The Church Year as Evangelistic Resource; Active and Passive Advent Piety; and Weaving Together Christmastide and New Year's Day
So often, church year seasons drive our worship planning process. But terms like “Advent” and “Epiphany” don’t communicate well. They end up being barriers to our audience—especially our audience of the unchurched. What can we do about that?
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak.” (Psalm 50:7)
“To hear God speaking, to listen to his voice, does not necessarily involve the auditory senses, but is like a field of vibrations that surround one’s life and one’s horizon with an engaging reality that overwhelms what is in sight before one.” (from Prayer by Hans Urs von Balthasar [Ignatius Press, 1986])
This litany was originally written for a Bible study group’s Christmas worship celebration. It could easily be adapted for a larger worship gathering or a small family worship time. Make sure to have someone read the section titles to signal the liturgical moves in this litany. The original intent was for a different person to read each paragraph. However, if you use this in a church setting, it may be best to split the readings between three or four individuals. —JB
- Two Readers
- Six Choral Readers (three “First Choral Readers” and three “Second Choral Readers”)
- Four Umbrella People
- Sick woman
- red—the blood of Christ (salvation)
- green—green pastures (protection)
In late 2011 we decided to write a Christmas song for our congregation and to have the children of the congregation help us. We invited them to bring lyrics or ideas to include in the song as they came forward for their time with the pastors. They did so for a four-week period.
We (Veena Kulkarni and John Groen) then sat down and began crafting the lyrics. We had no tune in mind, but the lyrics came together with little resistance. They seemed to have a certain logic to them. After a couple of meetings they were in place.
The book of Isaiah, which has often been called “the fifth gospel,” preaches the Advent and Christmas gospel in ways that resist both hopelessness and sentimentality. Its texts are full of both unbending realism about the terror of sin and injustice, and resolute hope in the coming of the Messiah and the peaceable kingdom that this Messiah would usher in. This service of lessons and carols journeys through the book of Isaiah sequentially, with readings and music drawn from ten different chapters.
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” with Psalm 74
Let’s face it: Advent has been hijacked. Most people, including many Christians, consider Black Friday to be the beginning of the Christmas season. But long before the crush of holiday shopping at the end of November, Christmas lights festoon our streets and malls and the sound of Christmas jingles is inescapable.
Prepare the Way is a series created by the Wesleyan Church that features four weeks of spiritual preparation leading up to Christmas. Included are sermon outlines; small group lessons for children, youth, and adults; and more. Many additional resources, including PowerPoint backgrounds, devotionals, and family service ideas can be found at wesleyan.org/323/advent-2013-prepare-the-way.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come! For those who observe it, Christmas is a day of much anticipation and celebration. In my home it is no different. Blessed with many friends and family, we have multiple celebrations to attend and gifts to exchange. It is a busy time with all the preparations and events at church. And there are so many traditions: the children’s Christmas pageant, our church’s Living Nativity, the Christmas Eve candlelight service, monkey bread on Christmas morning, family worship. Christmas is a wondrous time—a joy-filled time.
A few years ago I visited my friend Shawn, who is what you would call an audiophile. Shawn devotes an immense amount of time, energy, and money to thinking about and listening to music. He’s one of these people who would rather buy music than groceries. His apartment was simple, but decorated wall to wall with record albums.
I asked Shawn, “Why do you still collect records?” He looked at me, as audiophiles do, as if he were disappointed in me. He simply shook his head and said, “Because they sound better!”
As Christians, sharing the gospel message should be something we do as naturally as breathing, both in word and in action. This litany encourages us to share Christ daily with all those we meet.
Leader: Eternal God, you give us a guide for our lives in your Word.
All: Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
Women: with all your soul,
Men: with all your mind,
The psalms touch every emotion. They are genuine cries to God, longing for hope, and shouts of praise that lead us into a closer relationship with our Lord. This service uses the psalms through the eyes of Advent. In Advent we wait, we remember what God did for his people in the past, and we rejoice in our salvation. We also look ahead, knowing that our Lord, the King of glory, is coming, full of truth and grace.
Worship leaders and planners are well aware of the pervasive use of projection media for songs, prayers, litanies, art, and advertisements in worship services. Googling “worship backgrounds” returns about six million options. While examples of digital worship visuals are plentiful, there are miscues everywhere, including slides that are cliché, distracting, or poorly designed.
Q After twelve years of planning worship, Advent is starting to feel a bit tired to me—we seem to fall back on the same texts and songs. How can we freshen up our approach?
It’s the season of light. Christmas lights surround us and captivate the children among us and the child within. In worship the light is much more subdued as each week we simply add one more candle flame to the Advent wreath. While the growing light might not be noticeable, the true Light that has come down to earth touches each one of us, and we in turn are called to share the light of Christ with others.
Prayer stations are a wonderful way to engage all the senses in meditation, reflection, and prayer. And while they are often used as a separate experience for youth groups or special events, I’ve started to wonder about using them in the context of Sunday morning worship.
One of the surprises of Christmas is who was “in the know”: a group of shepherds, an old man and an old woman, a group of foreigners. The good news of Christ’s birth went forth into unlikely places and was spread among people of all backgrounds. For centuries, missions meant taking the gospel message and going or sending people to another place in the world to share it. Today, the world is no longer far away, and one of the ways we experience the global church is through our worship music.
Finding a fresh way to share, experience, and delight in the Advent season and in the celebration of Christmas can prove challenging year after year. The story is well known to church members, and creating services that encourage them to enter the story with fresh, excited, and expectant eyes and hearts can be difficult.
For many of us, Advent marks the beginning of the church year. But is it the proper place to start? The season from Advent to Epiphany is only one chapter in the metanarrative that began with the creation of the world. Scripture makes it clear that the mission of God is to redeem the world, to bring the nations to himself.
In the Old Testament, God chose to work primarily through the Hebrew people to bring others into the covenant community. In Genesis 12 God says to Abraham:
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