The worship life of the church traditionally begins with Advent, the season in which we anticipate and then celebrate the birth of our Lord, the long-awaited Messiah. This year Advent begins on December 2, and this issue is filled with ideas and resources that will help you plan your worship services for this significant time in the church year.
Again, we are indebted to people who send us their bulletins, their ideas, and sometimes entire articles.
The Prophet Isaiah
As this issue developed, I noticed that the ancient prophet-poet Isaiah plays an important role in several resources. God's words of comfort and hope written so beautifully by Isaiah still ring in the ears of contemporary Christians.
Peter Hogeterp, copastor of the fastest-growing Christian Reformed Church in Canada, developed ideas for seven Advent and Christmas services (pp. 3-10). He worked especially from the Isaiah passages assigned in the Common Lectionary. (We begin Year B of the three-year cycle this Advent). To give you a flavor of how Hogeterp and copastor Wayne Brouwer typically structure their services, we included both their 1989 Christmas Eve service ("The Light of the World," p. 36) and Christmas Day service ("The Voices of Christmas," p 37) in this issue. The pastors are concerned that everyone in the congregation (including many "seekers" who are not accustomed to worship) clearly understand what is happening during the service. They try hard to be helpful by labeling each part of worship with a descriptive heading.
The article by W.J. Beeners on reading Scripture also deals with Isaiah (one of the passages he "reads" is Isaiah 40). Every summer pastors from around the country attend Beener's sessions at Princeton Theological Seminary, absorbing his keen insights into the oral reading of Scripture and the physical gestures of good worship leadership. Although the ideal would be to hear Beeners read the passages himself, we thought his comments in writing would still be helpful.
Some of the texts from Isaiah that are found throughout Handel's Messiah are part of the Advent season liturgy (pp. 16-17), originally developed about ten years ago by the Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The service is meant to be used on each of the four Sundays of Advent. We received essentially the same liturgy from the Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Poet Wren
Contemporary hymn-writer Brian Wren also plays a large role in this issue. You will meet this significant pastor-poet-theologian-teacher most directly in the interview on pages 28-32, and you'll learn more about him on other pages in this issue.
Wren's hymn "I Come with Joy" is the Hymn of the Month for February. A book review of What Language Shall I Borrow, his significant contribution to the inclusive-language issue, and a video review of How Shall I Sing to God, Wren's introduction to contemporary hymnody, appears on page 46. Wren's influence in planning worship is reflected in the Scripture drama on John 4, "Woman at the Well," which was first prepared for a service at Clifton Park, New York, in which Wren preached on this passage.
We were delighted to receive another Scripture drama after so many of our readers expressed appreciation for the Palm Sunday drama in Reformed Worship 14. Kathy Jo Blaske, program coordinator for the Albany Synod of the Reformed Church in America submitted "Woman at the Well," noting that Brian Wren had been a guest for their "Fall Festival of Worship" and had suggested that a dramatic portrayal of the Samaritan woman at the well be part of the service at which he preached. "It was superbly done," Blaske told us, "and an effective contribution to worship."
The Artist Overvoorde
Two articles in this issue also feature the work of professional artist Chris Stoffel Overvoorde. You'll find his art in "From Mourning to Exultation" (pp. 3-10) and both his art and commentary in "Not Just for Looks" (pp. 18-21).
We hope you'll be able to use Overvoorde's visual interpretation of the Scripture passages as bulletin covers for your Advent/Christmas worship. And we think you'll find that his approach to creating visual images out of the Scripture readings may serve as an inspiration to artists in your congregation.
Drama and visual art are still relatively new to much of Reformed worship. But full-orbed worship involves more than spoken and sung words. Our eyes have been called "the windows to our soul." But what our eyes see can also "speak" to our souls. For our hearts to be full, sometimes our eyes and our whole bodies need to enter into worship.