Service of Lessons and Carols

Allison Wordes — Staff Writer

We all have heard what Advent is about. It’s supposed to be all kinds of things, including a time of waiting, a time of preparation, a time of reflection and a time of anticipation. So, sometimes it can be confusing to know what to focus on during the Christmas season.


On Sunday, Dec. 8, Dordt University’s Music Department presented a Service of Lessons and Carols to remind us of the meaning of Advent and the Christmas season — weaving scripture and song in a refreshing spirit.

The Dordt Chorale joined with the brass quintet, African drums, string quartet, harp, piano and Professor Carrie Groenewold on the Casavant pipe organ to create a night orienting hearts towards Christ’s coming.

“These are the tried and true carols of our faith heritage,” said Groenewold.

Carols chosen included “Once in Royal David’s City,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World.”

The concept of a Festival of Lessons and Carols does not come from Dordt—it originated even earlier, in 19th century England. During this kind of service, scripture is read, followed by a related Christmas carol.

“The largest difference is that it is a service rather than a concert where Jesus is our main show case,” said Engineering major Foster Popken.

Rather than just another concert, this type of gathering is meant to be a worship service where everyone can participate. It allows listeners not only to hear the story, but to respond to it with the resounding, “Thanks be to God.”

Traditionally, this gathering to sing and hear scripture is a combination of nine lessons and carols focused on the season of advent. The service included twelve carols: some sung only by the Chorale, with the congregation invite to join on others. Also, there were five different readings by theatre Professor Laurel Koerner and English Professor Luke Hawley, starting with the Fall in Genesis 3 and covering the full story of Christ into the book of John.

Revisiting this story gives us a broader scope of the meaning of Christmas. It is a reminder that Jesus’ story did not just start and stop in Bethlehem but continues to a glorious ending.

The Chorale’s songs were carefully matched to the text, filling out the story. The selections were taken from a diverse body of music, including exciting arrangements—from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” to “Go, Tell it on the Mountain.” “Noel” even featured an African text.

“My favorite song was probably our last song ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain,’” said Popken. “It’s really fun to sing and hard to sing without joy!”

“Singing and hearing a variety of carols brings cultural variety to the season,” said Groenewold. “Christ, after all, came for the whole world.”

Experiencing Christmas music from different backgrounds can help us be more mindful of Jesus’ ability to bring salvation to all the world.

The pipe organ is often associated with Christmas carols. When asked why this might be the case, Professor Groenewold said, “Historically, it is the best instrument for leading singing because, as a wind instrument, it has the ability to breathe along with the congregation.”

Not only does it have the ability to create an entire orchestra of sounds, but it sustains notes like a voice does, providing support for the singers.

“Organ leadership for a singing congregation is a long-standing tradition,” said Groenewold.

She carefully considers the text of the music when she plays, choosing variations based on the verse. For example, when women are singing a specific verse, she might play a lighter, higher combination of sounds.

“Hymns and carols are definitely an important part of Christmas tradition!” said Freshman Kara Jasper. “They refocus our eyes on Jesus and the joy and rest he came to bring. [They] also embody a lot of the warmth of Christmas.”

One of Groenewold’s favorites to play is “O Come All Ye Faithful” from the gray psalter hymnal. She used a clever arrangement by British musician David Willcocks, who is associated with the King’s College and has done dozens of other arrangements. All the voices of the majestic final verse “Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning” filled the entirety of the B.J. Haan auditorium.

The King’s College in England is renowned for keeping up this tradition of a Lessons and Carols service. Every year, this service is widely broadcasted to continue what has become a global tradition of Advent around the world. Dordt continues to celebrate a Service of Lessons and Carols every other year.

So, whether Advent is waiting, anticipating, reflecting, preparation, or all of the above, scripture and singing are some of the best ways to respond to another season remembering Christ’s coming.

“All glory should always be directed towards God,” said Jasper. “I hope we all strive to have that focus, regardless of the type of service.”

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