“Heaven and nature sing” is not only a line from the song “Joy to the World,” it is also this year’s theme for the Advent Christmas Vespers service at Valparaiso University. This annual event is a traditional part of Advent celebrations on campus and has been in place for more than 70 years.

The service will be held in the Chapel of the Resurrection Friday at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m, and is anticipated to run about hour and 15 minutes.

Valparaiso University’s Advent Christmas Vespers is derived from “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” the Christmas Eve service held at the King’s College Chapel of the University of Cambridge in England. The festival was introduced in 1918 with the goal of bringing a more imaginative approach to worship. Each “lesson” of the program follows the same repeated format: a reading, a song by the choir and closes with a hymn.

The common ground for the Valpo version is that Advent Christmas Vespers draws the community close to texts and music. This call is to reflect on how human beings welcome the nativity of our Lord and our ongoing responsibility in light of Jesus’s birth, which extends to the whole of God’s creation. Texts are read by guest speakers invited from both the university and greater Valpo community. Nura Zaki, a junior Political Science/Pre-Law student, will be a reader at the event for her second year.

“Having the Advent Christmas Vespers service for the entire campus to enjoy and even participate in provides a special opportunity to celebrate this season together,” Zaki said.

However, in contrast to King’s College, there is variation between the texts used each year at Valpo. Over the past few years each program has become increasingly thematic, although chosen texts are still linked with the birth of Christ. Two years ago, Vespers looked at Spanish ideas of Christmas. In 2014 the theme was “I Wonder as I Wander,” an old Native American hymn. This year the theme focuses on the “Underlining of the Notion of Nature.”

“This is a helpful time to be thinking about the birth of Christ in relationship to the earth,” Assistant Vice President for Mission and Ministry Reverend Brian Johnson said.

Another new feature of the service is that the Advent Christmas Vespers planning team has continued their commissioning series of new pieces of music made specially for the choir and the handbell choir. This year’s newly commissioned features are a choral work called “Our Garden of Life” and a work for the handbell choir called, “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Cynthia Dobrinski. For those attending the 7 p.m. service, there will be a performance from the Jubilate Choir of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Valparaiso.

Sixteen painted works by Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) will also be featured in the program itself, several of which are housed in the Brauer Museum of Art. Those owned by Valpo will be on display in the back of the Chapel for viewing during the service.

Johnson describes the service as a multidimensional program.

“The service provides a time to reflect, take a little time away from studying and everything like that,” Johnson said. “Just think about something else, something that is interesting and that matters.”

Johnson is only a piece of a very big team who puts the service together. Among those are the University pastors, Pastor James Wetzstein and Pastor Charlene Cox, Chris Boshoven, Kantorei (the primary choir in the chapel), student leaders in the chapel and the handbell choir. Kaitlin Werth, a senior Electrical Engineering major, will be participating in the service for the fifth time as part of Kantorei and the handbell choir.

“It's always so peaceful to look out from gallery and see the chapel packed with people from everywhere, with their candles lit and the lighting dimmed,” says Werth.

In addition, the campus hospitality and food service staff will be overseeing a reception held in the Harre Union Ballrooms between the two services. Lakeshore Landscaping will be providing trees for the service, as Johnson says the “Helge Center is committed to sustainability issues so we wanted to do interior stuff in the environment this year that is particularly conscious of sustainability.”

Although the event is free of charge, tickets are required. Tickets can be picked up at the Chapel of the Resurrection, Helge Center or Harre Union Welcome Desk.

Contact Selena Schraven at torch@valpo.edu.

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