This service of remembrance was held in the middle of December at Rosewood Church. While some Christians are alight with joy during the Christmas season, for many others it is a painful time as they grieve the death of someone they love or the loss of a dream, experience financial concerns, or work through relational difficulties. This service is for those who feel the brokenness of the world at Christmas time. We all need to be reminded that Christ did not enter the world immune to its brokenness. Rather, he experienced it all and overcame death so that we too may join him eternally in a world where there will be no more tears.
Welcome and Introduction
Opening Song: “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” CH 244, PH 2, PsH 329, SWM 83, SFL 122, TH 196, WR 153
Holy God of Advent, you became weak so that we might find strength in moments of heartbreak. You left the safety of heaven to wander the wilderness of the world, holding our hands when we feel hopeless. You set aside your glory to hold our pain so that we might be healed. You became one of us so that we would never be alone.
Come now, Child of Bethlehem, to strengthen us in these days. May we feel your presence in a clear and powerful way, not just as one born in a stable long ago and far away, but as the One born in our hearts.
You go before us into our brokenness: into hospital rooms, into empty houses, into cemeteries, into a future that only you know and control.
You are here, even now, to serve us, to hold us, to comfort us, to heal us, to live in us—now and forever. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:1-2, 6b-11
Meditation: The Tough and Tender Savior (available at www.ReformedWorship.org)
Song: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (st. 1, 4, 6) CH 245, PH 9, PsH 328, SFL 123, SWM 81, TH 194, WR 154
Lighting the Advent Candles
Reader 1: We light the candle of hope as we await the coming of Jesus, our source of hope.
[Candle of hope is lit]
People: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of hope in our times of emptiness and despair.
Reader 2: 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. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 14:27, 16:33)
Reader 1: We light the candle of peace, knowing that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
[Candle of peace is lit]
People: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of peace in our times of uncertainty and fear.
Reader 2: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)
Reader 1: We light the candle of joy, knowing that our comfort and help come from God.
[Candle of joy is lit]
People: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of joy, for happy memories, and for your own dear presence in our times of sadness.
Reader 2: To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)
Reader 1: We light the candle of love, knowing that God is love revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
People: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of love in our times of longing and loneliness.
Reader 2: I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17)
Reader 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
People: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14)
Reader 2: In him was life, and that life was the light of all. We light the Christ candle, knowing that Jesus is our hope, our peace, our joy, and the source of love.
[Christ candle is lit]
People: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:5, NLT)
Song: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (st. 1, 4, 5) CH 250, PH 44, TH 201, WR 180
[At this time people were given the opportunity to light a candle to represent a loss in their life. This could be done by lighting a single candle from the Christ candle and passing the light one to another, or people may be invited to come forward and light their own candle from the Christ candle and then place their lit candle on a table.]
Moment of Silence
Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-7
Reader 1: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Reader 2: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Reader 1: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Reader 2: He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”
Reader 1: “To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Song (choose one):
“Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes” (st. 1, 3, 5) PsH 335
“Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come” (st. 1, 3, 5) CH 270, PH 40, PsH 337, SFL 137, SWM 94, TH 195, WR 179
Meditation: The Tough and Tender Savior
Note: the following meditation is provided with the understanding that if it is used in a service, its source will be noted in a bulletin or verbally with a line such as “Today’s meditation was written by (or is based on one written by) Rev. Bonnie Behnia-Mulder. May God use these words to encourage and sustain us.” To make this meditation more personal you are encouraged to replace the opening example with one from your own life.
Sometimes life is really hard. . . .
My sister Carla was on the verge of having an empty nest: one married, one engaged, one leaving for college. Then one morning in April she woke up and her husband didn’t. He was dead in bed next to her. Life turned upside down. I will never forget her sobbing on the phone that morning as they carried away the lifeless body of the man with whom she shared life for thirty years.
Each of us have painful moments that we will never forget. The diagnosis. The phone call. The last goodbyes. Driving away from the cemetery with your parent/spouse/child in a coffin ready to be covered with dirt.
Moments when your heart feels like it can’t break any more. When your eyes feel like they can’t cry any more. When the silence in your home is deafening. When the longing for your loved one keeps you awake at night and makes it hard to get up some mornings.
Into our pain breaks the voice of the prophet Isaiah, relaying the words of Almighty God to his broken and hopeless people: “Comfort, comfort my people.”
The second comfort is for emphasis. Encourage my people, God says. Give them strength from me. Fortify them. Let my words and my presence surround them.
Not meaningless platitudes like the ones well-meaning people tend to blurt out, but words of strength coming from the only One who gives life meaning in our sadness, who gives us a reason to get up, who gives us hope for life on the other side of our loved one’s passing.
It is this God who has blessed us with the gift of our loved ones—for however long God has chosen to give them to us. They say it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. We are grateful for the time we had with them, and the wonderful memories we can cherish (Carla loves to talk about Gary . . . what he did, what he said, how he would have reacted in certain situations.)
To us it never seems like the “right” time for the people we love to pass away. Yet that’s a fact of life. Nobody and nothing lasts forever. Except God.
God reminds us that we are like grass that withers, like flowers that droop and shrivel up. But God endures forever . . . God will never leave us or forsake us. He not only promises his everlasting presence but also eternal life.
Meanwhile, life goes on here on earth. Our loved ones live on in our hearts. We have good days and bad days, even moments of tears that turn into moments of laughter as we remember the person with whom we shared a part of our life.
People do come and go. Once they were part of our lives, and now they are here in our memories, in our pictures and videos, in our hearts.
In the midst of sadness, we are called to look up. God tells Isaiah to go up on a mountain, lift his voice, and shout the good news to God’s people who are sitting in darkness, in sadness, in exile.
God says “Comfort, comfort my people. Say this to them: Here is your God! Here I AM! I haven’t left . . . and I’ll never leave. And here’s what kind of God I am. I am tough and yet I am tender. I am strong and yet I am gentle. I will protect you from the storms of life, and yet I will carry you in my arms, close to my heart.”
What a comfort. We don’t have a God who is a stiff statue, or a distant Creator who makes the world and then goes off to take a nap while we suffer. Listen to this description. . . .
First, God is tough: “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm” (Isa. 40:10). God is not a little shepherd boy . . . God is a warrior shepherd who comes with power and a mighty arm. He’s a force to be reckoned with. God rules, God reigns—he’s the captain of the army. Though Satan may still mess with us while we’re still on earth, he cannot harm us. Nothing can snatch us out of the hands of our mighty Shepherd, our King, our Ruler.
But this tough shepherd is also tender: God tells Isaiah to speak tenderly to his dear people. Then he paints a word picture: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11).
God is full of compassion. He tends the flock, he gathers us—his frightened lambs—in his arms; he carries us close to his heart and wipes away our tears. God promises to never leave, but to carry us into eternity at the end of our journey, just as we know he has done with our loved ones.
Comfort, comfort my people. Though life is fleeting, and at times life is hard, we have a tough and tender shepherd who never lets us out of his reach.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.