Six biblical characters, six traditions of faith: an Advent/Christmas series based on Richard Foster's Streams of Living Water, page 2 of 2

Fourth Sunday of advent

The Charismatic Stream:
The Shepherds

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Song setting of Psalm 89: “I Will Sing of the Mercies     of the Lord” PsH 169, TWC 30 or “My Song Forever Shall Record” PsH 593, TH 99

Romans 16:25-27

Sermon Text: Luke 2:8-20

The feast day of your birth resembles you, Lord, because it brings joyto all humanity. Old people and infants alike enjoy your day. Your dayis celebrated from generation to generation. Kings and emperors maypass away, and the festivals to commemorate them soon lapse. But yourfestival will be remembered till the end of time. Your day is a meansand a pledge of peace. At your birth, heaven and earth were reconciled;since you came from heaven to earth on that day you forgave our sinsand wiped away our guilt. You gave us so many gifts on your birthday: atreasure chest of spiritual medicines for the sick; spiritual light forthose that are blind; the cup of salvation for the thirsty; the breadof life for the hungry. In the winter when trees are bare, you give usthe most succulent spiritual fruit. In the frost when the earth isbarren, you bring new hope to our souls. In December when seeds arehidden in the soil, the staff of life springs from the virgin womb.Amen.

—from The Complete Book of Christian Prayer, p. 377.

Note: This prayer was written by Ephraim the Syrian (c. 306-373), biblical exegete and poet who was the most distinguishedtheologian and hymn writer of the ancient Syrian Church. A deacon, herecognized the value of including music in worship services early inhis ministry, and his many exegetical and theological writings were written mostly in verse.

Song Suggestions
“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” PsH 215, PH 58, RL 199, TH 222, TWC 172
“Angels We Have Heard on High” PsH 347, PH 23, RL 206, SFL 133, TH 214, TWC 152
“Go, Tell It on the Mountain” PsH 356, PH 29, RL 224, SFL 131, TH 224, TWC 151
“Good News” SFL 132
“While by the Sheep We Watched at Night” TH 215, TWC 166
“Spirit Song” SNC 212

Sermon-Building Ideas
Richard Foster calls the charismatic tradition “a life immersed in, empowered by, and under the direction of theSpirit of God” (Streams, p. 132). When Reformed Christians hear theword charismatic, they often think of ecstatic worship or an emphasison supernatural gifts like speaking in tongues or prophecy. Howsurprised many of them are to hear that John Calvin is known as “thetheologian of the Holy Spirit!”

At the heart of this stream is the simple truth that the Holy Spirit isthe means by which we are brought to faith in Jesus Christ. When thishappens, as the shepherds wonderfully model for us, two importantthings occur:

  • We are filled with great joy. Notice how the shepherds hurry toBethlehem to see the baby Jesus, and how they return glorifying andpraising God.
  • We are compelled to tell others about what we have seen and heard.The charismatic tradition emphasizes the urgency of “spreading theword” to others.

Joy and witness. Ecstasy and evangelism. Both are key ingredients of a well-rounded Christian life.

Reading for the Lighting of the Advent Candle
The Advent wreath is a circle with no beginning and no end. It is a symbol of God’s unending love and faithfulness.

The shepherds were the first to hear the joyful announcement ofChrist’s birth—the “good news of great joy for all the people.” (Luke2:10)

Upon seeing the baby Jesus, the shepherds “spread the word concerningwhat had been told them about this child, and all who heard it wereamazed.” (Luke 2:18)

We have also heard this wonderful news. We “welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thess. 1:6)

“Though you have not seen Jesus, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him.” (1 Peter 1:8)

And we “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8)

All sing: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” PH 464, RL 521, TWC 20 (st. 2)

Christmas day

The Incarnational Stream:
Jesus Christ

Isaiah 9:2-7

Song setting of Psalm 96: “Sing to the Lord, Sing His Praise” PsH 96, TH 62
Titus 2:11-14

Sermon Text: John 1:1-14

Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go. Floodour souls with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our wholebeing so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of yours. Shinethrough us, and be so in us, that every soul we come into contact withmay feel your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longerus but only Jesus! Stay with us, and then we shall begin to shine asyou shine; so to share as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus,will be all from you, none of it will be ours; it will be you, shiningon others through us. Let us preach you without preaching, not bywords, but by our example, by the catching force, the sympatheticinfluence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our heartsbear to you. Amen.

—from The Complete Book of Christian Prayer, p. 56.

Note: This prayer was written by John Henry Newman (1801-1890), anEnglish Anglican and Catholic cleric known for his influentialpreaching, teaching, and writing. Perhaps best known for his work Lead,Kindly Light, he became a leader in the Oxford Movement, which soughtto interpret the church and the Protestant Reformation inAnglo-Catholic terms.

Song Suggestions
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” PsH 340, PH 41, RL 195, TH 208, TWC 173
“Joy to the World!” PsH 337, PH 40, RL 198, SFL 137, TH 195, TWC 146
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” PsH 345, PH 31, RL 196, TH 203, TWC 171
“Come, Lord Jesus” SFL 138, SNC 103
“This Is Your God/Meekness and Majesty” SNC 109

Sermon-Building Ideas
Madeleine L’Engle once said, “There is nothing so secular that itcannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of theincarnation.” This is why Richard Foster calls the incarnationaltradition the “sacramental life.” The fact that in Jesus Christ theWord became flesh renders all of life forever changed. As Fosterwrites, this tradition “underscores the fact that God is truly among usin the warp and woof of our very earthy existence” (Streams, p. 266).The Christmas hymn “Joy to the World!” affirms that in the incarnationof Jesus Christ the blessing of God is extended “far as the curse isfound.”

The sacramental life emphasizes the sanctity of every human activity.There is no division between the sacred and the secular. This is whythe witness of Jesus Christ is frequently institutionalized. In orderto fulfill the cultural mandate to yield all of life to the lordship ofJesus Christ, faithful Christians have established Christian schools,labor unions, health care facilities, and political parties. Theincarnational tradition affirms that there is no human endeavor thancannot somehow be done to the glory of God. The challenge of thesacramental life is to see God present and active in the mundanerealities of life: our work, hobbies, relationships, sleep, eatinghabits, and study. In contrast to the trends that either denigrate orworship the human body, the incarnational stream affirms the goodnessof the human body. Because God inhabited human flesh, the body issomething to be treated with respect, and all human beings treated withdignity.

Reading for the Lighting of the Advent Candle
The Advent wreath is a circle with no beginning and no end. It is a symbol of God’s unending love and faithfulness.

Jesus Christ is the brightest revelation of God’s love. “He is theimage of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Col.1:15)

“Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” (Phil. 2:6)

“But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Phil. 2:7)

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory.” (John 1:14)

“The glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

All sing: “Silent Night! Holy Night!” PsH 344, PH 60, RL 216, TH 210, TWC 164 (st. 2)

First Sunday after Christmas

The Evangelical Stream: The Magi

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Responsorial setting of Psalm 148 SNC 31
Galatians 4:4-7

Sermon Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Look upon us, O Lord, and let all the darkness of our souls vanishbefore the beams of thy brightness. Fill us with holy love, and open tous the treasures of thy wisdom. All our desire is known unto thee,therefore perfect what thou hast begun, and what thy Spirit hasawakened us to ask in prayer. We seek thy face, turn thy face unto usand show us thy glory. Then shall our longing be satisfied, and ourpeace shall be perfect. Amen.

—from The Complete Book of Christian Prayer, p. 4.

Note: This prayer was written by Augustine (354-430), the Bishop ofHippo and one of the greatest Christian theologians ever to have lived.Best known for his books The City of God and Confessions, Augustine wasa great defender of the Christian faith. His thought continues toinfluence Christian theology to this day.

Song Suggestions
“How Bright Appears the Morning Star” PsH 357
“As with Gladness Men of Old” PsH 358, PH 63, RL 228, SFL 143, TH 226, TWC 181
“Bright and Glorious Is the Sky” PsH 360
“Beautiful Savior” PsH 461
“Blessed Jesus, at Your Word” PsH 280, PH 454, SFL 56, TH 303
“Shine, Jesus, Shine” SFL 239, SNC 51, TWC 721

Sermon-Building Ideas
Foster calls the evangelical tradition the Word-centered life, and theMagi stand out as biblical proponents of this stream for good reason.Theologians often break the concept of the Word of God into threecategories: the Word of creation, Scripture, and Jesus Christ. Allthree come into play in Matthew’s record of the Magi’s visit to Jesus.

  • The Word of creation: The star initially leads the Magi from theirhomeland to Jerusalem. God communicates to these astrologers by meansof general revelation in the created order. Creation is a Word fromGod. It “says” something, as Psalm 19 affirms. In their study ofcreation, the Magi received revelation from God and responded to it.
  • The Word of Scripture: God’s revelation in creation says only somuch. A greater voice is needed if people are to understand more aboutwho God is. This is where Scripture comes in. Once in Jerusalem, theMagi hear the prophecy of Micah, which indicates more precisely wherethe birth of Jesus would take place.
  • The Word of Jesus Christ: God’s revelation culminates in thefullest appearance of the Word—the Word made flesh. This is the finaldestination for the Magi, and they appropriately worship Jesus, pouringout their gifts before him. In his poem “For the Time Being,” W. H.Auden has the Magi saying, “Oh, here and now our endless journeystops,” as they kneel before the Christ.

The progress in this pattern is obvious: the Word of creation brings usto the Word of Scripture, which in turn brings us to the Word of JesusChrist. The glory of creation and the truth of Scripture are designedto bring us where the Magi went: to Jesus, the greatest revelation ofGod, and the rightful recipient of the worship of the nations.  

Reformed Worship 65 © September 2002 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.