The month of December—in the church, in our communities, in our homes—is a notoriously busy month. With so much attention focused on Christmas Eve and Day, attendance on this Sunday is usually lower than the rest of the month. This can make the first Sunday worship service after Christmas Eve a challenging one for which to muster energy. That makes it a perfect opportunity to enjoy the Christmas season, short as it is in the church year, with carols and stories.
While few churches still cling to the tradition of not singing carols until Christmas Eve, many congregations use carols sparingly during Advent in order to give attention to the prophetic scriptures and themes of the season of preparation. That leaves little time, however, to enjoy singing Christmas carols—which recount an important part of our story of faith—together as a congregation. Additionally, behind many of our favourite carols there are stories of great faith and witness, which when shared can help connect our celebrations with the gospel message.
The Stories behind Carols liturgy is a family-oriented service that gives the congregation a chance to hear the promises of God as articulated by the prophet Isaiah, to sing joyfully a host of carols together, and to hear the origin stories of four of them: a transformational pilgrimage, a benevolent local hero, a call to live charitably and peaceably, and a song of humble devotion. The basics of each story are included but can certainly be expanded upon.
So many of our familiar carols have inspirational or touching stories associated with them that liturgists should feel free to make their own choices. In addition to what can be found online, a helpful starting point is Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins (Zondervan, 2001).
—Andy O’Neil is minister at St. Paul’s United Church in Riverview, NB
If you are wondering why we are sending out Advent material when it is still October, it is because we know that many of you are worship planners already looking several weeks ahead, and we hope that these messages might be helpful as you plan for Advent!