This edition of “The Faith-Life Children’s Christmas Service” marks the seventy-sixth anniversary of its first publication in Faith-Life, December 16, 1929, when it was introduced as the annual Christmas Eve celebration in various Protes’tant parishes and households. In its rudimentary elements the service was conceived by Rev. Christian Philipp Koehler (1828-1895), who emigrated from his home in Neuwied-Wupperthal north of Frankfurt-am-Main as a mission school graduate in 1854, to join the newly-founded (1850) Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, defining Scriptural Lutheran doctrine and practice until his death forty years later. The Service was developed to its finished basic liturgical form by Koehler’s grandson Karl (1885-1948) in 1910 when, at 25, he was serving his first pastorate at Kingston, Wisconsin. He was later professor at Northwestern College, Watertown, Wisconsin, 1921-1924, and editor of Faith-Life, 1929-1948. Like all Lutheran liturgical forms that have taken shape since Luther’s expurgation and restructuring of the Roman mass, “The Children’s Christ Mass” allows for and invites variable cultivation to accommodate local custom and limitation or competence within the decorum of the truth and beauty of the Gospel.
The Service as here presented has been in use, at first in German, from 1925 to 1934 in Trinity Ev. Lutheran Congregation, Township of Liberty, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, and from 1930 to the present in the sister congregation, Grace Ev. Lutheran, Valders, Wisconsin; under the pastorate in both parishes of Rev. Paul Hensel (1888-1977) until his retirement in 1972; and until 1955 under the direction of Miss Lydia Karth [Schuelke] (1887-1970), primary school teacher in Liberty 1927-1935, and choir director and organist at Trinity and Grace. Thus the Service has established a spiritual heritage of inestimable value for the hearts and minds of Wisconsin Synod congregations for 95 years. It was first published in German in 1913 by Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
This edition amplifies the text with the complete musical score, and presents examples of paintings and drawings from the Reformation era which further serve to focus the attention of the participant on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Two pertinent articles, originally published in Faith-Life, which trace the history and nature of liturgical Christmas worship, and this service in particular, are also included.
The service stands unique among all known efforts to compose the sum of divine prophecy and proclamation, and of the cultural treasures of the church universal bearing on the Nativity of Christ, a supreme work of art, and a model in the organic evolution of congregational worship since, in the time of Adam’s third son, men first began in fellowship to call upon the name of the Lord.
The Holy Spirit expressly exhorts us throughout Scripture as implied in the first three Commandments, to be in love with the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength and with all our mind, and with our neighbor as our self; to pray, praise, and give thanks without ceasing; to worship Him in spirit and in truth; to consider our whole life a creative act of worship. He Himself discovers to us the early pearls, and has put a new, that is, an original song in our mouth, one never heard before. He opens our lips so that our mouths can show forth His praise to express the personal faith He has given to us. He Himself directs our rehearsal in this vale of tears, until in all eternity we join the hosts of just men made perfect. Then shall our mouths be filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.