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Holy Spirit, Present at Advent

The following theme, objective, and structure outline is reminiscent of the lesson plans teachers prepare for their classes. As worship planners it would be a great discipline to use similar categories for our planning.

—JB

Theme

Our Advent worship centered on the Holy Spirit. Each of the five candle-lighting litanies focused on various aspects of the Holy Spirit, particularly the active and dynamic role played by the Spirit in the biblical story from creation to the birth of Christ and in our anticipation of Christ’s return. Litanies were drawn from The Message, Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony, and the Heidelberg Catechism, along with some original wording composed by me.

Worship and Liturgical Objectives

  • To integrate the candle-lighting portion of the Advent services with the rest of the Advent service and its worship liturgies.
  • To promote intergenerational worship practices by involving children in the candle-lighting and ceremony. Invite a child to lead the litany on at least one Sunday.

Liturgical Structure

  • Weekly candle-lighting should follow an identical liturgical rhythm and structure.
  • The placement of the candle-lighting in each week’s liturgy should be right after the opening songs of praise and God’s greeting (where our children’s message is normally slotted).

Week 1

Holy Spirit, Creator and Mover

Litany of Response

In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.

God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made.

And all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; you renew the face of the earth.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, measured heaven with a span, and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Who has weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

God gives this world many ways to know him.

The creation shows his power and majesty.

He speaks through prophets, poets, and apostles, and, most eloquently, through the Son.

The Spirit, active from the beginning of creation, prepared the world for his coming—and even now moves among us to understand the Word of God, open our hearts to God’s voice, and prepare the way for the Lord’s return.

Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

Song of Response: “Creator Spirit, By Whose Aid” PsH 425

Prayer

Notes for Worship Leaders

Take a few moments to highlight what Advent means, introduce the themes for the coming weeks, and explain why candles are being lit.

Ask children what images come to mind when they think of the Holy Spirit. What exactly is the Holy Spirit? You may want to use a fan as a prop; you could even set up a pail of water or use the baptismal font and have the fan blow over the water so the children can see the ripples and feel the wind in their faces, suggesting what it is like to have the Holy Spirit “blowing” around us.

Note that it wasn’t just at creation that the Holy Spirit blew. The Spirit continues to blow today—in our church, our community, our town, our homes, our country, and in our hearts. The Spirit reminds us that Jesus has come into the world and we can experience him today.

Link to the sacrament of baptism: the use of water, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God created this child or adult and uses water to symbolize grace. The Spirit also moves within the baptized person’s heart to accept God in his or her own life.

As the candle is lit, invite people to observe how the flame dances and moves in the breeze around it. Say, “The Spirit is alive and moving among us!”

Week 2

Holy Spirit, Who Spoke through the Prophets

Litany of Response

The Lord promised to be God to Abraham, Sarah, and their children, calling them to walk faithfully before him, and blessing the nations through them.

God chose Israel to show the glory of his name, the power of his love, and the wisdom of his ways. The Lord gave them the law through Moses and led them by the prophets, shaping a people in whom God is revealed—a light to the nations.

When Israel spurned God’s love—lusting after other gods, trusting in power and wealth, and hurting the weak—God scattered them among the nations, yet kept a faithful remnant and promised them the Messiah.

A prophet to speak good news, a king to crush evil and rule the earth with justice, a priest to be sacrificed for sinners. God promised to forgive their sins and give them a new heart and a new spirit.

The Spirit of the Lord moved mightily upon them, effecting change, stirring them to action.

But who has believed the prophets’ messages? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem, but also make it very clear that she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of—forgiven!

Thunder in the desert! Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.

Song: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” PH 5, PsH 341, TH 193, WR 232

Notes for Worship Leaders

Take a few moments to review Advent themes from last week: God’s Spirit, present at creation, was one with God in creating the world; the Spirit continues to move and blow among us, bringing us closer to God and the creation; link with baptism.

Explain this week’s focus: how the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament, preparing the way for Jesus to come into the world to redeem Israel and all who believe. The Spirit continues to “prophesy” through creation, the Bible, and directly to our hearts, preparing us and the world for Christ’s return. Just as the Spirit was present at creation, the Spirit was moving and working through God’s chosen people to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming.

Have kids name some of the prophets from the Old Testament, and then ask, What is a prophet? The prophets’ job was to call the people back to God. Prophets warned people of the consequences of their actions and called them to repentance. The heart of the prophets’ message was God’s promise of eternal redemption through the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Who gave the prophets the words to say? Who gave them their power? The Holy Spirit!

As the candle is lit, say, “We light this candle to remember that God’s Spirit worked through the prophets and his people to prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival, so that we could be saved from our sins. In the same way, the Spirit is moving among us now, preparing our hearts for Jesus’ return. Like the prophets, we are God’s messengers to tell people about God’s love for them.”

Week 3

Conceived by the Holy Spirit

Litany of Response

Leader 1: A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

Leader 2: The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

People: Remembering the promise to reconcile the world to himself, God joined our humanity in Jesus Christ—the eternal Word made flesh.

Leader 1: He is the long-awaited Messiah, one with us and one with God, fully human and fully divine, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.

Leader 2: What does this mean—that he “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary”?

People: That the eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took to himself, through the working of the Holy Spirit, from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, a truly human nature so that he might become David’s true descendant, like his brothers in every way except for sin.

Leader 1: How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit us?

People: He is our mediator, and with his innocence and perfect holiness he removes from God’s sight my sin—mine since I was conceived.

Leader 2: Like he did when he anointed Mary with the Holy Spirit to give birth to his only Son, God continues to hold this world with fierce love.

All: Keeping his promise, he sends Jesus into the world, pours out the Holy Spirit, and announces the good news: sinners who repent and believe in Jesus live anew as members of the family of God—the firstfruits of a new creation.

Song: “Magnify the Lord” PsH 622, SFL 13, SWM 82

Notes for Worship Leaders

Take a few moments to review Advent themes from Weeks 1 and 2: God’s Spirit was present at creation; the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets, preparing Israel for the coming of Jesus; the Spirit continues to move and create and prophesy to us to prepare for Christ’s return.
This week’s focus is on the central role played by the Holy Spirit in the birth of Jesus: Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit.” This is a complex idea for children to understand (let alone adults). Focus on the fact that Jesus was God’s Son, and that this means that Jesus was one with the Holy Spirit, just as God is one with the Holy Spirit.

Ask kids who Jesus’ mother was. Then ask them who Jesus’ father was. Explain that an angel appeared to Mary and told her that she had been chosen to give birth to God’s Son, Jesus. You may want to show kids a package wrapped for Christmas. Add a tag that says “From: God; To: The World.” Mary was chosen to “deliver” the biggest Christmas gift of all time—Jesus, together with the Holy Spirit.

As the candle is lit, say, “Today we light the third candle of Advent to remember that the Holy Spirit was within Jesus when he was born, that God was his Father, and he was born to Mary. Just as the Holy Spirit was within Jesus from the time he was born, that same Holy Spirit is inside us!”

Week 4

Baptized by the Holy Spirit

Litany of Response

Leader 1: As the second Adam, Jesus chose the path we had rejected.

Leader 2: In his baptism and temptations, teaching and miracles, battles with demons and friendships with sinners, Jesus lived a full and righteous human life before us—inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

People: As God’s true Son, he lovingly obeyed the Father and made present in deed and word the coming rule of God.

Leader 1: Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all!

Leader 2: When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.

People: Instead, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Leader 1: Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

People: He alone paid the debt of our sin; there is no other Savior. We are chosen in Christ to become like him in every way, through the ever-present and powerful help of the Holy Spirit.

All: Jesus Christ rules over all! To follow this Lord is to serve him wherever we are, without fitting in, light in darkness, salt in a spoiling world. Come upon us, Holy Spirit, like you did on Jesus, and make us wholeheartedly ready and willing to serve God and advance his kingdom!

Song: “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” CH 244, PH 2, PsH 329, SWM 83, SFL 122, TH 196, WR 153

Notes for Worship Leaders

Take a few moments to review previous Advent themes: God’s Spirit present at creation; the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets; Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to Mary.

This week’s focus is the role played by the Holy Spirit in the baptism of Jesus: Jesus’ ministry was empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Ask kids to recall some of the miracles Jesus performed. Then ask where Jesus got the power to do those miracles. Note that Jesus didn’t perform any miracles until after he had been baptized by John the Baptist and had the Holy Spirit descend on him like a dove (Mark 1:10). Consider placing a white dove up on the screen for a visual idea of how the Holy Spirit may have manifested itself on that day. Remind kids that we learned about the Holy Spirit moving over creation like a bird.

Once the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, he was infused with power. He healed people. He preached and taught. He raised people from the dead. He commanded the wind and waves to cease storming. Jesus did all these things through the power of the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit who was present at creation, who spoke through the prophets, who was with Jesus when he was born, and  descended like a dove on him as an adult.

As the candle is lit, say, “Today we light the fourth candle of Advent to remember that the Holy Spirit was not only within Jesus when he was born but also descended upon him at his baptism. From there, his ministry on earth was begun. That same Holy Spirit comes upon us as well!”

Week 5

Holy Spirit, Guarantee of Christ’s Return

Litany of Response

Leader 1: In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people.

Leader 2: Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream.

People: The Spirit renews our hearts and moves us to faith, leads us into truth, and helps us to pray. The Spirit stands by us in our need and makes our obedience fresh and vibrant.

Leader 1: Before he died, Jesus promised his disciples that the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father would send, would make everything plain to them and remind them of all the things Jesus had said to them.

Leader 2: The Holy Spirit was Jesus’ parting gift to us. We are not alone, we are not distraught. Our hope for a new creation is not tied to what humans can do, for we believe that one day every challenge to God’s rule will be crushed.

People: God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his “Yes” within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.

Leader 1: With the Spirit, we long for that day when our bodies are raised, the Lord wipes away our tears, and we dwell forever in the presence of God.

Leader 2: We will take our place in the new creation, where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, and the Lord will be our light.

People: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader 1: We face that day without fear, for the Judge is our Savior.

People: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader 2: We live confidently in the Spirit, anticipating his coming, offering him our daily lives—our acts of kindness, our loyalty, and our love—knowing that he will weave even our sins and sorrows into his sovereign purpose.

People: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader 1: Jesus said: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Leader 2: Through his Spirit, he has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God, and we will reign on earth. God will be all in all, righteousness and peace will flourish, everything will be made new and every eye will see at last that our world belongs to God.

People: Hallelujah! Come, Lord Jesus!

Song of Response: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” CH 245, PH 9, PsH 328, SFL 123, SWM 81, TH 194, WR 154

Notes for Worship Leaders

Take a few moments to review Advent themes: God’s Spirit present at creation; the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets; Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to Mary; Jesus’ ministry was inspired by and empowered at his baptism by the Holy Spirit.

This final week’s focus is on how the Holy Spirit continues to be a central player in our redemptive history, from the beginning of creation to Christ’s return. The Holy Spirit is our “guarantee” of Christ’s return, the presence of God in our hearts as we await and prepare for that return.

Ask kids if they have been looking forward to Christmas. Has it been hard to wait? Sometimes while we’re waiting for something, we need to be reassured that what we hope and long for will come true. Consider bringing candy canes to hand out to the kids. Hold one up for kids to see, and promise they will get one once the children’s message is over. But they have to wait for it. How do they know they’ll get one? Because you promised, and they can see that the candy is there. All this is evidence and a guarantee that they will get the candy cane. But they need to be faithful, obedient, and look for your direction in order to see that promise fulfilled. (Candy canes are the shape of a “J” for Jesus; red represents the blood Jesus shed for us; green represents eternal life in Jesus; and white represents Christ as the perfect lamb who is sacrificed.)

As the candle is lit, say, “Today we light the fifth candle of Advent—the Christmas candle—as a reminder of the guarantee of Christ’s return we have through the Holy Spirit. Let’s live each day of our lives in eager anticipation of the ‘second Christmas.’ I can’t wait!”

Then hand out the candy canes.