Four Meditations for the Nine Lessons and Carols
Here is a question about the wonderful parish tradition of Lessons and Carols: Is there room for a brief homily or meditation during this service? Is there an opportunity to present the gospel from the lectern (through the nine lessons) AND through the pulpit? John Yates III thinks so. He has done so for the past few years. Here he offers his thoughts and his meditations. (Note: Each of these meditations would take about 3-4 minutes.)
Here are his thoughts which are characteristically clear. His Four Meditations follow. -(from LeaderWorks)
Four Meditations for Lessons and Carols
by John Yates, III
The Advent Service of Nine Lessons and Carols is a wonderful opportunity to share the story of Scripture as it culminates in the life of Jesus Christ. Many of our churches are filled with non-believing friends and family for this service. They come for the familiar readings and even more familiar hymns, and we have the opportunity to give them a clear presentation of the gospel. The challenge is: how? The service is so tightly choreographed and the readings so compelling that even a 10-minute homily can feel forced and hard to fit in. And yet, to leave out an explanation of the story seems like pastoral malpractice!
Several years ago we introduced a sequence of brief meditations at four places during the service. These have worked well, allowing us to explain the significance of the story while maintaining the integrity of the service. Below you will find the sequence of readings and meditations that we use. You will also find the full text of my meditations. Rather than try to do something new each year we have opted to create a tradition with these meditations, repeating them along with the hymns and readings each year. I share them with you in the hopes that they will inspire you in your own leadership of this wonderful service. Feel free to use them or adapt them as you see fit.
John W. Yates III
Rector, Holy Trinity Anglican Church Raleigh, North Carolina
An order of readings and meditations for Lessons and Carols
Lesson One: Genesis 3:8-19
Lesson Two: Genesis 22:15-18
Lesson Three: Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
Lesson Four: Isaiah 11:1-9
Lesson Five: Luke 1:26-38
Lesson Six: Luke 2:1-7
Lesson Seven: Luke 2:8-16
Lesson Eight: Matthew 2:1-12
Lesson Nine: John 1:1-14
Our story begins with a moment of glory. But it is only a moment. In the cool of early evening, God went walking in the garden. It is a tantalizing picture of a time we have never known. A time of perfect communion with the God who made us. A time of freedom, beauty and glory.
God went walking in the garden seeking his people. But they were nowhere to be found. They were hiding: naked, ashamed and afraid. For the one thing they had been warned of – the one fruit they had been told not to eat – had proven too great a temptation.
They had eaten. And in that moment of choosing their will over God’s they chose exile over communion. They chose to take rather than to receive. They chose instant gratification over eternal glory. And they chose for all of us.
From the moment he set foot in the garden that day God sensed their shame. He smelled their fear. He was pained by their rebellion. And he hung his head in sadness, for the necessary consequence of their actions was exile, death, and the labor of field and child. Out of the dust he had made them, filling them with the breath of his very own mouth. Now to dust they would return.
Their exile is ours. And their sin we have made our own. Shame and sadness, fear and death: these are the ways of the world when we hide from our creator.
What begins in glory descends swiftly into tragedy. And we are left to wonder, “What can God do?”
When God finally spoke it was not a word of condemnation or anger. It was a word of promise and hope spoken to a man living in the land of exile and walking in the way of sin.
Abraham was a child of Ur, the city of idols. And yet God came to him. He came and called and Abraham answered. Unlike his father, Adam, he did not hide in shame; he listened and obeyed.
God made Abraham a promise: From you will come blessing, blessing for your people and blessing for the world. You will father a great nation and through that nation all nations will find their hope in me.
Abraham believed and obeyed. He fathered Isaac. Isaac fathered Jacob. And Jacob fathered twelve men who would become twelve tribes – a people of prophets and kings – carrying God’s blessing to a world shrouded in darkness.
And yet these people, God’s people, did not follow Abraham’s faith. They faltered. They fell. Moments of faithful obedience were followed by centuries of arrogance and idolatry.
The people could not keep their promises. But God was keeping his. The prophet spoke. And in the heart of darkness there glimmered a distant light. A child would be born. A Son of David would sit on the throne. He would be the peace-bringer, counselor of wonders, God almighty. Could it be that once again God would walk his garden path and call his people home?
The words of the prophets were glimmers of hope in the gathered darkness. Like streaks of lightning across a night-time sky they illuminated the landscape for a glorious moment before all went black again. When they spoke God’s word they spoke of judgment but also grace, and above all hope. Then there was silence: four-hundred years without a prophet, four centuries without a godly king, generations who wondered if God would ever walk with his people again.
And then at last, out of the silence, he spoke. The angel of the Lord came down from on high to greet a woman, barely more than a child. “Greetings,” he said, “the Lord is with you, favored one.”
In the pause that followed did the angel wonder what she might say? Did the angel doubt her willingness or her faith? How could she possibly be the bearer of all God’s promises? How could she ever carry the weight of the world’s deep longing in her womb?
Like Abraham on the heights of Mt. Moriah, so Mary in the stillness of her room received the promise of God. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In faith, she received and by faith she obeyed.
Overpowered by the Spirit of God she received the living Word. The Son of David was coming to claim his throne. The heir of Abraham was coming to receive his blessing. The child for whom a whole nation had longed and prayed was coming – not to conquer but through his death and resurrection to serve and to save.
Augustus was the greatest of all the Caesars. During his reign all the power of the world seemed to settle in and then emanate from Rome. At a single word from his lips the peoples of the empire could be thrown into chaos. One such word gave birth to such a chaos, and caught up in the streaming tide of misplaced people were Joseph, Mary and the baby she carried.
Caesar’s command sent them out, but God’s promise carried them safely. And in a makeshift nursery, the child of promise was finally born. Here was Abraham’s distant star. Here was Jesse’s branch. Here was David’s Son.
In the darkness of the fields, the sky erupted with cries of glory from an army of angels. They were sent to shepherds – the poor and meek – to tell them that the king had been born, that their savior had come.
And in the great black orb of space, a single star stood sentinel that night. Those who watched such things and knew their meaning set out with gifts to find the king of whom the star had spoken.
Abraham’s promise was fulfilled. His descendants had their king and received their blessing. So too did the world. Those wise men from the east were the first of us not born of Abraham to worship the one, true king who reigns over all the world. We follow them to Bethlehem and there we find our joy.
In that child, born in weakness, came all the power of God. The might of Caesar, so far- reaching so extraordinary, was made pathetic at the sound of his first cry. God was back among his people, soon to walk with them again.
The king has come. The promises have been kept. The curse is lifted. The world is blessed. How will we respond? The invitation is clear: receive this king as Savior and trust in him as Lord.
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