this article, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you will find some gems here!
“Zion Hears the Watchmen Singing” by J.S. Bach from Cantata 140 (2006, 2009)
Overture from Messiah (2010)
The Babe of Bethlehem (2007, 2011)
Jazz Combo: Divinum Mysterium, God Rest Ye, Joy to the World (2013)
Good Christian Friends Rejoice (2008, 2012, 2014)
Pastoral Symphony from “Messiah” G. F. Handel
Taize Gloria with handbells, children, choir in four corners (2008)
Once in Royal David’s City (2005, 2006, 2008, 2010)
On Jordan’s Bank/All Earth Is Waiting (2009, 2011)
Dawning Light of Our Salvation (2012)
Brightest and Best (2013)
Creator of the Stars of Night (2007, 2014)
“O Come All Ye Faithful” Ososo
In the Heavens Shone a Star Restore Us, O God (Carlos Colón)
Invocation and/or bidding prayer and/or Lord’s Prayer
GATHERING [BIDDING] CAROL
Sacred Harp “Fulfillment” (2008) strings play it while people sit, then choir sings it
On Jordan’s Bank/All Earth Is Waiting (2011)
“O Come All Ye Faithful” (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014)
Of the Father’s Love Begotten
Creator of the Stars of Night (JN413)
Up, Good Christian Folk, and Listen
Good Christian Friends, Rejoice
FIRST LESSON: Genesis 3:8-15
God announces in the Garden of Eden that the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Creation Fell in Adam’s Fall (2008) Greg’s arrangement V4 men, v5 women
The Truth Sent from Above, Vaughan Williams (2009 unison choir)
A Mark of Grace, Scheer (2010)
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013)
Hopp: From the Apple in the Garden (2014)
Adam Lay Y–Bounden
By Adam’s Fall is All Forlorn (ELH 430; text needs upadating)
Dorothy Otte: Genesis/Revelation recording
How Sweet was the Garden (LUYH 29, jazzy)
In Adam We Have All Been One (LSB 569)
Psalm 90 in connection with Gen 3 L&C reading?
Scheer: Garden of Grace
Son of God and Son of Man/At the Tree (Wardell)
The Tree of Life (LSB 561)
There in God’s Garden SNC 138
View the Present through the Promise
Watts: Deceived by Subtle Snares of Hell
What Adam’s Disobedience Cost (LUYH 34)
When Long Before Time (ELW 861)
SECOND LESSON: Genesis 22:15-18
God promises to faithful Abraham that in his seed shall the nations of the earth be blessed.
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”
“The Babe of Bethlehem” by William Walker from Southern Harmony, 1835 (2006)
O Abram, Look Up to the Sky, by Jim Clemens (2011)
When God Promised Many Children-Andrew/Wendy Donaldson (2012)
I Will Be Your God, LUYH 40 (2013)
The God of Abraham Praise (2008, 2010, 2014) congregation
All the Stars (Caroline Cobb)
Blessed Be the God (LUYH 67) other benedictuses?
Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth
I Will Be Your God (LUYH 40)
In a Deep Unbounded Darkness (LUYH 38)
O Come, O Come, Immanuel
When God Promised Many Children, Andrew/Wendy Donaldson http://www.ippdf.com.br/musicas/musicas-prontas/certeza-e-conviccao/
THIRD LESSON: Isaiah 9:2,6-7
Christ’s birth and kingdom are foretold by Isaiah.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The People Who in Darkness Walked, Bach/PsH 192 (2009)
For Unto Us a Child Is Born, Atteberry (2010)
Before the Marvel of This Night (Carl Schalk, 2006, 2011)
Come Now, O Prince of Peace/Ososo (2005, 2007, 2012)
Parvulus nobis nascitur, choir (2013)
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – Liebergen (2014)
Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light – Bach/PsH 343
Come Little Children (children’s chorus)
I Saw Three Ships
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, K. Lee Scott
Puer Natus Est (variety)
The Holly and the Ivy
Welcome, Dearest Jesus (children’s choir)
FOURTH LESSON: Isaiah 11:1-9
The peace that Christ will bring is foreshown.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Lo, How a Rose (2008, 2009) congregation
Peace in the Valley (2007, 2011)
“Lo, How a Rose” by Greg Scheer (2005, 2006, 2013)
O Lord, May Your Kingdom Come – Sarwar (2014)
Of the Father’s Love Begotten
There Was a Rosebud Bloomed in the Snow
How Bright Appears (LUYH 101, with Mendelssohn’s “Es Wird Ein Stern”)
Alternative Fourth Lesson: Micah 5:2-4
The prophet Micah foretells the glory of little Bethlehem.
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
Bethlehem Night and A Child Will Come (2008) children’s choir
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Bethlehem, of Noblest Cities
How Far Is It to Bethlehem?
POSSIBLE ALT READINGS:
Isaiah 40:1-5 – Isaiah speaks comfort.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
“Every Valley” John Ness Beck (2005)
Every Valley by Greg Scheer (2008)
Baptismal Anthem/In Those Days Came John the Baptist (2009)
And the Glory of the Lord, from Messiah (2010)
“Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” PsH 194/LUYH 59 (2006, 2007, 2011, 2013)
Portions of Handel’s “Messiah”
All Earth Is Waiting
Isaiah 12 – The day of salvation is foretold
Rejoice and Sing Your Praise – Colón (2012)
The Desert Shall Rejoice (PH 18)
They Shall Enter Zion (Scheer)
For The Mountains Shall Depart (Hank Beebe)
FIFTH LESSON: Luke 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel salutes the virgin Mary.
In the sixth month the angel month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
“No Wind at the Window” by John Bell (2006)
I Sing a Maid (2008) RitualSong #899
My Soul Will Magnify the Lord, Scheer (2009)
In This Quiet Annunciation – Colón (2011)
Mary, Mary, What You Gonna Call that Baby? Youth choir (2011)
“Dixit Maria Ad Angelum” Hans Leo Hassler (2005, 2012)
Holy Is Your Name (2007, 2008, 2010, 2013)
Mary’s Song/Our King of Peace – Kimbrough (2014)
A Virgin Most Pure
Blessed Be That Maid Mary
Holy Is His Name (John Micael Talbot)
Magnificats of all stripes
My Soul Does Magnify (SNT #7) good gospel magnificat
The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came – Anthony Prower
The Sans Day Carol
SIXTH LESSON: Matthew 1:18-23 [Christmas Eve]
Matthew tells of the birth of Jesus.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
That Boy-Child of Mary” (2005)
Away in a manger (2005)
How Will We Know Him?, youth choir (2009)
Lo, How a Rose, congregation (2010)
Today a Savior Is Born, youth choir (2010)
Sing Alleluia – composer? Adult and youth choirs (2012)
Good News – youth choir (2012)
On Christmas Night, arr. Ann Kapp Andersen; youth and adult choirs (2013)
Hark the Herald Angels Sing (LUYH 80)
God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
Ding Dong! Merrily on High
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” Patrick M. Liebergen
Twas in the Moon of Winter Time – Jean de Brébeuf
In This Quiet Annunciation (Carlos)
To a Virgin (TWC 139)/Cold December (UMH 233)
Gentle Joseph, Joseph Dear (NCH 105, see Joseph, lieber Joseph mein)
Alternative Sixth Lesson: Luke 2:1-7
The birth of Jesus.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Mary Had a Baby – Dawson (2005)
“One Small Child” by David Meece – children’s choir (2006)
“Emmanuel Now” words by Colin Gordon-Farleigh, music by Greg Scheer (2006, 2007)
As a Tiny Baby/Husberg (2007)
Carlos Colon: Weary Is the World (2008)
O Little Town of Bethlehem (2008) people standing
Away in a Manger (2014)
We Do Not Know – Bell/Alonso (2014)
“Once in Royal David’s City”
How Great Our Joy
Love Has Come
In This Quiet Annunciation (Carlos)
The Pedigree (Bell)
SEVENTH LESSON: Luke 2:8-16 [Christmas Eve]
The shepherds go to the manger.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 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.
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks – Sacred Harp (2005)
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (2005)
The Aye Carol, John Bell (2009)
Before the Marvel of this Night – Vajda/Schalk (2009)
Messiah No. 14a, 14b, 15, 16, Glory to God (2010)
Joy to the World (2010)
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly – PsH 353 (2011)
Angels We Have Heard on High – PsH 347 (2011)
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks – PsH 215 (2012)
Angels from the Realms – PsH 354 (2012)
Cradle Hymn – Curry (2014)
How Great Our Joy (2014)
All My Heart This Night Rejoices
Come, Leave Your Sheep
Messiah, Chorus: “Glory to God” G. F. Handel
Messiah, Movements No. 14a, 14b, 15, 16 G. F. Handel
On Christmas Night
See, Amid the Winter’s Snow
While by My Sheep I Watched at Night – Jungst
EIGHTH LESSON: Matthew 2:1-11
The wise men are led by the star to Jesus.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
As With Gladness Men of Old
The Infant King
Unto Us Is Born a Son
A Shadow upon Cheops Sat – Durbin Schalk
O Come, All Ye Faithful – cong
NINTH LESSON: John 1:1-14 [Christmas Eve]
John unfolds the great mystery of the incarnation.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
The Glory of the Father by Egil Hovland (2007)
The Word of God Was from the Start (2010 Xmas Eve)
In the Bleak Mid–Winter
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence – Holst
O Come, All Ye Faithful
O Magnum Mysterium – Victoria
Verbum Caro Factum Est
Joy to the World (2008)
Go Tell It on the Mountain (2007, 2009, 2011)
Jesus the Light of the World (2012)
Prepare the Way, O Zion (2013)
“Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” (2005, 2006, 2010, 2014)
On This Day Earth Shall Ring – Holst
Love Has Come
Beautiful Star of Bethlehem
Good Christian Friends/strings (2007, 2010, 2014)
Go Tell It, reprise (2009)