Roundup: Lessons & Carols, new Advent/Christmas albums, Advent Art Salon

N.B.: Upcoming dates:

  • December 4: “For God So Loved the Cosmos: A Service of Lessons and Carols,” Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • December 11: “A Dawning Light” service, Grace Mosaic, Washington, DC
  • December 14: (Virtual) Advent Art Salon, organized by Image journal

More info below!

STORY & SONG SERVICES:

>> “A Dawning Light,” Grace Mosaic, Washington, DC: On December 12 last year, I attended Grace Mosaic’s fourth annual “Dawning Light” service, an evening of Advent and Christmas gospel music and scripture readings. It was wonderful, progressing from darkness to light together, feeling collectively our longing and our joy. The service was organized by the church’s pastor of worship and formation, Joel Littlepage, who’s at the keys. The song list is below. My favorite is probably the “Emmanuel” medley around fifty-two minutes in, or the medley that follows.

  • Processional: “Wait for the Lord” by Jacques Berthier, Taizé Community
  • 9:06: “The Truth Sent from Above,” traditional English carol with music by Joel Littlepage
  • 15:50: “Come, O Redeemer, Come” by Fernando Ortega
  • 19:14: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” arr. Kimberly Williams | Soloist: Kimberly Williams
  • 26:17: “Tenemos Esperanza” by Federico J. Pagura (words) and Homero R. Perera (music), Argentina | Soloist: Melissa Littlepage
  • 35:51: “Lift Up Your Voices” by Nikki Grier, as performed by the Sunday Service Choir
  • 44:10: “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Charles Adam, Placide Cappeau, John S. Dwight, arr. Kimberly Williams | Soloist: Kimberly Williams
  • 52:13: “Emmanuel” by Solly Mahlangu, South Africa, sung in Sotho
  • 55:10: “Emmanuel” by Norman Hutchins | Soloist: Russ Whitfield
  • 59:20: “Christmas Worship Medley” (“Alpha and Omega,” “Be Unto Your Name,” “Magnificent and Holy,” “The Almighty Reigns”), as performed by Israel Houghton, arr. Dan Galbraith
  • 1:15:10: “Jesus Is the Reason” by Kirk Franklin
  • 1:20:19: “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts (words) and George Frideric Handel (music) (congregational hymn)
  • 1:23:24: Recessional: “Joy to the World” (instrumental)

This year’s “Dawning Light” service will be held December 11 at 5:30 p.m. at Grace Mosaic in Northeast Washington, DC. A catered reception will follow. RSVP here.

>> “For God So Loved the Cosmos: A Service of Lessons and Carols,” December 4, 2022, LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: This Sunday at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is holding a Lessons & Carols service (in-person and livestreamed) celebrating the Bible’s all-creation vision of redemption. The program is posted, and it looks great! If you’re remote, you can tune in on YouTube.

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2021 ADVENT ART SALON: Organized by Image journal, this virtual hour-long salon took place on December 14, 2021. The two highlights for me are Christopher J. Domig’s performance of the Shepherd’s monologue from “The Birth” by Frederick Buechner (12:54–18:33), in Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, and the Rev. Dr. Lauren Winner’s reflection on Mary’s pregnancy (43:44–49:26), in which she shares, in addition to two images, an unusual Advent practice she follows, recommended to her by a Baptist pastor who is also a doula!

Leininger, Lorie_Infinite Riches in a Little Room
Lorie Dodge Leininger (American, 1926–2016), Infinite Riches in a Little Room, 1968. Woodblock print, 14 × 11 1/2 in.

Image is hosting another virtual Advent Art Salon this year on December 14 at 5 p.m. Eastern (2 p.m. Pacific). It will feature an Advent meditation by Amy Peterson, poetry readings by Karen An-hwei Lee and Jonathan Chan, a performance of Annie Dillard’s “God in the Doorway” by Rachel Ingram, a musical performance by Eric Marshall of Young Oceans (who is on my Advent playlist!), and a reading on feasting by Kendall Vanderslice. View more info here, and register here.

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NEW ADVENT/CHRISTMAS ALBUMS: All three of these are available on Spotify andother streaming services.

>> We Wait: Advent and Christmas, vol. 2 by The Many: An EP of two traditional songs and two originals by The Many, an intentionally diverse collective gathered around their “shared love of music and commitment to honest expressions of faith, peace-making, economic and racial justice, and LGBTQ+ inclusion.” They draw on indie-pop and gospel influences.

>> The Soil and The Seed Project, vol. 5: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany: The Soil and The Seed Project is a liturgical collective based in Harrisonburg, Virginia, writing music and at-home liturgies structured around the church year. They’ve just released their fifth collection, available for free through their website. The music portion includes, among other songs, retunes of a few traditional Advent hymns; the electro-hop “Restore Us,” a lament by Greg Yoder; a setting of the Beatitudes; and a setting of Psalm 96:1–2 in its original Hebrew by the late Rev. Dr. Anil Solanki, a former seminary professor of TSATSP director Seth Crissman’s (Crissman said Professor Solanki would often open his Hebrew exegesis classes by leading students in this song).

>> Christmas Hymns by Paul Zach: Four originals and twelve traditionals from one of my favorite sacred singer-songwriters. Most are for Christmas, but a few are more Advent-y. Taylor Leonhardt, Lauren Plank Goans, Keiko Ying, and Noah Zach provide supporting vocals. [Apple Music]

Roundup: Hebrews album; flags in church; God the Plowman; digitized prayer book; lively praise hymns

Psallos: The Hebrews Album (Kickstarter): You have the opportunity to help finance a musical adaptation of the book of Hebrews for folk rock band and chamber orchestra. Cody Curtis, the composer behind Psallos, has already written the music; now he needs your help to pay for the recording and production. Curtis has already proven his skill at capturing the varied tones and trajectory of an epistle with his setting of Romans, released in 2012 (read my review here), and Thomas Griffith and Kelsie Edgren are returning to lend their beautiful vocal interpretations. I have full confidence that Psallos’s second epistle-based album will be nothing short of amazing! Besides a copy of the CD when it’s released, tiered reward options include the chance to sing on the CD as a choir member, the choice of any passage of scripture for Curtis to set to music, and a Psallos concert at your church. Also, the team is looking for a videographer and donated instruments, so get in touch with them if you’re able to help out in either of those areas.

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Should Patriotism Have a Place in Church? I really appreciate John Piper’s response to this question in last week’s Ask Pastor John podcast episodes. (Listen to part 2 here.) “I have been in several churches,” he says, “where on the Fourth of July the focus”—on each of the military branches and patriotic songs and flags and marches and decorations in red, white, and blue—“seemed to me uninformed, unshaped by the radical nature of the gospel, and out of proportion to the relationship between America and the kingdom of Christ.” He advises that American flags not be displayed in the sanctuary, and pledges of allegiance to the USA not be recited in a worship service, because church is where we acknowledge the absolute authority of Christ and no other.

As Christians, Piper says, we have “no unqualified allegiance to any political party, any nationality, any ethnicity, any tribal identity, or any branch of the armed service. It is all qualified. It is all secondary. It is all relative to the will of Christ. We should not say anything or do anything that looks as if that were not true. . . . The recitation of a pledge to a human authority”—and/or the display of a symbol of national identity—“in the setting of the worship of divine authority does not provide for the kind of Christian qualifications and nuances that are so necessary precisely in our day.”

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“Process” by Charles L. O’Donnell: I selected and wrote commentary on a short poem over at Literary Life on the theme of God as plowman of the heart. It begins,

The seed, Lord, falls on stony ground
Which sun and rain can never bless—
Until the soil is broken found—
With harvest fruitfulness.

Spring Ploughing by John Constable
John Constable (British, 1776–1837), Spring Ploughing, 1821. Oil on panel, 19 × 36.2 cm.

Run by Rick Wilcox, “Literary Life is a celebration of the Word. Leading with a discussion of modern and classic literature, we seek to tease out eternal truths which may be illumined by fiction, poetry, art and music.” The blog recently finished walking through Karen Swallow Prior’s memoir Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me; before that, it was Malcolm Guite’s The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter. Each post is a treat!

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Mary of Guelders prayer book now online: In the early fifteenth century, while the Limbourg Brothers were hard at work on the Très Riches Heures de Duc de Berry, Duchess Mary of Guelders (John of Berry’s niece) commissioned an extraordinary 900-plus-page book that would become the high point of the late medieval book industry in the Northern Low Countries. Due to its condition, it has been stored away for the last few decades at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, inaccessible even to most scholars. But a crowdfunded project led by Johan Oosterman is bringing the hidden treasure to light, allowing for extensive research, restoration, and (next October) public exhibition.

To keep the public informed of progress, a new website has been launched, with blog posts, videos, and tabs on “Mary’s World,” “The Prayers,” “The Decoration,” and more. And best of all, just last month a full digitization of the book was added to the site so that anyone with an Internet connection can browse through its hundreds of prayers and 106 miniatures. The miniature that stood out most to me is the one on verso page 132, illustrating the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. It shows Dives on his golden throne being swallowed by a hell-mouth, while from heaven Abraham denies his request for a drink of water.

Lazarus and the Rich Man (Mary of Guelders)
“Lazarus and the rich man from the mouth of hell,” from the prayer book of Mary of Guelders, ca. 1415. Fol. 132v. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

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New arrangement of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” and “Come, Thou Almighty King”: The music at last month’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, convened in Greensboro, North Carolina, was fantastic. With permission, I’m posting a video excerpt from the evening worship service held on June 14, 2017. The first hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” was written by Henry Van Dyke in 1907 to a tune from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; this version was arranged by Joel Littlepage (the musical director and keyboardist with the bowtie; assistant pastor of worship at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Winston Salem) and Michael Anderson (the pianist; composer-in-residence at Redeemer) and was orchestrated by Joel Littlepage. The first verse is sung very traditionally—in strict time to a chorded piano accompaniment—but then at 1:05, it gets real lively! The orchestra kicks into full gear, expressing the brightness of the hymn text.

Then just when you think it couldn’t get any more joyful, the praise team launches into a second hymn at 3:36 to ululation (celebratory cheer sounds), this one Caribbean-flavored. Composed by Felice de Giardini in the eighteenth century, “Come, Thou Almighty King” is a Trinitarian invocation: “Come, Thou Almighty King” (verse 1), “Come, Thou Incarnate Word” (verse 2), “Come, Holy Comforter” (verse 3). This particular arrangement is by Joel Littlepage, with orchestration by Michael Anderson. The musicians are as follows.

Vocal section (left to right): Kyle Dickerson; David Gill; Mary Higgins; Melissa Littlepage; Nikki Ellis, choir director
Rhythm section: Joel Littlepage, keyboard; Michael Anderson, piano; Daniel Faust, drums; Larry Carman, hand percussion; Kevin Beck, electric guitar
Horn section: Christian Orr, trumpet; Tim Plemmons, saxophone; Ben Nelson, trombone
String section: Heather Conine, violin; Violet Huang, viola; Adi Muralidharan, cello; Julie Money, harp
Wind section: Suzanne Kline and Lydia Wu, flute