Coming Home for Christmas, page 2 of 2



(Psalm 97:1, 12)

The LORD is King! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!


First Person: [lights the white Christ candle] Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life."

Second Person: Why do we light this candle?

Third Person: Because it is the CHRIST candle. Its light flickering in our sanctuary bids us come on the run to see the mighty thing that God has done. God, in Christ Jesus is reconciling the world to himself!

Fourth Person: Let us pray: Come Lord Jesus, we are open to your Spirit. We await your full presence. You alone are the world's true hope! Amen.


Scripture Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96;
Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:10).

Oh my! It has all come to this!

The most powerful Advent sermon I have ever read was written by Karl Barth for the inmates of Basil prison on Christmas Day, 1954. Barth did in that sermon what all preachers should do with every sermon: he humbled his mind before the simplicity of the text and then explained its meaning clearly, word by word.

Reflecting on the Gloria that erupted after the angels' announcement, Barth pleaded with his imprisoned hearers, "Yet when we hear about this song of praise and when we realize that God did not send one angel alone, but that the multitude of the heavenly host was present with their song of praise, might we not be carried away just as we fall in step when a good band plays or unconsciously hum or whistle a well-known tune that falls on our ears? That would be it! Then we would freely listen to and freely participate in the Christmas story!"

The "grammar check" in my computer program had trouble with that quote. Apparently it can't sing along. I will pray that those whom you have invited to worship with you on this glorious Christmas Day will.

Shall we enjoy still another poem from Eugene Peterson? This one is fittingly titled "The Cradle."

For us who have only known approximate fathers
and mothers manque, this child is a surprise:
a sudden coming true of all we hoped
might happen. Hoarded hopes fed by prophecies,
old sermons and song fragments, now cry
coo and gurgle in the cradle, a babbling
proto-language which as soon as it gets
a tongue (and we, of course, grow open ears)

will say the big nouns: joy, glory, peace;
and live the best verbs: love, forgive, save.
Along with the swaddling clothes the words are washed

of every soiling sentiment, scrubbed clean of
all failed promises, then hung in the world's
backyard dazzling white, billowing gospel.

—From Eugene H. Peterson, The Contempbtive Pastor, © 1993 by Eugene H. Peterson, Wm. B. Eerdmans Co. Used by permission of the publisher; all rights reserved.


  • Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture (CRC Publications, 1997) is a "must read" as we attempt to worship the living God in Spirit and in truth.
  • Walter Brueggemann's Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997) challenges preachers to catch up with today's profoundly changed social atmosphere. "It is my sense that when the preacher proclaims in the baptized community in our present social context, the preacher speaks to a company of exiles" (p. 41).
  • Frederick Buechner's Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections (HarperSan Fransisco, 1996) also speaks to the theme of this series. "To be homeless the way people like you and me are apt to be homeless is to have homes all over the place but not to be really at home in any of them. To be really at home is to be really at peace, and our lives are so intricately interwoven that there can be no real peace for any of us until there is peace for all of us" (p. 140).
  • Sally Morganthaler's Worship Evangelism: Inviting Unbelievers into the Presence of God (Zondervan, 1995) is an extraordinarily helpful read, especially chapter 9, "Singing Bob's Song: Worship Music for Saints and Seekers."


Song Suggestions for Week One

Psalm 122:

Choral Call to Worship: "I Was Glad" by Roy Hopp (Selah)

Congregational Call to Worship: "I Was Glad They Came to Call Me" M122 (set to the tune JESU JOY; see Bach's organ setting to this text in RW 29)

Hymns and Canticles

"Come, Lord Jesus" SFL 138
"Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" PsH 329, PH 1, RL 183, SFL 122, TH 196, TWC 135
"Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" PsH 568, PH 376, RL 464, TH 529, TWC 558
"O Lord, How Shall I Meet You" PsH 331, PH 11, TH 156
"Precious Lord" PsH 494, PH 404, TWC 638

(final phrase, "lead me home," speaks to the theme of the series)

"Stay Awake, Be Ready" SFL 126
"Take All the Lost Home" by Joe Wise, as found in the collection by that name, published for Fontaine House by Pastoral Arts Associates of North America, Glendale AZ
"Today We Are All Called" (Isa. 2:4) PH 434


Song Suggestions for Week Two

Psalm 72:

"Hail to the Lord's Anointed" (or "All Hail to God's Anointed") PsH 72, PH 205, SFL 120, TH 311— also published as concertato with brass and organ by Roy Hopp (Selah)

Hymns and Canticles

"All Earth Is Waiting" (see p. 26)
"Isaiah the Prophet Has Written of Old" (ISa. 11) PsH 616, PH 337
"Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" PsH 351, PH 48, RL 204, TH 221.TWC 163
"Prepare the Way of the Lord" (Taize) SFL 124
"Prepare the Way" PH 13
"On Jordan's Bank" PsH 327, PH 10, RL 187, TWC 136


Song Suggestions for Week Three

Psalm 146:

"I'll Praise My Maker" PH 253, RL 140, TWC 79
"Praise the Lord, Sing Hallelujah!" PsH 146

Hymns and Canticles

"As the Deer" Renew!9; see also pp. 24-25
"He Came Down That We May Have Love" SFL 136
"Joy Shall Come" (Israeli) Voices United 23
"Magnify the Lord" PsH 622, SFL 13
"People in Darkness Are Looking for Light" SFL 119
"Song of Mary" PsH 212, PH 600, SFL 125
"Tell Out, My SOUl" PsH 478, RL 182, TH 26, TWC 350
"The Desert Shall Rejoice" (Isa. 35) PH 18
"The Word of Life" (Iona) in Gather (GIA)


Song Suggestions for Week Four

Psalm 80: "Hear Us, O Shepherd" PsH 8O

Psalm 24: PH ,77

Psalm 95 with "O" Antiphons: "My Soul in Stillness Waits" Gather 252

Hymns and Canticles

"Come, Lord Jesus" SFL 138
"Emmanuel" Renew! 28
"O Come, O Come, Immanuel" PsH 328, PH 9, RL 184, SFL 123, TH 194, TWC 133
"The King of Glory Comes" PSH 370, SFL 156, TWC 134
"Wait for the Lord" (Taize) Renew! 278
"Watchman, Tell Us" PH 20, RL 168



A Pastoral Letter

Note: I suggest sending a letter similar to this to members of your congregation who, for whatever reason, have become inactive but have not yet been removed from church rolls. The letter could be signed by a pastoral care elders. Of course you will want to adapt it to your own setting and situation.

Dear [name],

Wann greetings from your sisters and brothers at [name of church].

Can Christmas really be just around the corner? It's hard to believe we are only two weeks away from the rich and wonderful season of Advent. Advent, the four Sundays prior to Christmas, is that season of the year set aside by Christians all over the world to ready themselves for the joy of the incarnation, of Christ becoming one of us.

We have some wonderful things planned at the church to help make our celebration of Christmas this year deeper and richer than ever before. This coming Sunday, after the morning service, we'll be having a potluck dinner, followed by the making of Advent wreaths. Just bring a dish to pass and join in the fun.

On Sunday, November 29, our pastor will begin a series of sermons titled "Coming Home for Christmas." You'll find the messages a warm invitation to celebrate the joy of Christ's coming into our world.

I am aware that you haven't worshiped with us as regularly as you once did. No doubt you have important reasons for that, and I would be delighted to talk with you about this at your convenience. But I want you to know that we miss you. Our congregation is a better place when you are here. We would love to have you "come home for Christmas."

Grace and peace in the name of the Lord Jesus!

Your pastoral care elder,

PS. I will call you in a week to see if you can join us for the potluck and wreath-making.


Song Suggestions Christmas Eve/Day

Psalms 96, 97, or 98 (all appointed for Christmas)

"O Sing to the Lord/Cantad al Senor" SFL 17
"Sing a New Song to the Lord" TWC 324

Hymns and Canticles

In addition to familiar favorites, consider some of the following:

"Child So Lovely" SFL 140
"Huron Carol" PH 61, SFL 139
"Jesus, Name Above All Names" Renew 26
"Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow" (see p. 27) PH 50
"Sheep Fast Asleep" PH 52, RL 211, SFL 135



Don't miss this opportunity to order one set of thirty-two daily devotions for each household in your congregation. These warm and challenging devotions are based on the Scripture and themes introduced in this service planning series and provide a way of linking what happens on Sunday with home devotions during the Advent and Christinas seasons.

The following sample will give you an idea of what to expect in HomeLink. For order information, see the inside back cover of this issue.


Read Isaiah 2:1-5

"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD..."
"Come, let us go ... "

Words have definitions that we can look up in a dictionary. But they also have emotional value—what they make us feel like when we hear them. If we want, we can rate them on an emotional scale from 1 to 10. We'd rate unhappy words like "stink," "stooge," or "stuck-up" near the bottom—clearly no higher than a 2. Words like "song," "super," and "holiday" would rate near the top—maybe we'd give them an 8 or a 9.

On that scale, how would you rate Isaiah's words, the ones he uses to call our hearts into the season of Advent? I like them a lot. His words sound and feel very much like my mother's when she used to call me home for dinner. How would you rate them?

"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord..."
"Come, let us go ... "

I give these glad words of invitation a perfect 10! Especially when I realize the circumstances in which Isaiah first writes them.

Everything is as bleak as it can be for God's people Israel. In chapter 1 Isaiah informs us that Israel is being rebellious (v. 2), dumb (v. 3), corrupt (v. 4), evil (v. 7), and a good many more things that we don't need to list here—Isaiah's more than made his point. Because of its careless disobedience Israel was self-destructing. Israel had geopolitical enemies to be sure: evil empires to the east and towering enemies to the southwest. But the people did not only struggle against enemies of blood and flesh. Their real struggle was against their own unbelief. They did not trust God to see them through, so they did whatever they thought would help them against their enemies, even if it made them disobey God's commands. By walking away from God and from God's protection, they were cutting their own throats.

In Ephesians 6:12 the apostle Paul points out that we so often make the same mistake. We often fail to see that our real enemy is the spiritual force of evil that shakes our faith in God. For Israel, and for God's people ever since, this darksome force all too easily lures us away from God by persuading us that God's way is useless or negotiable.

And yet, despite all of that, the voice of the living God rises up over the din of Israel's disobedient ways—and ours:

"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord ..."

"Come, let us go ... "

When I was a small boy just after World War II, I'd play in the streets with the swarms of kids who lived in my neighborhood. Thirty-two of them lived in the first four houses on my block; I lived in the fifth! We played a lot of war games that all ended pretty much the same way. When the winning team could see that the end was in sight and victory assured, the leader of the winning team would lift a joyous, triumphant voice over all the rest, "All-ie, All-ie, All come free!" Kids would leap over hedges, spring out from under porches, and jump from tree limbs to make their way to freedom. To this day I love that sound!

God's people for centuries have dearly loved an invitation that's even better: "Come, let us go up to the mountains of the Lord..."

"Come, let us go ... "
Can you hear God's joyful invitation to you today?

Something to Think About

Often it's so hard for us to hear God calling us in our busy lives. How can we carve out more space in our own lives to listen to God's call?


How can your whole family get ready for Jesus this Advent? Are there some busy activities you could postpone until January? Is there a time each day that you might set aside to think about Jesus' birth? Perhaps you could design and create your very own Advent calendar to help you count the days until Jesus comes.


Reformed Worship 49 © September 1998, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.