A series of resources for the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day
This series of Advent-Christmas worship resources is meant to provide a framework for a deeper, richer experience of the worship of our God, who in his eternal plan saw humankind in its desperate need and sent his Son, Jesus.
Reformed Worship is pleased to present a coordinated set of Advent bulletin covers that support the themes of this Advent series. Jack Schwarz, chairman of the music department at Biola University in La Miranda, California, prepared these services for the Granada Heights Friends Church, a community church with an evangelical witness.
Each service calls for a time of preparation, celebration, self-examination and confession, and the proclamation of the Word of God. The five services all focus on the Word of God: 'The Word Foretold," "The Word Announced," "The Word Welcomed," "The Word Becomes Flesh," and 'The Word Confirmed."
We have included the opening section of each of the five services: "We Prepare Our Hearts for Worship." The set of complete services is available through the RW Resource File. RW subscribers should request the Granada Heights Advent Services.
Free-lance artist Greg Curley created the bulletin covers for this worship series. The bulletins were printed on 8½" x 14" paper, folded twice (see diagram). Subscribers to RW have permission to reproduce this art for their own church bulletin covers.
On the following pages, shown actual size for copying on an 8VS x 14" sheet, are the front cover and side 1 and 2 of the flap. The service and other bulletin information can be typed on the remaining panels.
"And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people."
The Word Foretold to the Prophet Isaiah
The words that the Lord spoke through Isaiah are his words of timeless truth. These words were to be shared by Israel with men and women of other nations—words that made God's people a beacon of hope in the midst of a hopeless world.
Though God's word through his people is a powerful mode of communication, Isaiah foretold of an even greater one: the Word becoming flesh (Isa. 53). Not only would God use others to speak his truth, but someday he would speak it himself through the second person of his being, Jesus the Christ. In that day, all people could be received directly into a relationship with God and be indentified by him as "my people."
Through eyes of faith Isaiah vividly foretold the coming of the Word as flesh. The Word did not become flesh until several centuries after Isaiah set down his pen.
This morning, the lighting of the first Advent candle and the reading of God's message through Isaiah are being done by the______family.
Many Old Testament prophecies told of the coming of Jesus, the Savior. Our use of Advent candles helps us to focus on three comings or "advents" of Christ.
- Jesus came to earth, in human form, at Bethlehem, to save us from our sin.
- Jesus comes into our hearts to cleanse us and conform us to his image.
- Jesus instructed believers to watch for his second coming.
The Advent-wreath circle represents Jesus' divinity, without beginning or end, and his unending love and care for his followers.
First Sunday of Advent
Call To Worship
Just as the prophet Isaiah looked forward to the advent of the Messiah, we look forward to the commemoration of the Messiah's birth.
The lighting of the Advent candles on the four Sundays before Christmas helps us picture the progressive revelation of events set forth in the Old Testament that point toward the coming of Jesus. On Christmas Day, those candles are extinguished as the "Christ Candle" is lit, thereby symbolizing the fulfillment of all the prophecies concerning his coming.
The_____family will help center our thoughts on the Advent season we are now entering and on the theme of our service this morning as they read the Scripture, light the candle, and explain its meaning.
The Lighting of the Advent Wreath
The Coming of Christ from the Prophet's Perspective
Father: (The reading of Isaiah 51:15-16)
"For I am the Lord your God,
who churns up the sea so that its
the Lord Almighty is his name.
I have put my words in your
and covered you with the
shadow of my hand—
I who set the heavens in place,
who laid the foundations of the
and who say to Zion,
'You are my people.'"
Child: Dad, who is Isaiah writing to?
Father: Isaiah is writing to the nation of Israel. Isaiah reminds the Jewish people that, as God's elect, they have the privilege of sharing God's Word with other nations. Isaiah also reassures Israel that God will protect them and remain faithful to them.
Child: Does that mean we have to become Jewish before God will protect us and give us the right to share his word with others?
Mother: No. Isaiah wrote later in his book that the Word, or truth, about which he was speaking would someday be available to all people.
The candle we are lighting this morning reminds us that the Word foretold by Isaiah is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who makes it possible for all people, regardless of their background, to be "covered with the shadow of [God's] hand" and confident that they are "[his] people." (One child lights the candle.)
The Prophet Announces His Coming
(The prophet might dress in an Old Testament costume and enter the sanctuary speaking the prophecies as he comes into full view of the congregation. He should conclude the prophecies as he stands facing the congregation.)
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (7:14)
"The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those who living in the shadow of death
a light has dawned…
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this." (9:2,6-7)
"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear
of the Lord." (11:1-2)
"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you,
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn."
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
The Word Announced
The angel Gabriel announced the imminent, earthly arrival of the Word.
Before a multitude of the heavenly host publicly proclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest," Gabriel privately announced to Mary that she had found favor in God's sight. Mary's faithfulness in the little things caused God to view her with favor and, thus, to choose her as a vehicle to bring his great plan for the ages to fruition.
The angel Gabriel's announcement of the Word to the adolescent Mary is a reminder to us that God chooses the last to be first, the weak to be strong, and the faithful to be favored.
This morning_______will light the second Advent candle and read Gabriel's message to Mary.
"…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee...."
Darkness represents fear and hopelessness. The lighting of the candles of the Advent wreath is meant to represent the growing hope and joy that entered the world with the anticipation of Jesus' birth.
In the darkness of our world today, we find hope in anticipating Jesus' return!
Second Sunday of Advent
Call to Worship
As we come together for worship we focus our minds upon the eternal Word of God, whose coming to earth in flesh was foretold by the prophet Isaiah and announced to Mary and Joseph by the angel Gabriel. It is this God, come to earth in human form to identify with us and to give his life for us, before whom we bow in worship today.
As Mary received the announcement of his coming with great joy, let us also come into his presence with joyful hearts, hearts filled with thankfulness to him for our great salvation. God's love sent his only Son, Jesus, to be our Savior. We open our hearts to receive the Word with joy!
Lighting of the Advent Wreath
_______gather around the Advent Wreath.
The Coming of Christ from the Angel's Perspective
Adult 1: The coming of the Messiah, foretold by the prophet Isaiah, was fulfilled several centuries later in the birth of Jesus.
When the time was right for sending his Son into the world, God did not call down from heaven in a voice that all the world could hear. He chose instead to send a special messenger to make a very private and personal announcement.
Child 1: Did Mary know that her baby was going to be a special baby?
Child 2: Did she know it was going to be Jesus?
Adult 2: Yes, Mary did know that she was to have a very special baby boy, and yes, she knew that his name would be Jesus.
Child 3: Who told her and how did he or she know?
Adult 2: The angel Gabriel, God's special messenger, told Mary that she was going to become the mother of the Savior of the whole world. Matthew 1 tells us about the Angel's message:
Angel: " 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.'
Adult 1: "Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her,
Angel: " Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a Son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.'
Adult 1: 'Then Mary said to the angel, 'How will this be, since I am a virgin?'
Angel: " The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.'"
Adult 2: The Scripture goes on to tell us that Mary anticipated the birth of Jesus with great joy in her heart.
Jesus has brought great joy into our lives too. We anticipate the celebration of his birth by lighting two of the Advent candles on this the second Sunday of Advent. (Two children light one candle each.)
…the shepherds said one to another, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us."
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Luke 2:15, 16
The Word Welcomed
The Word foretold by Isaiah and privately announced to Mary was welcomed into the world by a band of Judean shepherds.
It is curious that these humble shepherds were the first to view this One who would someday refer to himself as, the "Good Shepherd" (John 10). Yet it was this Good Shepherd who became like a lamb led to slaughter and a sheep silent before his shearers (Isa. 53) so that we, who "…were like the sheep going astray…[could return] to the Shepherd…of [our] souls" (1 Pet. 2).
Our great Shepherd, whose advent was welcomed by the Judean shepherds, became like his sheep—not so that he could better understand the flock but so that we could better understand him.
This morning, the______family will light the third Advent candle and read Luke's account of the shepherds' reception of the Word proclaimed.
Third Sunday of Advent
Call to Worship
The Word foretold by Isaiah and privately announced to Mary was welcomed into the world by a band of Judean shepherds. We come today to focus our minds and hearts on the eternal Word of God and his welcome into our world.
Even though we know that he has already come, we, in a very special sense, meet here today to welcome him anew—to make a new place for him in our hearts, to commit ourselves in a fresh way to his lordship and authority in our lives.
As we fix our gaze upon him and come to see him more clearly, we will realize again that our Great Shepherd, whose advent was welcomed by the Judean shepherds, became like his sheep—not so that he could better understand the flock but so that they (we, his sheep) could better understand him. Welcome him! Worship him!
Lighting of the Advent Wreath
The Coming of Christ from the Shepherds' Perspective
Father: Listen to the story from Luke 2 about the shepherds who heard about the birth of Jesus from the angels:
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night."
Child 1: Dad, why were they staying out in the fields at night? Weren't they cold?
Child 2: Didn't they have houses to live in?
Mother: The shepherds were staying out in the fields at night because that was where the sheep were. You see, a flock is a group of sheep, usually a very large group—perhaps as many as several hundred. The shepherds were watching over this large group of sheep to make sure that none of them wandered away and that wild animals didn't harm them.
Night after night the shepherds watched over their sheep. On cold nights they probably built a fire to keep warm—something like we do when we go camping.
Father: OK, let's start over. "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
Mother: "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified."
That would be frightening, wouldn't it?
"But the angel said to them,
Child 3: '"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.'"
Child 1: Does that mean us, too, Dad?
Father: Yes, it certainly does.
Child 3: "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'/
Father: "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
Family together: " 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men on whom his favor rests.'
Father: "When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'
Mother: "So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger."
Father: As we light the Advent candles now, we can sense the joy and the excitement of the shepherds as they hurried to welcome the baby Jesus, with the wonderful message of the angels ringing in their ears. We, too, can with joy and excitement anticipate the celebration of his birth.
(Three children each light one candle.)
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Word Becomes Flesh
The Word foretold by Isaiah, privately announced to Mary, and publicly welcomed by the shepherds, became flesh almost two thousand years ago.
While the Greeks sought to know the Word (Truth) in nature and thought, the Romans looked for the Word in law and government. Both societies failed to find that for which they were looking until John, a first-century Jew, proclaimed that the Word had become flesh. What the Greeks and Romans had looked for "out there," said John, had come and "dwelt among us."
Praise God that Jesus, the Word made flesh, left us a life after which to pattern our own and a Spirit who enables us to live a life after his pattern.
This morning, the lighting of the fourth Advent candle and the remembrance of the Word become flesh is being done by_________.
Fourth Week of Advent
Call to Worship
The first chapter of John declares, 'The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:14,16-17).
Jesus took upon himself our humanity, and through his coming we have come to know the truth about who he is. We have beheld his glory and have received his grace. We have acknowledged him as Savior and Lord and have come together today to fall at his feet and worship him—to behold again his glory and to receive again his grace.
We focus our minds upon him, and open our hearts to worship him together.
Lighting of the Advent Wreath
The Coming of Christ from the Perspective of Mary and Joseph
Reader 1: The prophets' message about the coming of the Messiah was meant to bring hope and comfort—to stir the hearts of the people in anticipation of a promised Redeemer. God would yet visit his people; the Ruler of Israel would come. Hear the prophecy!
Reader 2: "Therefore the Lord, himself, will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14).
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old,
from ancient times.
Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor gives birth
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
…And he will be their peace." (Mic. 5:2-5)
Reader 1: And the prophet Malachi spoke these words of assurance: "But for you who revere me, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings" (Mai. 4:2).
Reader 2: God was faithful to his Word. The Messiah did come—not to rule and reign as a king but to humbly take upon himself our human flesh. Listen to Luke's account of the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy:
Reader 1: "So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
Reader 2: "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
Reader 1: Today, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, we anticipate the celebration of that birth—the greatest event in all of human history. Our anticipation burns brightly this morning as we light all four candles.
(_______________light the four Advent candles.)
Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people, Israel.
The Word Confirmed
The people of God had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries. One of those people, an old man named Simeon, had been waiting in Jerusalem. He waited on "tiptoes" for the coming of the Word, for he had been told that he would not die until he had seen the Lord Christ.
Simeon's waiting is transformed into seeing, and his faith in the promise is confirmed by holding the child in his arms. As Job of old he can say, "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you."
Our waiting for the Word has also been confirmed, for we have seen even more than Simeon. We have seen not only Christ's birth, but also his death and resurrection. The light of revelation to the Gentiles is even more glorious than Simeon imagined.
Worship the King…
Beginning with the early church and continuing today among many groups of Christians, Christmas is celebrated not on just one day but as a season extending beyond December 25th through January 5th (thus the tradition of the 12 days of Christmas).
January 6th marks the celebration of the coming of the wisemen to the house where the child, Jesus, lived with Joseph and Mary. It is generally assumed that, the wisemen from the east followed the star for at least several months.
The Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh that the wise men laid at Jesus' feet were costly gifts, appropriate for a king. January 6 (the day of Epiphany) is a day to acknowledge the kingship of Christ.
Christmas Day or a Sunday After Christma
Invitation to Worship
God is here! The Messiah has come! We open our eyes to see him and lift our hearts to worship him. We have come to exalt the name of Jesus, our Savior and King, and to bring glory to God the Father. In our worship we demonstrate the mind of Christ in declaring to God that he is the supreme authority in our lives. We bow before him in submission to our Lord and King. Come, worship the Lord!
Jesus Is Brought to Jerusalem (from Luke 2:21-35 and Isaiah 53: 10,11)
Narrator: "He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
Simeon: "Sovereign Lord, as
you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant
in peace. For my eyes have seen your
which you have prepared in
the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the
Gentiles and for glory to your people
Narrator: 'The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
Simeon: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Narrator: Though Simeon's words seemed quite abstract to Mary at that moment, they would someday be more real than she could ever have imagined. For, in a figurative sense, a sword did pierce her soul as she watched a literal sword pierce the flesh of her Son who hung in shame and humiliation upon a cross.
Mary's baby boy, clean and softly cooing on his dedication day, would be the very one who, in three short decades, would be marched naked through the streets of Jerusalem as a criminal, crushed for our iniquities and chastened for our well-being.
But as Isaiah wrote several hundred years before this baby's birth,
"Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause
him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life a guilt
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand...
Therefore I will give him a portion among the
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors."
(Note: Consider dramatizing this scene. Have Joseph, Mary, and Simeon appear in costume and, if possible, arrange to have Mary and Joseph present a real baby. The narrator should be out of view.)
God, we bow before you and before your Son, our Savior, Jesus, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. We rejoice in the light that he has brought into the world—into our own hearts—and we carry on the song that the angels sang as they announced his birth: "Glory to God in the highest."
But, as we lift our voices in praise, we also bow our hearts in confession. It was for our sin that Jesus came. God, the Son, emptied himself of his divine privileges and took upon himself our humanity. He delivered us from the bondage of sin and gave us new hope.
It is God with us—Immanuel—who makes us what he would have us to be. The joyous announcement that we now bring to the world is the proclamation that God and sinners have been reconciled; the Prince of Peace has come.
We lift up our hearts! We lift up our voices! We rejoice because Jesus is our Lord and our King! Amen.
From the Editor
With Reformed Worship 13, we begin our fourth year as a quarterly magazine of liturgical resources and reflections. After twelve issues, we have just begun to explore our liturgical traditions and practices, barely scratching the surface of the excellent resources that are continually being developed by creative pastors, musicians, and worship committees. We are very grateful for this beginning and for the many resources and ideas that you send in.
You will notice a few format and design changes in this issue. The changes are influenced by our desire to improve the magazine as well as by new technology that allows a more economical typesetting process. With this issue we're including two firsts for RW—bulletin covers you can reproduce to support Advent themes and a description of an Advent banner you can prepare for your sanctuary.
We are grateful f