He chose to combine Christmas hymns with nine short scripture readings from the Old and New Testaments, carrying the story of Christ’s birth from prophecy to fulfillment.
Milner-White’s service became known as Nine Lessons and Carols — a celebratory yet somber tradition that in recent years has grown in appeal beyond the Anglican Church to the Episcopal and Catholic churches.
In the coming weeks, two area churches — St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville and Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Anniston — will be carrying on that tradition with their own Lessons and Carols services, to which the public are invited.
“It’s a time of preparation,” explained Rev. Michael Rich of St. Luke’s. “It’s a service that supports the meaning of Advent, which is joyful expectation. It’s not all ‘Jesus is born … Hallelujah.’ That’s putting the cart before the horse. We’re looking ahead, but not too far ahead.”
For Father Bryan Lowe of Sacred Heart, it feeds into the spiritual reverence of the coming celebration.
“We aren’t celebrating Christmas at all yet … that’s what Advent is all about,” Lowe said. “We don’t have any decorations. That’ll come later. For us, this is about creating a time to reflect and remember what the season is really all about.”
Both St. Luke and Sacred Heart are opening their respective services for the entire community as a way of sharing one of their more unique, yet easily accessible traditions.
“We’re telling everyone that there’s nothing weird,” Rich said with a laugh. “We’re deliberately doing it on Sunday afternoon, so the community can come. There’s not going to be any preaching, no altar calls, no collection taken. We’re not trying to convert anyone.
“There’s nothing particularly Episcopalian about reading the Bible and singing songs … it’s a natural thing to do.”
For Lowe, the Lessons and Carols service, much like the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, is a chance for the community to open its heart in celebration for the shared miracles of faith.
“It’s all so simple,” he said. “People can come in, listen to beautiful music and be reminded that this is the season that God kept all his promises and still does.”
Contact Brett Buckner at email@example.com.
Nine Lessons and Carols
Sunday: 4 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 400 Chinabee Ave., Jacksonville.
Dec. 16: 6 p.m. at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, 1301 Golden Springs Road, Anniston.
The nine lessons
The nine Bible stories to be shared as part of the Sacred Heart Lessons and Carols event:
• The First Lesson: Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-25
God creates man and woman to live in obedience to him in the Garden of Eden
• The Second Lesson: Genesis 3:1-15
Adam and Eve rebel against God and are cast out of the Garden of Eden
• The Third Lesson: Isaiah 40:1-11
God comforts his people and calls on them to prepare for redemption
• The Fourth Lesson: Baruch 4:36-5:9
The Scribe Baruch urges the people to look East because salvation is at hand
• The Fifth Lesson: Micah 5:2-4
The one who is to rule Israel will be born in the village of Bethlehem
• The Sixth Lesson: Isaiah 11:1-9
The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon the Holy One
• The Seventh Lesson: Isaiah 65:17-25
God promises a new heaven and a new earth
• The Eighth Lesson: Luke 1:26-56
The Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will bear the Son of the Most High
• The Ninth Lesson: Matthew 1:18-23
An angel tells Joseph that Mary will bear a son as foretold by the Prophet Isaiah