Helpful Tips for Planning Lessons and Carols Services

I over heard my first “holiday dread” conversation this week, in the grocery store check-out line. There seems to be a universal call for relaxing the pressures and social obligations that come with this time of year.

However,  I would like to encourage you into the front lines with these few words:

Your Christmas service can be the most important, best attended event you plan all year and can ultimately set the tone for the church year that follows.

In light of this, I will aim at the heart of the overall purpose or function of our Christmas services, and be an advocate for how art and music serve an important role in our spiritual formation… especially at Christmas.


This year I am honored to be organizing and Advent concert for The National Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton Basilica on December 20, 7:00 p.m. This is a beautiful space, in Emmitsburg Maryland, that is filled with sumptuous mosaics, sculptures and paintings to thrill the soul of any art lover. It can be a bit overwhelming taken in all at once, and so, this will be a concert that will “spotlight” different works of art within the Basilica while leaving the rest in darkness.

The Wedgewood Flute Quartet and friends will be playing music to match the feeling of each espisode as it is illuminated. The listener will then be taken on a spiritual journey of the heart and allowed time to ponder the nature of God’s wonderful gift of his son, as music, art and scriptures become one.

Allowing the listener time to savor the Gospel message, is indeed the function of these kinds of services and where the arts can provide an important spiritual guide. When used in this way for reflection, the arts can provide a catalyst for further growth in the kingdom. I loved how Gregory Boyd, author of Seeing Is Believing: Experience Jesus Through Imaginative Prayer, expressed it in a recent talk I heard at Rochester College “Streaming”

“Seeing is Believing”  …”Our emotions are based on what gets pictured in our brain.”…”Let the cross be the defining image of God” … “this shows us the character of God.”

imageYes! and let me add that the road to the Cross begins at the Manger:)

And so if you think you know the story — spend some time there….

Even if you are worried about upsetting the holiday police — spend time there….

or maybe you just long for a fresh start—spend time there —at the manger, because when you do, you begin to catch a glimpse of the amazing nature of God’s love.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Hebrews 1:3

Here are just a few practical tips for the content of your Christmas service.

#1 Traditional verses used for a Lessons and Carols type sermon are: Genesis 3:8-19 & 22: 15-18; Isaiah 9: 2, 6-7 & 11: 1-3a, 4a, 6-9; Luke 1: 26-35, 38; Luke 2: 1, 3-7 & 2:8-16; Matt 2: 1-12; John 1: 1-14. There are others that you can use such as Psalm 100, Micah 5 or Isaiah 40 but the above mentioned scriptures are the traditional and a good place to start.

#2 The Best Art Source I have found that is free and gives you free access to high quality public domain images is from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Once you create an account you can log in and do searches on the words such as “Madonna and Child” “Nativity” or “Adoration” and your cup will over flow with images that are not only suitable but time honored classics. (You may also create “lightboxes” as you go so that you can save your work for a later date.)

#3 Most prolific religious artists and the ones that are good to search for public domain images on the web are:

  • Rembrandt van Rijn         L-1
  • Giotto
  • Raphael
  • Fra Angelico
  • Fra Filippo Lippi

There are others, certainly, but these are my top five. (Look for images also in Wikimedia Commons)


#4 For Traditional music I recommend:

  • Sleep, Holy Babe by J.F. Reichardt or Infant Holy published in Six A Cappella Christmas Carols arranged by Richard Proulx, (GIA Pub)( A must have b/c everything is good and doable in this collection.)
  • Sussex Carol or The Holly and the Ivy, Carols For Choirs vol 1. 50 Christmas Carols edited and arr. by R. Jacques and David Willcocks. Oxford University Press  (a treasury of traditional favorites. You will find that Proulx and Willcocks are the big names in choral arranging for Christmas music and these are both a cappella books:)

#5 For more contemporary music you really can’t beat Keith Lancaster’s Praise and Harmony training CDs. I love these CDs because you will get a training CD with voice parts separated out for your singers  to use while learning their individual parts. Keith Lancaster is a true pied piper traveling the country side teaching the art of a capella singing and so if you don’t already know about him, access his resources and passion for the Lord. I have found that even though these songs were not specifically written for Christmas, they can be injected into the service to add a fresh voice to the time honored classics. A few of my favorites:

  • The River is Here (A Great Opener, from Reigning God)
  • Let it Rise (from Everlasting God )
  • He is Jehovah (Glorious God)
  • God of Wonders (Reigning God)

There is also I Will Rejoice from With One Voice A Cappella Moments of Praise by Tom Fettke. This is a wonderful CD with companion music book that is very doable in a slightly more traditional choral style.

Let us pray together with Paul this week the reason for the season:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father….I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the the fullness of God.”

Ephesians 3: 14-19

Have a great week and please share with me your questions or experiences of Christmas services.

The following video may at first seem like an odd connection, but it is so charming how it tells the story of the creations of Charlie Brown Christmas special in 1965 and speaks to the power and appeal of the story of Jesus’ birth.

p.s. “That’s what it’s all about Charlie Brown.”  :))

(psst….There is a Goodreads free giveaway of my book running until  November 22. Become a member of Goodreads and register to win!)

One Comment Add yours

  1. jkclarkston1 says:

    The making of Charlie Brown was so needed at the time and has taken on a life of its own, that still tells the story. Keep telling the story.

    Liked by 1 person

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