Note: For the final Sunday in Advent, instead of a preaching a traditional sermon, Rev. Laurie led the congregation in several Christmas carols, then shared the fascinating stories behind each You will enjoy discovering the history in these beloved carols.

Reflection- “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”: In the early 19th century, Anglican priest John Mason Neale was dusting off and reading ancient books of poetry and hymns when he came across an unknown Latin poem which had accompanying music, written sometime in the 9th century. The original writer of the haunting melody and poem is unknown but thought to be a simple nun or monk.  John Mason Neale knew 20 languages and was readily able to translate the poem.  At some point, he went to the Madeira Islands near Africa and established an orphanage, a school for girls, and a ministry to prostitutes.  He first played and sang this hymn to those folks, considered the lowest in society.  It has been popular ever since that time especially during the Advent Season of which this Sunday morning is the last.

Reflection- “Angels, from the Realms of Glory”:  This Christmas Carol by the Scottish poet, James Montgomery born in 1771 in England, was written in 1816 but not sung in churches until 1825 when James Montgomery’s collection “The Christian Psalmist” and “The Christmas Gift Box or New Year’s Gift” were reprinted into wider circulation. Sometimes “Gloria in excelsis Deo” is sung in the refrain instead of the original Montgomery lyrics of “Come and worship Christ the new-born King,” the refrain we just sang.

Reflection- “We Shall Light a Thousand Candles” (Sanctuary Choir’s Anthem):  this gorgeous Christmas anthem was written to be sung a Capella (without music) for all voice parts but as you noticed, our choir is not quite that bold and yet, sang it beautifully!  In 1995 David Rasbach had a career-altering experience: he attended his first Indianapolis Children’s Choir Concert!  One evening, while driving his car, he heard an announcement on the radio for an ICC concert being held that evening at a local church.  He had moved from Pennsylvania so was, as yet, unfamiliar with the happenings of Indianapolis.  He went to the church and just made it in time for the concert. He immensely enjoyed it and was extremely impressed with the ability of these “normal” children.  He eventually established the Rushingbrook Children’s Choir to introduce sacred and fine choral music to young people.  The choir quickly grew from 13 brave souls to more than 100 choristers.  In 2017, he wrote this piece for that choir and other choirs wanting to sing it.  Susan picked it out a few weeks ago for us to sing today.  I’m grateful she did for I think it is a beautiful piece of music and lyrics!

Reflection- “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice”:  This carol is from the medieval tradition and written in the 17th century.  Many Christmas Carols were written to bring attention to the nativity of baby Jesus and as folk carols with the intention to dance to them although I can’t imagine dancing to Silent Night- can you?! The Oxford Movement of 19th century England brushed off some ancient Greek and Latin hymns.  John Mason Neale, whom you may remember wrote “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” was the major instigator of the Oxford Movement.  “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” is a macaronic carol because it was initially written in two languages: Latin plus the indigenous language, in this case, German.  In the past 20 years, Neale’s original first line of the carol, “Good Christian men, rejoice” has been changed in many hymnals.  Many use the words “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” that our hymnal uses; and, others thankfully also attend to inclusivity with “Good Christian Folk” or “Good Christians all.”  I have sung this delightful folk carol all four ways.

Reflection- “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”:  This Advent Carol was written in 1744 and is very common in many Protestant hymnals.  It is actually sung to several different tunes and we, of course, are most familiar with the tune to which we sing it.  It was written by Charles Wesley, the brother of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.  It is based on the biblical book Haggai 2:7 for when Charles read that passage and popular prayer of the time, and looked at the poor situation of the orphans around him, this carol flowed out of him.  It was originally published in Wesley’s “Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord” hymnal. 

Reflection- “Silent Night” [Sanctuary Choir’s Anthem]:  In 1818, near Salzburg, Austria, there lived a pastor of the Church of St. Nicholas at Oberndorf, Pastor Josef Mohr.  After an evening Christmas program on the 23rd of December at the church he served, Pastor Mohr took the long way home.  He became acutely aware of the silence on that wintry night and the Christmas play he had just seen brought to mind a poem he had written a couple of years previously.  The next day he promptly went to the church organist, Franz Gruber to ask him to write a melody for his poem.  He only had a few hours to come up with the melody for guitar.  The next day on Christmas Eve, Gruber and Franz introduced this lovely carol to his little congregation.  Twenty years later, it was brought to the United States and became one the most beloved of carols to be sung as a leading up to Christmas and on Christmas Eve.  It has a very poignant and quiet message which is why we sing it at the end of the service Christmas Eve night, tonight at 11pm.  That beautiful carol leads us into the stillness of Christmas Day.  Thanks be to God!