Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. To prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Christ, our church will be filled with prayer and praise not only this morning during our services of Holy Eucharist but also in the afternoon during our annual service of Advent Lessons & Carols at 5:00 p.m. It’s a beautiful way to end the Lord’s Day in the midst of this holy season of joyful expectation. It’s also a wonderful service to invite your friends and neighbors to attend, giving them a taste of the music at Palmer.
Perhaps you’re like me and enjoy listening on the morning of Christmas Eve to the live broadcast of A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols from King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England. That’s where this tradition began in 1918. It was introduced there by the Rev. Eric Milner-White, who was the 34-year-old newly appointed Dean of the College. Since 1919, the service in King’s College Chapel has always begun with the hymn “Once in Royal David’s City.” The first radio broadcast of the service was in 1928, which has continued annually with the exception of 1930. At some point in the early 1930s that radio broadcast was carried by the BBC World Service, sharing this gift with millions of listeners worldwide. Dean Milner-White described it this way:
The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God . . . ‘seen’ through the windows and words of the Bible.
Palmer’s version of this tradition highlights Advent themes and points us to the joy of Christmas. So while our service doesn’t begin with a child’s solo voice singing “Once in Royal David’s City,” it does capture the spirit of what has become a beloved service not only in King’s College Chapel but also in churches and schools and chapels around the world. So come back this afternoon and ponder with us, through both word and song, the messiah promised to Israel, who is Christ the Lord.
— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector