Note: I entered this in my workplace essay contest and won a Starbuck’s card. There was literally no competition—mine was the only submission.

We probably first heard it on the radio during a Christmas Eve roadtrip to the in-laws. It must have seemed especially soothing, because it has become one of our favorite Yuletide traditions.

Still, why my wife and I love an anachronism like Cambridge University’s annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is not easy to articulate.

It’s partly a reaction to the glitz that passed for art in the evangelical circles we were raised in. (Someone very close to me once fell from the upper tier of her church choir’s Christmas tree-shaped risers. Had she tangled in the Vegas-floor-show-style lights, she would have been a goner.)

On the other hand, considering we also love history and literature, it makes sense we should be drawn to one of the few Nativity celebrations still honored in our increasingly secular culture. (Hey, NPR broadcasts it. That in itself is a miracle.)

As for the service, we find in the simple blend of messianic scripture and Christmas hymns a surprising richness. Yes, Christ’s birth was attended by angelic choirs. But his swaddling clothes and bed in what was likely a stone trough foreshadowed his coming—but gloriously impermanent—entombment.

So this December 24, odds are you’ll find my beloved and me ensconced on our sofa, listening for the opening strains of “Once in Royal David’s City” and the recitation of Isaiah’s brilliant promise: “The people who dwelt in darkness have seen a great light.”

That light, we now know, is Christ.

Glory to God in the highest.