Fourth Sunday of Advent 11:00 a.m. service conducted at First United Methodist Church Roanoke Rapids, NC, December 23, 2012; Pastor Cory Oliver
In 1880 E.W. Benson, then Anglican Bishop of Truro, England, composed a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, based on ancient sources, for Christmas Eve. In 1918 it was adapted for the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, by its Dean, Erick Milner-White, who also wrote The Bidding Prayer. A revision of the Order of Service was made in 1919, involving rearrangement of the lessons, and from that date the service has always begun with the hymn ‘Once in royal David’s city’. In almost every year the choice of carols has varied, and some new ones have been introduced by successive organists. The backbone of the service, the lessons and the prayers, has remained virtually unchanged.
Wherever the service is heard and however it is adapted, whether the music is provided by choir or congregation, the pattern and strength of the service, as Dean Milner-White pointed out, derive from the lessons and not the music. ‘The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God …’ seen ‘through the windows and the words of the Bible’. Local interests appear, and personal circumstances give point to different parts of the service. Many of those who took part in the first service must have recalled those killed in the Great War when it came to the famous passage from the Bidding Prayer: ‘all those who rejoice with us, but on another shore and in a greater light’. The centre of the service is still found by those who ‘go in heart and mind’ and who consent to follow where the story leads