I have to admit that the first time Vespers held a “Lessons and Carols” service at Otter Creek, I didn’t understand exactly what it was. I just assumed it was another fun holiday tradition. So I did my part and offered to help with the reception afterwards. That year my holiday season had been filled as usual with the frantic rush to find just the right present for everyone on my long list, to cook just the right kind of party appetizer for each social event, to decorate my house in a bright and merry way. Even on the evening of Lessons and Carols, my focus was only about doing it up right. While the chorus practiced, I bustled around the Gathering Room, arranging greenery and napkins, my mind intent on how to create the perfect “festive mood.”
As I rushed into the sanctuary right before the service began, I made sure to get my candle, one of the last (oh my goodness, were we going to run out and would late-comers even know to get one and who would be starting the lighting?). As I quickly plopped down into a pew, I continued to worry. Were there enough people here to warrant the amount of time and effort expended? Should we have advertised more? Would the service last longer than an hour? And if so, were the children going to be quiet? Who was manning the doors? You can see where my head was.
But then it began, those lessons and those carols, one right after the other. The first lesson, a passage from Genesis. Another lesson, verses from Isaiah. More lessons from the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. And after each one, a carol sung either by the choir or by all of us in that candlelit room.
About halfway through that first Lessons and Carols service, something beautiful happened to me. As we made our way through the rich scriptures and songs, I saw with such clarity that our God of love has always intended to redeem his people. And I felt such wonder in realizing how he chose to do this—through a helpless child born to a humble young virgin. At that point, all of my worries and silly “festive” concerns simply melted away. All I could think about was how blessed and holy it was to celebrate the glorious good news of Christ’s arrival into our world. I sang the last carol of the service, “Silent Night,” with my candle held high, tears rolling down my cheeks. I was deeply filled with the hope, peace, joy, and love of God. And I carried that evening with me as a precious gift, one that changed how I celebrated the rest of the holiday season that year.
So now, every December, I know that about the time I start worrying too much about Amazon shipping and stocking stuffers, about the time I start to fret about holiday appetizers and decorations, Lessons and Carols will happen. I will once again hear scriptures and sing songs that point me to the joyous arrival of a savior into our troubled world. And once again, I will be given the gift of realizing that nothing else, truly nothing else, about this season we call Christmas matters much at all compared to that.
I hope you too will make your way to Lessons and Carols on Wednesday, December 18th, and find all the hope, peace, joy and love that is waiting for you there. Amen.