On this first Sunday in Advent, the wreath is up, the first purple candle lit and the season begun. For me the Lessons and the Carols is the most powerful devotion to the season. The service itself is a tradition begun in 1880 and revived by Eric Milner-White. In 1918 at the age of 34 Milner-White was appointed Dean of King's College Cambridge Chapel and devised the service because he thought the Church of England was in need of more imaginative worship. So I love it for that, that in 1918 there were already rebels wanting more imaginative and creative worship. But I love it for its purpose -- to use nine lessons from scripture, beginning with Genesis, to develop the main theme of 'the loving purposes of God.'
So I'll spend my Advent season this year, as if in one long service of lessons and carols, taking in the lessons, listening to the Word, developing the theme through theology and poetry, and responding in song and prayer and praise.
THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST.
By Robert Southwell
BEHOLD: the father is his daughter’s son:
The bird that built the nest, is hatched therein:
The old of years, an hour hath not outrun:
Eternal life, to live doth now begin.
The Word is dumb: the mirth of heaven doth weep:
Might feeble is: and force doth faintly creep.
O dying souls, behold your living Spring:
O dazzled eyes, behold your Son of Grace:
Dull ears, attend what word this Word doth bring:
Up, heavy hearts: with joy your joy embrace.
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs:
This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs.
Gift better than Himself, God doth not know:
Gift better than his God, no man can see:
This gift doth here the giver Given bestow:
Gift to this gift let each receiver be.
God is my gift, Himself he freely gave me:
God’s gift am I, and none but God shall have me.
Man altered was by sin from man to beast:
Beasts’ food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh:
Now God is flesh, and lies in Manger pressed
As hay, the brutest sinner to refresh.
O happy field wherein this fodder grew,
Whose taste doth us from beasts to men renew.