Last December, our worship committee was looking for an idea for our annual candlelight service. For our Advent worship we had used the series “The Places of Christmas” (RW 77), which traced the places along God’s story of redemption. To build on this theme, our worship team came up with “People and Places of the Nativity”—a service looking at the significance of the ordinary people and places of the nativity story.
We used the Old Testament to illustrate the rich foundation of the New Testament story. In addition to the pastor, our service included three readers—an Old Testament reader, a New Testament reader, and a narrator. The narrator read from the balcony, out of sight of the congregation, so the congregation could focus on what was being said rather than on the narrator.
One note: Place small candles in cardboard holders under the seats in the sanctuary before the service begins, rather than handing them out at the end of the service.
Call to Worship
Narrator: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isa. 40:1-5)
Welcome and Introduction
Pastor: The story of Christmas is the story of God bringing comfort to his people. It is the story of God coming down into this world to pay for our sins. God came into this world in a most unusual way: he came as a baby. And the story of his birth takes place in the most unexpected places. We will visit these places as we witness the story of Christ’s birth unfolding before us.
“O Come, All You Faithful” CH 249, PH 41/42, PsH 340, SWM 102, TH 208, WR 182
“Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” CH 273, PH 28, PsH 355, TH 207, WR 198
Narrator: Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, God chose a barren woman named Hannah to give birth to a son who would become one of Israel’s greatest prophets. But this was only a shadow of what was to come! Centuries later, God chose an unmarried woman named Mary to give birth to the Savior of the world. When Mary learned that she was expecting, she traveled to the hill country of Judah to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Together, they waited for the birth of the one who would bring salvation to those living in the darkness of sin.
Old Testament Reader: 1 Samuel 2:1-10
New Testament Reader: Luke 1:39-56
Carol: “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” CH 244, PH 2, PsH 329, SWM 83, SFL 122, TH 196, WR 153
Narrator: Long before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah promised that the Savior of the world would be born of a virgin. For hundreds of years, the people of Israel waited and wondered who it might be. In time, the angel of the Lord appeared to an unmarried teenage virgin named Mary, who lived in the small town of Nazareth. The angel told her that she was the one God had chosen to give birth to the child who would save the world from sin.
Old Testament Reader: Isaiah 7:14
New Testament Reader: Matthew 1:18-25
Carol: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” CH 245, PH 9, PsH 328, SFL 123, SWM 81, TH 194, WR 154
Narrator: The town of Bethlehem was a small town of fewer than a thousand people whose only claim to fame was that Israel’s great King David was born there. But once again, God chose the ordinary things of this world to carry out his plan of salvation. The prophet Micah promised that one day, a shepherd-king even greater than David would come from Bethlehem and rule Israel. Around the time Jesus was born, the Roman government ordered a census for tax purposes. So young Mary and Joseph traveled to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem. While they were in Bethlehem, Mary’s labor began, and she gave birth to a baby boy.
Old Testament Reader: Micah 5:2-5
New Testament Reader: Luke 2:1-7
“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” CH 279, PH 37, PsH 353, TH 216, WR 221
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” CH 250, PH 44, TH 201, WR 180
“The Countryside of Judea”
Narrator: When the people of Israel were falling away from God, God promised that one day a Savior would come to announce good news to those who had fallen away. And that’s exactly what happened when Jesus was born. Angels appeared to a group of poor shepherds to announce the good news: The Savior of the world had been born!
Old Testament Reader: Isaiah 52:6-7
New Testament Reader: Luke 2:8-20
“Silent Night” CH 253, PH 60, PsH 344, TH 210, WR 186
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” CH 277, PH 31/32, PsH 345, TH 203, WR 185
“The Home of the Messiah”
Narrator: Jesus, the true king of the nations, had been born. Some time after his birth, wise men came from far off to pay tribute to Jesus. These earthly kings followed a star, something that had been foretold hundreds of years earlier. When they arrived at Jesus’ home, they bowed down and worshiped the one true king of the world. By doing so, these kings showed that they recognized true royalty.
Old Testament Reader: Numbers 24:17-19
New Testament Reader: Matthew 2:1-12
“We Three Kings of Orient Are” CH 288, PH 66, WR 233
“As With Gladness Men of Old” CH 290, PH 63, PsH 358, SFL 43, TH 226, WR 236
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Meditation: “Bragging About Foolish People and Foolish Places”
Paul tells the Corinthian church that the values, principles, and ideas that this world holds dear are not the same things that God values. The world looks at places and people of power and prestige—but God displays his power by using the insignificant people and places of this world to accomplish his plan of salvation. Places like Bethlehem—a small and insignificant town in the shadow of the much larger and more important city of Jerusalem. People like Mary—an unmarried teenage girl. These are the tools God uses to bring salvation! What hope that is for us! We too are people broken by sin, hindered by our own shortcomings, and yet God continues to use us to accomplish his plans today.
“To the Ends of the Earth”
Narrator: Jesus was born in a small town in the Judean countryside in Israel, but his purpose was not limited by geographic location. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” He came into the world so that the light of his gospel might shine in the darkness of a world lost in sin and darkness. Today the work of Jesus continues to shine around the world through his disciples. And that includes us! As followers of Jesus, we carry the light of the gospel into our homes, our communities, our cities, and to the ends of the earth!
Old Testament Reader: Isaiah 60:1-4
New Testament Reader: Matthew 28:18-20
Carol: “Arise, Shine, for Your Light Is Come” CH 241, PsH 198
Closing Words: Matthew 5:14-16
God’s Parting Blessing
Closing Song: “O Holy Night” CH 285, WR 187
[Before singing this song, ask the congregation to take the candles from under their seats and gather in a circle around the sanctuary. Take the Christ candle from the Advent wreath, if you have one, and light the candles of two people standing next to each other. Ask them to light the candle of the person next to them, and so on around the circle. This cuts the candle-lighting time in half, which is helpful if your congregation is large.]