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I'm Waiting: A thoughtful approach to using the Advent wreath in worship

Once again the Advent season approaches, and with it comes a challenge for many congregations: How do we light the Advent wreath with integrity, so that its lighting encourages and enables a faithful passing on of the Christian faith?

Faced with this challenge, our congregation developed certain standards or guidelines for the rite of lighting the candles of the Advent wreath. Specifically, we want this rite to

  • be bathed in Scripture.
  • respect the integrity of the season of Advent.
  • be led by children.
  • involve the congregation.
  • happen at the beginning of worship.

To help meet these criteria, I wrote a brief song. Though the words are quite simple, the text retains the ambiguity of Advent. Rather than romantically celebrating the birth of Jesus in a stable, it invites us to prepare for the second coming of Christ.

Even the youngest choristers have no trouble with the melody, since it's based on a rather simple chordal structure, and the words are also accessible. The song may be sung by a divided children's choir, with the second part echoing the first words or echoing each line. Of course, the song can also be sung without the echo.

"Hidden" behind the melody of the hymn is the instrumentation. Guitar chords have been supplied, since no other accompaniment has been written. The instrumental descant is best played by flute or recorder. The descant is actually two traditional Christian hymns played over the song. The melody PUER NOBIS NASCITUR plays over lines 1-4. The first and last lines of the melody MUELLER are played over lines 5-6 of this little anthem. Everyone will quickly recognize the lines from MUELLER as the tune for "Away in a Manger."

We "bathe the rite in Scripture" by using a brief responsive reading each week to introduce the lighting of the Advent wreath. The readings provide the scriptural foundation on which the song is built.

RESPONSIVE READINGS
Week 1

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope. (Ps. 130:5)
Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to an inhabited town;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.

(Ps. 107:4-5)
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40:31)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

(Lam. 3:22-23)

Week 2

The Lord says: "I am sending my messenger to prepare the way.... But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?" (Mai. 3:1-2)

He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. (John 1: 7)

Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. (1 Chron. 16:33)

The Spirit and the bride say "Come!"
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:17, 20)
Week 3

Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. (Amos 5:18)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them has light shined. (Isa. 9:2)
Week 4

God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

No one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:13)

Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 22:39)

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

These readings have the quality of the "golden chain" school of preaching, in which the preacher strings together various passages of Scripture to proclaim the fitting Word of God. Although this historic method is subject to many dangers, I believe the readings faithfully speak the gospel, not just one person's interpretation.

In our congregation the children sing the same Advent lighting song for each of the four Sundays of Advent. While this may be repetitive, it enables families who observe the Advent tradition in their homes to sing the same song that the children sing in worship. This little tune thereby helps bridge the gap between home and sanctuary