For Jan. 1, 2011: Lessons and Carols

FIRST READING: Genesis 3:8-15, 17-19
Sinful humans lose the life of Paradise.
SECOND READING: Genesis 22:15-18
God promises that, in the offspring of Abraham, all peoples shall be blessed.
THIRD READING: Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7
The prophet foretells the coming of the Savior.
FOURTH READING: Isaiah 11:1-9
The peace that Christ brings is foreshown.
FIFTH READING: Luke 1:26-35
The angel Gabriel salutes the Blessed Virgin Mary.
SIXTH READING: Luke 2:1-7
We hear of the birth of Jesus.
SEVENTH READING: Luke 2:8-16
The shepherds go to the manger.
EIGHTH READING: Matthew 2:1-11
Wise men seek the Child who has been born.
THE GOSPEL: John 1:1-14
Jesus, the Light of the World.

The format of the Service of Lessons and Carols dates back to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols devised by Edward White Benson, then Bishop of Truro in southern England, for Christmas Eve 1880. In 1918, shortly after the fighting in World War I ended, Bishop Benson’s order of service was adapted for use at King’s College, Cambridge, in southeastern England, by the Dean of the college chapel, Eric Milner-White. The order of service at King’s College is essentially unchanged since 1919, opening with “Once in Royal David’s City” (the first verse sung solo by a boy chorister), and ends with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” This order with the readings set forth by the Church of England is the basis of the service we will use at St Alban’s, though some of the prayers and lessons are adapted from the originals to correspond more closely with the language of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible that is in use in the Episcopal Church.
The nine short lessons or readings were chosen to show the story of salvation unfolding, beginning with the fall of humanity and the promise to Abraham, then proceeding through prophecies of Isaiah to the annunciation and birth of Jesus, and concluding with the opening words of the Gospel of John that sketch out who and what Jesus is.
This service is appropriate on January 1 because, this year, it is the only Sunday in Christmas season other than Christmas Day itself, and next Sunday, January 8, is the first Sunday in Epiphany season. In any case, what better way to begin the New Year than to sing praises to the Child who has been born for us, the Light that the darkness cannot overcome?

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