Advent Through the Psalms: An alternative to the traditional lessons and carols

I have often been struck by how different psalms fit different parts of the entire church year. For this Advent service I related specific psalms to the season of Advent in the traditional lessons and carols format. The anthems we used reflected themes in those psalms. Because the budget for our small choir allowed for only one new anthem, I chose several older anthems—some now out of print—from their library. You may want to choose different anthems, depending on your resources. Many of the psalms came from Sing! A New Creation (CRC Publications, 2001). We used two readers for the psalms, which we divided according to the context, and provided each reader with a complete highlighted script. A third person read the other prayers and readings. Our pastor gave the greeting and benediction.

The congregation was used to the traditional lessons and carols format with the same readings each year, so they were ready for a fresh approach. The choir wondered during rehearsals how many of these songs would relate to Advent, but during the service, when the songs were set in the context of Scripture, they got the fuller picture. Along with the congregation, they were excited about making the connections.

Welcome and Greeting


Eternal God, your promise is spoken in the psalms of David, in the words of the prophets, in the dream of Joseph. Your promise is spoken, eternal God, and takes flesh at last in the womb of the virgin.

May Emmanuel find welcome in our hearts, take flesh in our lives, and be for all peoples the welcome advent of redemption and grace. We ask this through him whose coming is certain, whose Day draws near: your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Processional Hymn

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” PsH 328, PH 9, RL184, SFL123, TH 194, TWC 133 (st. 1-2, choir [arr. Louise Grant; Belwin Oct. 1705-7]; st. 3, 4, 7, congregation)

Psalm 122


Spoken Response

Lift your eyes, Jerusalem, and see the power of your ruler. Look to a Savior who shall break your bonds.

—from a monastic liturgy

Choral Response

“O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem,” Thomas Tomkins (SATB; Oxford, in Sixteenth Century Anthem Book)

Psalm 80, as found in SNC 100. Congregation sings the refrain.


Hymn: “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” PsH 329, PH 1, RL 183, SFL 122

Psalm 25, as found in SNC 199. Congregation sings the refrain.


Hymn: “Comfort, Comfort Now My People” PsH 194, PH 3, RL 169, TWC 132

Psalm 72 from The Message (see sidebar)

Choral Response


“Break Forth into Joy,” Caleb Simper (SAB, organ; Flammer 1935)

Psalm 85:1-7

Prayer of Confession


Lord, when did we see you?
I was hungry, starving,
and you were full;
and you were watering your lawn;
with no road to follow, and without hope,
and you called the police
and were happy that they took me prisoner;
barefoot and with ragged clothing,
and you were saying: “I have nothing to wear,
tomorrow I will buy something new”;
and you asked: “Is it infectious?”;
and you said: “That is where all those of your class should be.”


Lord have mercy!

—Author unknown

Psalm 85:8-13

Congregational Response

“The Steadfast Love of the Lord” SNC 242
“Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” SNC 157

Psalm 146

Sung Choral Prayer


“Prayer of the Children,” Kurt Bestor, arr. Andrea S. Klouse (The Pinnacle Group/Warner Bros, CH96165)

Spoken Prayer

How long, God of justice, how long
before you hear the cries of your people?
How long will the poor be hungry
before they are fed?
How long will children fear death
before you hold them in your arms?
How long must the weak suffer
at the hands of their oppressors?

What keeps you from acting?
For your Name’s sake we ask!
Father of the poor. . . .
God of all consolation!
Your silence makes mockery of your name.
Come, God of justice.
Too much suffering, too many deaths.
You have waited long enough!
Strike quickly in our world,
and today
in our hearts.

—Pat Kozak and Janet Schaffran, quoted in Soul Weavings: A Gathering of Women’s Prayers (Augsburg Fortress, 1996).

Sung Prayer

“Peace Before Us,” prayer of peace, based on a Navaho prayer, by David Haas (GIA: G-3505)


“Lord, Make Us Servants,” SNC 204 a setting of the prayer of Saint Francis Assisi

Psalm 126, read or sung from SNC 210
(st. 1: solo; st. 2: all)


Choral Response

“Joy in the Morning,” Natalie Sleeth (Hope, 1977)

Psalm 89 (vv. 1-5, 13-16, 19-29)



“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” PsH 345, PH 31, RL 196, TH 203, TWC 171

(Choir sings “A Christmas Fanfare,” Benjamin Harlan [SATB, piano, and congregation; Hal Leonard, 1999], which precedes the hymn; includes a descant and a concluding “Gloria”).

Parting Words

We live always during Advent. We are always waiting for the Messiah to come. The Messiah has come, but is not yet fully manifest. The Messiah is not fully manifest in each of our souls, not fully manifest in humankind as a whole: that is to say, that just as Christ was born according to the flesh in Bethlehem of Judah, so must he be born according to the Spirit in each of our souls.

—Jean Danielou, quoted in An Advent Sourcebook (LTP, 1988), p. 87; from The Advent of Salvation (Franklin, WI: Sheed and Ward Publishing, 1962).

Parting Blessing

Parting Hymn: “Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come” PsH 337, PH 40, RL 198, SFL 137, TH 195, TWC 146.


Bulletin Note

Words of Preparation

Advent is both a beginning and an end, an alpha and omega of the church’s year of grace. Too often considered merely a season of preparation for the annual commemoration of Christ’s birth, this rich and many-layered season is actually designed to prepare the Christian for the glorious possibilities of the parousia [second coming]. It is a season of longing expectation—“Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

—William G. Storey, Days of the Lord (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965), vol. 1, p. 21. Used by permission.


Psalm 72 from The Message

Give the gift of wise rule to the king, O God,
the gift of just rule to the crown prince.
May he judge your people rightly,
be honorable to your meek and lowly.
Let the mountains give exuberant witness;
shape the hills with the contours of right living.
Please stand up for the poor,
help the children of the needy,
come down hard on the cruel tyrants.
Outlast the sun, outlive the moon—
age after age after age.
Be rainfall on cut grass,
earth-refreshing rain showers.
Let righteousness burst into blossom
And peace abound until the moon fades to nothing.
Rule from sea to sea,
from the River to the Rim.

Foes will fall on their knees before God,
his enemies lick the dust.
Kings remote and legendary will pay homage,
kings rich and resplendent will turn over their wealth.
All kings will fall down and worship,
and godless nations sign up to serve him,
Because he rescues the poor at the first sign of need,
the destitute who have run out of luck.
He opens a place in his heart for the down-and-out,
he restores the wretched of the earth.
He frees them from tyranny and torture—
when they bleed, he bleeds;
when they die, he dies.

And live! Oh, let him live!
Deck him out in Sheba gold.
Offer prayers unceasing to him,
bless him from morning to night.
Fields of golden grain in the land,
cresting the mountains in wild exuberance,
Cornucopias of praise, praises
springing from the city like grass from the earth.
May he never be forgotten,
his fame shine on like sunshine.
May all godless people enter his circle of blessing
and bless the One who blessed them.

Blessed God, Israel’s God,
the one and only wonder-working God!
Blessed always his blazing glory!
All earth brims with his glory.
Yes and Yes and Yes.

—from The Message, © 1993, 1994, 1995.

Rev. Joyce Borger is senior editor of Reformed Worship and a resource development specialist at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Reformed Worship 65 © September 2002, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.