Welcome! The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols has been held at King’s College, Cambridge, since Christmas Eve 1918. It has since spread worldwide. Once again, as we have since 2006, The Daily Office offers our online version for those who are unable to participate in person or otherwise hear it—and for all who simply love the Christmas story and its music.
We are particularly mindful of those who are unable to obtain the nurture, succor, fellowship and protection of the Church because of isolation, illness, persecution or war. For them, and especially for our military personnel in foreign lands, an internet version may be useful.
The lessons are presented in the Authorized “King James” Version. The bidding prayer was adapted to American and international circumstances in 2006. All prayers use the ancient language of Rite 1.
The selection of recorded music is our own.
We thank you for your gifts of prayer and your generous donations this past year to our ministry, which make this site and this festal service possible. Rejoice! Emmanuel is come.
VIDEO: Organ Prelude
J.S. Bach: In Dulci Jubilo, BWV 608 – Jean Paul, organ
VIDEO: O come, all ye faithful (#84, Adeste Fidelis, att. John Francis Wade; tr. Frederick Oakeley et al.) – Choir of Westminster Abbey
Beloved in Christ, be it this Advent time our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels: in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and with the shepherds and the wise men adore the Child lying in his Mother’s arms.
Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and in company with the whole Church let us make this service, dedicated to his pure and lowly Mother, glad with our carols of praise:
But first let us pray for the needs of the whole world; for peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Israel and throughout creation; for goodwill over all the earth and a wise stewardship by each nation and each person; for our own country; for our town or city and state; and in particular for the Episcopal Church; for our Presiding Bishop Michael; for our Episcopal Visitor Cate of Indianapolis, and all our bishops; and for all deacons, priests and laypeople who minister in Christ’s name.
And let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the homeless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind, and all who mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; and all who know not the loving kindness of the Lord.
Let us also remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which none can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh: and let us pray that we may be counted among that communion of saints, receiving grace to offer unto God reasonable service, living in unity and fellowship with all God’s people and giving reverence to all that God hath made.
These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne of heaven, in the words which Christ himself hath taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name,
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil. Amen.
The Almighty God bless us with her grace: Christ give us the joys of everlasting life: and unto the fellowship of the citizens above may the King of Angels bring us all. Amen.
VIDEO: A babe is born (Gustav Holst) – Choir of New College, Oxford, dir. Edward Higginbotham
First Lesson: The Fall from Paradise
Genesis 3:8-15, 17-19 (KJV)
And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
VIDEO: The truth sent from above (Ralph Vaughan Williams) – Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
2nd Lesson: Redemption of Isaac
Genesis 22:15-18 (KJV)
And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
VIDEO: Sussex Carol – Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, arr. David Willcocks
3rd Lesson: Prophecy of Messiah
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (KJV)
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called wonderful Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
VIDEO: Of the Father’s Heart Begotten – Choir of St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark
4th Lesson: Lion and Lamb
Isaiah 11:1-3a, 4a, 6-9 (KJV)
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD.
With righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weanèd child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
VIDEO: God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen – Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
5th Lesson: Annunciation of Mary
Luke 1:26-35, 38 (KJV)
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
VIDEO: I Wonder as I Wander – Julie Andrews
6th Lesson: Bethlehem
Luke 2:1, 3-7 (KJV)
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
VIDEO: O Little Town of Bethlehem (Ralph Vaughan Williams) – Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
7th Lesson: Angel and Shepherds
Luke 2:8-16 (KJV)
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
VIDEO: The First Noel – Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
8th Lesson: Herod’s Alarm
Matthew 2:1-12 (KJV)
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
VIDEO: Nativity Carol (John Rutter) – King’s College, Cambridge
9th Lesson: The Light Shineth
John 1:1-14 (KJV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light. That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
VIDEO: O Holy Night – Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti
Collect of the Day: Christmas
O God, thou hast caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with thee and the Holy Ghost he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
May he who by his Incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, grant us the fullness of inward peace and goodwill; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be amongst us and remain with us always. Amen.
VIDEO: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
VIDEO: Organ Postlude
Bach: In Dulci Jubilo, BWV 729 – Michael Keen, organ