The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

Part of the formative power of the Ecclesiastical Year is that is outlines the history of redemptive history, plotting the shape of biblical theology onto our days, weeks, and months. This is true of Advent, which draws our imagination back to to the context of Jesus’ first coming, and in doing so prepares our hearts now as we look forward to his coming again. There are many habits that have arisen during Advent designed to help with this: Advent calendars, Advent wreaths, and the Jesse Tree.

Another practice that imbues this story is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Made famous by the annual broadcast on the BBC of the Festival from King’s College, Cambridge, the Festival arose out of Cornwall in the late 19th century. Amidst hymns, carols, and choir singing, the Festival outlines the narrative of scripture: the entrance of evil into the world in Genesis, the prophetic promise of one who would come to restore God’s world, to the birth of Christ – Abraham’s heir and Lord of the nations.

Below is the Festival outline from King’s College 2008. The order of the lessons has remained unchanged since 1919. In these last days of Advent the Festival provides an ideal way for anyone who has found the lead up to Christmas to be busy to take some time out to meditate upon the first coming of Christ, and also ponder his coming again to make all things new.

Nine Lessons and Carols – King’s College Cambridge, 2008

Processional Hymn: “Once in Royal David’s City”

Bidding Prayer

Carol: “If Ye would Hear the Angels Sing”

First Lesson from Genesis 3:8–19

Carol: “Remember, O Thou Man”

Carol: “Adam lay ybounden”

Second Lesson from Genesis 22:15–18

Carol: “Angels from the Realms of Glory”

Carol: “In Dulci Jubilo”

Third Lesson from Isaiah 9:2, 6–7

Carol: “Nowell Sing We Now All and Some”

Hymn: “Unto Us is Born a Son”

Fourth Lesson from Isaiah 11:1–3a, 4a, 6–9

Carol: “The Lamb”

Carol: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”

Fifth Lesson from the Gospel of Luke 1:26–35, 38

Carol: “I Sing of a Maiden”

Carol: “The Night when She First Gave Birth” (“Mary”)

Sixth Lesson from Luke 2:1, 3–7

Carol: “Sweet Baby, Sleep! What Ails My Dear?” (“Wither’s Rocking Hymn)”

Carol: “What Sweeter Music can We Bring”

Seventh Lesson from Luke 2:8–16

Carol: “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”

Hymn: “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”

Eighth Lesson from the Gospel of Matthew 2:1–12

Carol: “Illuminare Jerusalem”

Carol: “Glory, Alleluia to the Christ Child”

Ninth Lesson and Homily from the Gospel of John 1:1–14 

Hymn: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

Collect and Blessing

Hymn: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”