He Will Come: Seven themes for Advent and Christmas, page 2 of 2

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Anthems

Gospel
"Turn Ye, Turn Ye" [SATB, medium to difficult]
Charles Ives (Presser)

"Thou Shalt Know Him" [SATB, medium]
Austin Lovelace (AMSI)

Epistle
"Rejoice in the Lord Alway" [SATB, optional double choir, moderately difficult]
Jeffrey Rickard, arr. (Augsburg)

"Rejoice in the Lord Alway" [SATB, with ATB soli, medium]
Henry Purcell (Concordia)

Old Testament
"Daughter of Zion" [SATB, easy]
Joseph Clokey (Presser)

Psalter
"The First Song of Isaiah" [SATB, congregation, medium]
Jack Nobel White (H.W. Gray)

 
 
THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

The Great Reversal

Gospel: Luke 1:39-55
Epistle: Hebrews 10:5-10
Old Testament: Micah 5:2-5a
Psalter: Psalm 80:1-7

Who among us does not have an inventory of wrongs that need to be set right? Hurt relationships need to be healed. Injustice that cheats people out of the fruits of their labor cries to be redressed. Violence and hostility between nations, races, and classes deserve to be resolved.

Mary's song celebrates that the coming of Jesus, the baby waiting in her womb, begins the great reversal of human history. The proud (Luke 1:51), powerful (1:52), and wealthy (1:53) who seem to dominate human affairs will be disgraced, disenfranchised, and dispossessed. For generations, God's downtrodden, poverty-stricken, obscure people have asked, "How

long will [God's] anger smolder against [our] prayers? (Ps. 80:4). They have despaired that he will come. Now, at last, the humble will be lifted up (Luke 1:52), the weak will have the help of God's powerful arm (1:51), and the hungry will be filled (1:53).

Though it was popular to look for the Messiah to appear as a powerful, popular military and political leader, the prophets had long warned the people to look in the insignificant places for God's chosen shepherd. It was Bethlehem, "small among the clans of Judah," from which a "ruler over Israel" (Micah 5:2) was to come, whose greatness was to "reach to the ends of the earth" (Micah 5:4).

Even the idea of a shepherd (Micah 5:4) as the ruler of Israel is a paradoxical image for the One who will come in the majesty of the Lord. On the one hand shepherds are isolated, unclean, poor, and untrustworthy—hardly worthy to be bearers of the magnificence of the anticipated liberating King. On the other hand, they lead with a calm voice, are compassionate and protective, and put the welfare of the flock above their own interests. The great historic King David carried his shepherd's values into his reign, and the psalmist pictures God as the Shepherd of Israel (Ps. 80:1). Out of the lowly shepherd rises the strength of the Lord in the One who will come.

Jesus was the prototype of Mary's model. When he came, he was a humble servant who said, "Here I am; I have come to do your will." (Heb. 10:5, 7, 9; cf. Ps. 40:7-8). The will of God the Father was that Christ the Son would be a sacrifice (Heb. 10:10). The great reversal is effected by that sacrifice. Humiliation is the path to glory. Death is the gateway to life (cf. Phil. 2:5-11). Christ calls all who follow him to wait for the day he will come by living the great reversal in a society that persists in pursuing pride, privilege, power, and possessions.

As an unborn infant, John the Baptizer recognized the recently conceived Jesus as the One who would come with God's great reversal (Luke 1:41, 44). We English speaking North Americans have a much harder time identifying him. A great watershed divides the people of pride, power, and wealth from those who are humble, weak, and poor. We cannot enjoy the benefits of both sides of the mountain. As long as we distort the image of Jesus, viewing him as a supporter of our achievements, influence, and affluence, we prevent ourselves from appreciating the One who will come and set to rights all the wrongs, injustices, and hurts of human history.

For those whose history and culture celebrate and value the hard work of free enterprise, the rugged individualism of the frontier, the hope of technological ingenuity, the freedom of democracy, the protection of military force, the pursuit of prosperity, the influence of respectability, and the prestige of success, identifying with the humble, weak, and poor is difficult (but not impossible!). We are on one side of the watershed and Jesus is on the other. To cross over is the work of God's mercy.

When we see that all of these strengths are illusions and that before God we are the humble, weak, and poor, we are ready to be lifted up by God's mercy. When we confess our inability to bring harmony in personal relationships, peace in the world, justice to the abused, healing to our wounds, we are able to accept God's merciful work for others and ourselves. When we acknowledge our helplessness and hopelessness, we can recognize God's help and hope for our injuries. When we let go of the deceptions of our society, we are ready to recognize the One who will come to right all wrongs.

 

Bulletin and Banner

The symbol for the fourth week of Advent is the bent end of the shepherd's crook reaching down. See "How to" on page 4 for construction and use suggestions.

 

Worship Feature

Though identified more with high-church traditions (i.e., Lutheran, Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic) than the Reformed tradition, kneeling and standing can help people experience the full impact of today's Gospel text. One way to do this is to have people kneel (or bow low as they are seated) for the prayer of confession and assurance of pardon in today's service. Follow this immediately by having people stand for the reading of the Gospel lesson. You may want to point out the connection between these postures and the themes of humility and exaltation in Mary's song.

 

To the Children

See if you can arrange with a doctor or hospital to obtain an X-ray, sonogram, or other visual representation of the interior of some part of the human body to show to the children. Explain that although we can't see inside our bodies, doctors have special tools that help them see what is happening inside of their patients.

Then tell the story of Mary visiting Elizabeth, and describe how the baby John the Baptizer recognized the baby Jesus even before either of them were born. Tell the children that baby John did not need some sort of X-ray to help him identify Mary's unborn baby. Instead, God helped John recognize Jesus. These two babies were going to have a very special place in God's plan for forgiving people's sins.

 

Psalms, Hymns, and Canticles

"Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes"

(PsH335,RL251)

 

"Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come"
(PH 40, PsH 337, RL 198, TH 195)

"O Little Town of Bethlehem"
(PH 43-44, RL 193-194, TH 201-202)

"O Sing a Song of Bethlehem"
(PH 308, RL 356)

"Once in Royal David's City"
(PH 49, PsH 346, RL 201, TH 225)

Psalm 80
(PH 206, PsH 80)

"Song of Mary"
(PH 600, PsH 212, 478, 622, RL 182, TH 26)

"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks"
(PH 58,59, PsH 215, RL 199-200, TH 222-223)

 

 

Anthems

Gospel
"Magnificat in G" [SATB, soprano solo, moderately difficult]
C. V. Stanford (Stainer & Bell)

"Magnificat in C" [mixed voices, easy]
R. Vaughan Williams (Oxford)

Epistle
"The Only Son from Heaven" [SATB, easy]
J. S. Bach (from Cantata 22, Concordia)

Old Testament
"A Spotless Rose" [SATB, moderately difficult]
Herbert Howells (Stafner & Bell)

"Savior of the Nations, Come" [SATB and congregation, moderately difficult]
Gerhard Krapf (Augsburg)

 
 
CHRISTMAS EVE OR DAY

Wait and Sing

Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
Epistle: Titus 2:11-14
Old Testament: Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalter: Psalm 96

Sentimentalism and cynicism are subtle and destructive enemies of the robust and proper celebration of Christ's birth. On the one hand, candlelight, music, and the tenderness of mothers for their babies can obscure the radical implications of the kingdom of God breaking into human history with the coming of Jesus. On the other hand, dismissing the emotional tingles and warmth evoked by the seasonal imagery reduces the coming of Jesus to a bitter tirade and ignores the compassion that Jesus brought when he came.

Christians remind secular celebrants that Jesus was born for a purpose. He came to die for human sin and to rise in victory over death. Christmas only makes sense as the start of a journey to Easter and the second coming. The One who came is the One who died and the One who will come again.

Those who prefer self-righteousness to repentance will always try to isolate Christmas from Easter, and especially from Good Friday. Christians who have grown too comfortable in their present environment may integrate Christmas and Easter, but balk at including the day he will come again. Certainly, sensationalistic eschatology is another unfortunate deterrent to a whole and purposeful Christmas celebration. Nevertheless, an honest look at the biblical texts associated with Christmas points inescapably to waiting for the day he will come again.

The angels told the shepherds that the "baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" was "Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11-12). They also told the shepherds of glory to God and peace on earth (v. 14). Part of what must have amazed both the shepherds and the people to whom they brought the news (2:18) was how incongruous this birth was with their expectations for the coming of the Messiah and with their own daily experience in Roman-occupied Judea. Unique among the Gospel writers, Luke highlights an echo of the angel's praise in the shouts on Palm Sunday (Luke 19:38), connecting Jesus' birth with his redemptive passion and his promised return as king. No way was Christmas the end of the story!

Who can fail to tingle with expectation at Isaiah 9:2-7—whether read as a Scripture lesson or sung in Handel's Messiah? We crave light in the darkness of human evil. We yearn for all people to be free from burdens and oppression. We long for the day when there will be no more war and when every weapon will be destroyed. We thrill at the prospect that the fumbling uncertainties of every human government will be replaced by someone who is a "Wonderful Counselor" and "Prince of Peace"—though in all candor, we are probably less certain about the "Mighty God"and "Everlasting Father." Each Christmas we are inspired by these words, knowing full well that they do not reflect present reality. Rather, they represent our deepest thirst for what can be only when he comes again.

Once we are ready to move past Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection to the day of his return, we are able to celebrate Christmas with authenticity and enthusiasm. When Jesus came at Christmas, God's grace appeared (Titus 2:11) in a desperate, pain-drenched world. We are called to live as God's agents of promise and healing "in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (2:12-13).

When Christmas becomes the celebration of the coming of the One who will come, we can sing the new song that "the Lord reigns" (Ps. 96:1, 10). We will not need to refuse to sing because evil persists. We will not sing blithely, ignoring the malevolence around us. Instead we can sing in hope, confident that in a vicious world, "he will judge the peoples with equity" (96:10) and "the world in righteousness" (96:13). On Christmas we not only celebrate that he came, but that he will come!

 

Bulletin and Banner

The banner that starts on Christmas Eve or Day and develops in the two Sundays of Christ-mastide retains the words: "He Will Come" but incorporates new visual elements. The process of using a symbol on the bulletin cover and adding it to the banner is repeated from Advent. See the "How-to" section on page 4 for construction and use suggestions.

 

The visual for Christmas Eve or Day is a manger with a lens positioned on it that catches a beam of light which spreads out across the upper portion of the banner.

 

Worship Feature

Many congregations have a tradition of passing the flame as they light candles on Christmas Eve. One way to use this tradition to involve everyone in emphasizing this year's theme is to have each person say, "He will come" as he or she passes the flame to the next person. Though this will create an undercurrent of murmur during the first part of singing, it should not be so much as to disrupt the music.

 

To the Children

Often holiday services have enough special features to include children fully, so you may not need another way of involving children on Christmas. If you wish, however, you may want to show the children a microscope, telescope, or (perhaps best of all) a large magnifying glass. They can pass it around and discover how the lens helps them to see better. Talk about how Jesus helps us see what is really important. Point out the things that made it seem that Jesus was not important: being a baby, coming from a poor family, sleeping in a manger (an animal feed trough), being visited by shepherds. Then identify the things that showed how important Jesus really was: being announced by angels, being God's Son, being born to save the world from sin. Tell the children that by paying attention to Jesus, we can discover what is really important and what doesn't matter so much.

 

Psalms, Hymns, and Canticles

"Angels, from the Realms of Glory"
(PH 22, PsH 354, RL 229, TH 218)

"Gentle Mary Laid Her Child"
(PH27,RL210,TH229)

"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
(PH 31-32, PsH 345, RL 196, TH 203)

"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"
(PH 38, TH 200)

Psalm 96
(PH 216-217, PsH 96)

"Silent Night! Holy Night!"
(PH 60, PsH 344, RL 216, TH 210)

"The People Who in Darkness Walked"
(PsH 192)

"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks"
(PH 58-59, PsH 215, RL 199-200, TH 222-223)

 

Anthems

Gospel
"The Shepherds' Carol" [SATB, moderately easy]
William Billings (H. W. Gray)

"All My Heart This Night Rejoices" [SATB, 2 flutes, moderately easy, optional involvement by children]
Kenneth Jennings (Augsburg)

Epistle
"Unto Us a Child Is Born" [SATB, medium]
David Willcocks, arr. (Oxford, Carols for Choirs I)

Psalter
"O Sing Unto the Lord a New Song" [SATB, moderately easy]
Peter Aston (Hinshaw)

General
"What Is this Lovely Fragrance" [SATB, moderately easy]

Healy Willan (Oxford)

 
 
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN CHRISTMASTIDE

Grow in Wisdom

Gospel: Luke 2:41-52
Epistle: Colossians 3:12-17
Old Testament: 1 Samuel 2:18-20
Psalter: Psalm 111

Luke's account of twelve-year-old Jesus' visit to the temple is the only biblical (or historically documented, for that matter) record of Jesus as a child. Its uniqueness, however, goes beyond its singularity to present a puzzling portrait of the young Jesus.Luke does not offer this information to satisfy our curiosity as some of the fanciful legends did. Rather this account is part of his instruction, and, for Jesus' disciples twenty centuries later, it provides an important clue about spiritual development.

When he sums up this event in Jesus' life, Luke clearly builds on the description of the boy Samuel, who "continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men" (1 Sam. 2:26). Luke adds that "Jesus grew in wisdom" (Luke 2:52). Why should the incarnate Son of God need to grow in wisdom? Doesn't he already have access to the wisdom of eternity? The parallel puzzle for us, his disciples who wait for the time he will come again, is this: what is the value of what we learn now if we will be privy to God's wisdom in the completed kingdom?

At a very simple level, Jesus' growth in wisdom provides an example that encourages us in a learning discipleship. In a more profound and mysterious way, however, that Jesus needed to grow in wisdom is an affirmation of the deep connectedness between this present age and the age to come. Somehow, a Jesus who grows in wisdom brings into this age "all the fullness of the Deity ... in bodily form" (Col. 2:9). Thus, our growth in wisdom now is in some way connected with the kingdom he will bring when he returns. Paul uses the image of the seed and the mature plant to illustrate this relationship between the mortal body and the resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:37-57).

To suggest that we are limited in the kingdom by what we learn now is simplistic and mechanistic. Nevertheless, Jesus is more than an example; he is a model. What we gain as we grow in wisdom now is carried into the kingdom he brings when he returns, much as a stream flows into a mighty river.

Exploring Jesus' self-awareness as the Son of God leads to a mystery that has challenged Christian thinkers from the earliest centuries. Certainly learning is intrinsic to the incarnation—otherwise we must postulate a self-aware infant or zygote. An honest appraisal of Luke's account suggests a normal, if precocious twelve-year-old. Jesus is involved in his own pursuit, seemingly unaware of the anxiety of Mary and Joseph. His incredulous question, "Why were you searching for me?. . . Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" could be said with a tone that many parents would take as sass. Luke, however, in no way suggests even a hint of disrespect or sin in Jesus. These are the traits of a twelve-year-old that Jesus must learn to deal with as the incarnate Son of God—detailed examples of the reality of the incarnation.

So how does Jesus grow in wisdom? First, through his relationship with his Father (Luke 2:49). For all of our modern sophistication, we cannot escape what God's people have known as basic for generations: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111:10). Second, Jesus sought out growth in the community of faith. He learned through asking questions of the teachers in the temple (Luke 2:46). Throughout the New Testament, the fellowship of the church was to be the stimulus and setting for learning. Believers are responsible for each others' spiritual growth. Paul tells the Colossians to "teach and admonish one another with all wisdom" (Col. 3:16).

The exhilarating hope for continually growing Christians is to be invited into the fellowship of learning conversation with Jesus when he returns. Imagine the questions we can ask him!

 

Bulletin and Banner

The symbol for the first Sunday in Christmastide is a seedling superimposed on a small tree, superimposed on a larger tree. They are positioned so that they occupy the beam of light just as it spreads from the lens.

 

Construction and use suggestions can be found under the heading "How-to" on page 4.

 

Worship Feature

At the conclusion of the service, plan a few moments for silent reflection on the questions, "How have I grown in Christ's wisdom?" and Where do I need to grow next in Christ's wisdom?" You may even wish to provide 3"x 5" cards in the pew rack so that people can record their answers and take them home with them.

 

To the Children

Bring a young plant. Talk about what it takes to make it grow: water, soil, light, fertilizer. Have a small child stand next to a larger older child who is standing next to you. Talk about what it takes to make a person grow physically: food, water, exercise, rest.

Then tell the children that we grow spiritually, too, even though we can't see that growth. We grow spiritually as we learn more about God and learn to love God and God's people. Talk about what it takes to make someone grow spiritually: reading the Bible, praying, learning from and working with people in the church.

 

Psalms, Hymns, and Canticles

"Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning"
(PH 67, RL 230, TH 206)

"Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"
(PH 48, PsH 351, RL 204, TH 221)

"O Come, All Ye Faithful"
(PH 41-42, PsH 340, RL 195, TH 208)

Psalm 111
(PsH 111)

"Song of Hannah"
(PsH 158)

 

Anthems

Gospel
"Son, Why Have You Treated Us So?" [2-part, easy]
Jan Bender (Concordia)

"And Jesus Increased in Wisdom" [SAB, moderately easy]
Harvey Hahn (Concordia)

Epistle
"You Are the People of God" [unison, easy]
Gerhardt Becker (Concordia)

Psalter
"My Heart Is Full Today" [2-part, handbells, easy]

Richard Proulx (Augsburg)

 
 
THE SECOND SUNDAY OF CHRISTMASTIDE

Receive His Abundance

Gospel: John 1:1-18
Epistle: Ephesians 1:3-6,15-18
Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalter: Psalm 147:12-20

By the second Sunday of Christ-mastide, some Christmas gifts are already broken. Some have lost the lustrous appeal of being new. Cheeses, home-baked breads, and cookies have been eaten. Dry evergreen needles are dropping, and the tree must go or

become a fire hazard. Besides, the decorations no longer evoke the same sense of nostalgia, warmth, and excitement that they did when the cartons were first unpacked.

Even the less tangible benefits of Christmas are fading. That the malls and TV advertising stop the incessant Christmas carols they have abused since before Thanksgiving is a relief. The intended effect is spoiled for churches who try to build the anticipation with Advent music, saving Christmas carols for Christmas. What should be two weeks of celebration becomes an anticlimax of exhaustion. But enough of bemoaning the world's poaching on the church's turf.

This week's worship invites God's people to revel in the spiritual abundance Jesus brought when he came the first time and with which he promises to outdo himself when he comes again. The focus changes from Luke to John, and, in a culmination of the Advent and Christmas messages, we are to start partaking of the appetizers of the great spiritual banquet Jesus spreads for his people. Our natural focus is on the tangible and temporary; Jesus turns our attention to his eternal bounty.

John's rather philosophical, if not esoteric, "Christmas" presentation expresses his awe at the importance of the incarnation (1:1-18). As one member of my congregation put it, "If I really grasped what it means that the eternal God, Creator of the universe, became a human being and is accessible to me, I would melt into a pool of jello." John consciously echoes the phrasing of Genesis (1:1, 3,9,11,14) when he writes, "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1) and specifies that through this Word "all things were made" (1:3,10). This Word is the source of light and life and is a person who is coming into the world (1:4, 9). John's repetition of the verb "to come" (1:7, 8, 9,11,15,17) reminds us that he who came will come again.

The awesomeness of this coming is captured in John's realization that "no one has ever seen God" (1:18), but that in this Word, we "have seen ... the glory of the One and Only" (1:14). The One and Only has made God known to us.

This wonder persists in the testimony of John's first epistle, in which he claims to be an eyewitness, to have touched "that which was from the beginning," "the Word of life" (1 John 1:1). What John is holding up is not a Christmas bauble or curiosity for us to gawk at, but a treasure for perpetual marvel.

Through this God, Jesus Christ, who we know as a human being, "we have all received one blessing after another" (John 1:16). Our tendency is to count our blessings in terms of health, career, opportunity, friends, family, convenience, and possessions. But, although God is surely interested in these mundane details of our lives, focusing on them deprives us of realizing the blessings that make all these others pale into insignificance. This is "every spiritual blessing" for which Paul praises "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" in Ephesians 1:3. The real blessing is to know the One who has chosen us to be adopted as the children of God (Eph. 1:5,17-18, John 1:12-13).

Psalm 147 celebrates God's work of creation, God's gracious choice of a people, and the blessings of strength (147:13), peace, and satisfaction (147:14) that God gives them. But the culmination of this psalm is God's awesome word that shakes the creation (147:15,18). The climactic blessing is to be privy to the Word of God that sends shudders through a cowering universe but guides the people of God in righteousness.

As God's people of faith in today's world, we receive the bounty of the Word with grief and anticipation. We recognize that most of humanity does not experience the benefit of receiving every spiritual blessing, one after another. This discontinuity is painful: strife, oppression, poverty, sorrow, betrayal, frustration, violence, greed. The list could go on and on. Compassion Em compels us r to be a people of - mourning and tears. But ^ one part of the spiritual blessing is God's promise to turn mourning into gladness and to give comfort and joy instead of sorrow (Jer. 31:13).

Our perspective is not restricted to what can be seen, touched, or measured right now. Rather, we are called to be a people of the future, a people of hope. The celebration of Christmas does not end with packing up the ornaments while watching New Year's Day football games. It does not even end with the victory of resurrection on Easter. It keeps going into the kingdom that has no end, with the confidence that just as Jesus came on the first Christmas, he will come again.

 

Bulletin and Banner

The symbol to be added to the banner for the second Sunday of Christ-mastide is a pair of hands catching a stream of grain. The grain is falling from the top of the banner, making a healthy pile in the hands. Construction and use suggestions can be found under the heading "How-to" on page 4.

 

Worship Feature

On this first Sunday of the new year, allowing some time for the people of your congregation to thank God for pouring out blessings in abundance is appropriate. One way to do this is to build into the service some time for people to stand and spontaneously praise God for one specific blessing. Encourage people to do this in a single, simple, declarative sentence. As each person is seated, the congregation may respond, "Thanks be to God!"

 

To the Children

Show the children a large Bible. Ask them what they know about the Bible. They may tell you that it is God's Word. They may tell you some of the stories they know. They may tell you that it teaches us about Jesus. They may tell you that it gives us rules for obeying God. Be sure to say something affirmative about