Lessons and Carols - Small Ensemble Edition

NOTE:  These pieces are intended to be performed by small groups, rather than a full complement of singers.  Feel free to substitute instrumental settings as well.  

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held on Christmas Eve 1918. It was planned by Eric Milner-White, who at the age of thirty-four had just been appointed Dean of King’s College after his experience as an army chaplain convinced him that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship. This service may be adapted to your own order of worship, changing, adding or deleting the scripture lessons, adding poetry, etc.  Feel free to add or substitute your favorite hymns, anthems or solos where appropriate. It is a very flexible format in which to present the Christmas Story in word and music. Traditionally, congregations use different leaders to read the scriptures. For example, the first reading might be read by a Children’s Sunday School teacher, the second by a choir member, the third by a vestry member or deacon, and so on. The last reading is generally read by the minister, priest or highest ranking clergy member present.

A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols (Christmas)


Entrance Hymn - Once in Royal David’s City (This is traditional, but feel free to substitute your own.)

Then, all standing, this bidding prayer is said.

Beloved in Christ, this day it is our duty and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels, and to go in heart and mind to Bethlehem, and see this thing which has come to pass, and the Babe, lying in the manger. Therefore let us hear again from Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days until the glorious redemption brought us by this holy Child; and let us make this house of prayer glad with our carols of praise. But first, because this of all things would rejoice Jesus’ heart, let us pray to him for the needs of the whole world, and all his people; for peace upon the earth he came to save, for love and unity within the one Church he did build; for goodwill among all peoples. And particularly at this time, let us remember the poor, the cold, the hungry, the oppressed; the sick and those who mourn, the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; and all who know not our Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love. Lastly let us remember all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude who no one can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one. These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne of heaven, in the words that Christ himself has taught us.

The Lord’s Prayer (in unison)

The Blessing
May the almighty God bless us with divine grace, may Christ give us the joy of everlasting life, and unto the fellowship of the citizens above, may the Spirit of Love bring us all. Amen.

Anthem Suggestions (or choose your own)

First Lesson
God tells sinful Adam that he has lost the life of Paradise and that his seed will bruise the serpent’s head.
GENESIS 3: 8-15, 17-19
After the reading: Thanks be to God.

Anthem Suggestions

Second Lesson
God promises to faithful Abraham that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.
GENESIS 22: 15-18
After the reading: Thanks be to God.

Anthem Suggestions

Third Lesson
The prophet foretells the coming of the Savior.
ISAIAH 9: 2, 6-7
After the reading: Thanks be to God.

Anthem Suggestions

Fourth Lesson
The peace that Christ will bring is foreshown.
ISAIAH 11: 1-4, 6-9
After the reading: Thanks be to God.

Anthem Suggestions

Alternate Fourth Lesson
The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.
MICAH 5: 2-4
After the reading: Thanks be to God.

Congregational Hymn
O Little Town of Bethlehem

Anthem Suggestions

Fifth Lesson
The angel Gabriel salutes the Blessed Virgin Mary.
ST LUKE 1: 26-35, 38
After the reading: Thanks be to God.

Anthem Suggestions

Sixth Lesson
St. Luke tells of the birth of Jesus.
ST LUKE 2: 1-7
After the reading: Thanks be to God.

Anthem Suggestions

Seventh Lesson
The shepherds go to the manger.
ST LUKE 2: 8-16
After the reading: Thanks be to God.

Anthem Suggestions

Eighth Lesson
The wise men are led by the star to Jesus.
ST MATTHEW 2: 1-11
After the reading: Thanks be to God.

Anthem Suggestions

Ninth Lesson (congregation stands)
St John unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation.
ST JOHN 1: 1-14
After the reading: Thanks be to God.

Anthem Suggestions


Prayer and Blessing (All remain standing.)

Minister:    The Lord be with you
People:     And with thy spirit.
Minister:   Let us pray.

O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only son, Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him, when he shall come to be our judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.

All:  Amen

Minister:  May he who by his Incarnation, gathered into one, things earthly and heavenly, grant you the fullness of inward peace and goodwill; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be amongst you and remain with you always.

All:     Amen

O Come All Ye Faithful (or other hymn)