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Under the Bethlehem Star

After wrapping up last year’s Advent series at our church, Pastor Dale proposed the idea of using the book of Ruth for our next Advent series. Although my thoughts kept rolling around the question How will he get Advent and Christmas out of the book of Ruth? I didn’t say anything. By July, when it was time to select bulletin covers for Advent, the question was still there.
I needed to know how to correlate the Advent candle wreath lighting with the sermon theme. What evolved became one of my favorite Christmas series.

Here’s a brief overview: Ruth 1: Hope; Ruth 2: Peace; Ruth 3: Joy; Ruth 4: Love. The series culminated in a Christmas Day service of rejoicing in the gift of a Savior. Dale reminded me that this entire story took place in Bethlehem, and that Boaz’s redeeming of Ruth is a picture of Christ redeeming us. It really is “the reason for the season”!

We found some beautiful dark blue bulletin covers with small, darker silhouettes of traditional Christmas/Epiphany scenes: a hillside with a shepherd boy; a village; an angel with a trumpet; Mary riding on a donkey; the manger and shepherds; wise men on camels. Most noticeable was the radiant Bethlehem star, reminding us that all these scenes took place “under the Bethlehem star.” We had our theme.

I decided to use some traditional readings for the lighting of the Advent candles, making a connection with the sermon for that day. Parts of each candle lighting litany and the following prayers were taken from an article in RW 73 titled “What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Six Service Plans for Advent and Christmas,” by Jack De Vries. The remaining parts of each candle litany and prayer were written by me to correspond with the sermon theme of that service.

Since our congregation loves singing Christmas carols, I chose as many as possible, singing only the verses that applied to that service. By September I discovered that most of the anthems drawing my attention focused on, yes, a star. Our PowerPoint technician projected a Bethlehem star. But the series really came together in the messages rooted in the book of Ruth.

Week 1: Hope

Ruth 1

Sermon Notes

The book of Ruth describes the change that comes about in Naomi. Naomi’s husband and two sons have died; she feels hopeless. But there are glimmers of hope: the barley harvest is beginning, and it seems that the people of Bethlehem don’t blame Naomi for her problems. Her daughter-in-law Ruth walks beside her in her grief—an example of what Christ himself would do (vv. 16-17). Even the names in this chapter offer glimmers of hope for a Savior: Bethlehem (house of bread), Ephratha (out of you will come—Micah 5:2), Elimelech (my God is King), Orpah (raindrop or abundance), Ruth (friendship). God is providing hope, a Savior, a relationship, someone who will walk beside us at all times.

Service Outline

Prelude

Call to Worship
“My Soul in Stillness Waits” SNC 95
“Song of Zechariah/Blessed Be the God of Israel” PH 602, SNC 104, SNT 5

Advent Candle Lighting: Hope
Lighting a candle is a simple yet profound act. It is a testimony to the power of light over darkness. When we look at the world around us we can see pain and suffering. But as we light the first candle of Advent, the candle of hope, we see that it shines brightly in the darkness. As we press forward in our struggles and hardships as Naomi and Ruth did, do we anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ? Do we recognize this “hope against hope” and see God’s providence in our lives?

Advent Prayer
Dear God, as we light this candle and begin this new Advent season, shine the light of your hope into our hearts and into our world. Amen.

Worship Choir (choose one)
“A Star Will Soon Shine” (Besig)
“Here I Am to Worship” CSW 2, SWM 6
“Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” CH 33, PH 263, PsH 460, TH 38, WR 48

The God of Hope Greets Us

Song of Praise: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (st. 1, 3, 4) CH 250, PH 44, TH 201, WR 180

Because of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, and our living hope of eternal life, we find our strength for each new day. (1 Peter 1:3-6)
Let us go to our source of strength and hope in a prayer of confession.

Confession and Assurance

Song of Faith: “My God How Wonderful You Are” PsH 499, TH 35

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture Reading: Ruth 1

Sermon: Under the Stars of Bethlehem: Hope against Hope

Sung Response: “View the Present through the Promise” SNC 90

Prayer

Offering

Closing Song of Comfort: “Canto de esperanza/Song of Hope” PH 432, SFL 82, SNC 282

God’s Parting Blessing

Week 2: Peace

Ruth 2

Sermon Notes

In faith, Ruth goes out to the fields to glean, trusting that God will provide for her and Naomi. She “happens” to find herself in a field owned by Naomi’s kinsman, Boaz—one more indication that God was leading. Boaz prays that Ruth will be richly blessed by the God under whose wings she has come to take refuge. God provides food for Ruth and someone to redeem her from an uncertain future, just as God provides food for our souls and a Redeemer who is the only source of peace. We receive the bread of life at the table of the Lord.

Service Outline

Prelude

Call to Worship

Song of Anticipation: “O Come, O Come, Immanuel”
(st. 1-4) CH 245, PH 9, PsH 328, SFL 123, SWM 81, TH 194, WR 154

Advent Candle Lighting: Peace
Waiting is hard. We want the stoplight to change quickly, the grocery line to move fast, and Christmas morning to arrive soon. Today we light the candle of peace, knowing that Jesus alone is our peace in this chaotic world. He calms our hearts. As we wait and trust in him, do we recognize God’s face and feel his peace?

Advent Prayer
Dear God, give us the gift of Jesus and the Spirit so that our hearts may be calm and peaceful. Help us to see how close you are to us, and help us to show your peace to other people too. Amen.

The God of Peace Greets Us

Song of Reassurance (choose one)
“Comfort, Comfort Now My People” PH 3, PsH 194, SFL 121, TH 197, WR 155
“All Glory Be to God on High” PH 133, PsH 247, TH 102

Confession and Assurance

Song of Praise: “Hark the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes” PsH 335

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture: Ruth 2

Sermon: “Under the Stars of Bethlehem: God’s Face”

Song of Response: “My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout/Canticle of the Turning” (see RW 93)

Celebration of the Lord’s Supper

Song of Preparation (choose one)
“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” PH 5, PsH 341, TH 193, WR 232
“Behold the Lamb” CH 304

The Apostles’ Creed

Prayer

Offering

Closing Song: “Sing to the King” (Billy Foote and Charles Silvester Horne)

God’s Parting Blessing

Moment of Reflection  

Week 3: Joy

Ruth 3

Sermon Notes

Naomi doesn’t know if her dream of a redeemer will really come true. But she tells Ruth to “wash and prepare herself” to meet a husband—a gift. Do we expect too little from God? Are we afraid to let God take control of our lives? Are we too afraid of failing to risk serving God? In fear, Ruth takes a risk and asks, “Will you redeem me?” Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, provides all that she asks for: a husband, a child, a home, and complete redemption. Our salvation is free, but Jesus Christ paid the price so we could be redeemed (Gal. 4:3-5). We long to feel God’s protection and care, which God provides in Jesus Christ.

Service Outline

Prelude

Call to Worship

Joyful Song of Worship: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You” CH 90, 271, PH464, WR 59

Advent Candle Lighting: Joy
Jesus is coming; shout for joy! In a world that finds pleasure in the abundance of material possessions, we learn that true joy is only found in Jesus Christ. Today we light the candle of joy to remember the good news of great joy that Jesus’ birth brings to us and to all people of the world. May we experience the greatest joy in our lives—the truth that we have a Redeemer who provides for our salvation.

Advent Prayer
Dear God, give us joy in our hearts, now and forever. Help us to share this joy with others too. Amen.

God, Who Sent Us Jesus Christ, the Source of all Joy, Greets Us

Song of Praise: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (st. 1,2) CH 240, PH 309, PsH 342, TH 162, WR 181

Confession and Assurance

Song of Gratitude: “Joy to the World” CH 270, PH 40, PsH 337, SFL 137, SWM 94, TH 195, WR 179

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture: Ruth 3

Sermon: Under the Bethlehem Star: Good News of Great Joy

Song of Response: “Tell Out, My Soul” PsH 478, TH 26, WR 41

Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
For great is the Holy One of Israel among you. (Isa. 12:6)

Song of Our Great News: “How Great Our Joy!” CH 269, SNT 10

Prayer

Offering

Worship Choir: “The Redeemer Will Come” (Angerman/Barrett)

God’s Parting Blessing

Moment of Reflection

Week 4: Love

Ruth 4

Sermon Notes

God carries on the promise of redemption in ways we couldn’t have expected. Boaz sits at the town gate, where the real business of the community is conducted, and presents Ruth’s case to the kinsman-redeemer as an opportunity for him to get land and increase his wealth. But the kinsman-redeemer refuses to marry Ruth. In love, Boaz redeems Ruth, they are married, and they have a child. Eventually they become the great-grandparents of King David. And from the line of David comes Jesus Christ, who was sent to redeem the world. Christ is our Redeemer! In love, Christ rescues me before God so that my name is written in the book of eternal life. And now I belong to him for eternity.

Service Outline

Prelude: “Angel Carols” (Smith) or “Christmas Praise” (Phillips)

Call to Worship

Song of God’s Promise of Love (choose one)
“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” CH 255, PH 48, PsH 351, TH 221, WR 190
“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” CH 648, PH 376, PsH 568, TH 529, WR 358

Advent Candle Lighting: Love
Out of darkness light shines. This light points us to the One whose love overcame the darkness of this world, whose love will be our light in the world to come. As we wait for Christ to return, we can see his love grow. Today we light the candle of love because we know that Jesus is love. The love of God flows through the gift of the Christ child into our lives. As we grow, we realize how much we need Christ’s love. We need to share that love with others. Ruth’s faithful obedience was an important step in the history of redemption, even though she couldn’t see all the results. Are we living our lives with God’s eternal purpose in mind?

Advent Prayer
Dear God, we love you because we know that in Jesus you loved us first. As we light this candle, help us love each other more and more, and help us tell the whole world about the love of Jesus. Amen.

The God of Love Greets Us

Song of Praise: “Love Has Come!” (Ken Bible)

Confession and Assurance

Song of Praise: “And Can It Be” CH 347, PsH 267, TH 455, WR 366

Prayer of Illumination

Scripture Reading: Ruth 4:1-17

Sermon: Under the Bethlehem Star: We Need His Love

Song of Response: “Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor” TH 230

Prayer

Offering

God’s Parting Blessing

Moment to Recognize Our Gift of Love

Week 5: Christmas Day—Rejoice

Luke 2:1-20; Ruth 4:18-22

Sermon Notes

The Christmas story is full of the unexpected. It’s a story of rejection: “No room in the inn.” It’s a story of conflict with Satan. It’s a story of revelation as news reaches the shepherds, who run off to Bethlehem. The shepherds were the first to be told, even though they had nothing to offer. The Savior came for those “with whom God is pleased.” We find true joy and peace only in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This story is an invitation to trust, to come to Christ in faith, to honor and adore him.

Service Outline

Prelude

Worship Choir Introit: “By the Light of One New Star” (Pethel)

Song: (choose one)
“Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” CH 277, PH 31/32, PsH 345, TH 203, WR 185
“Jesus, the Light of the World” (George Elderkin)—African American Heritage Hymnal #217

Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, Greets Us

Worshiping the Newborn King
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” CH 249, PH 41/42, PsH 340, SWM 102, TH 208, WR 182

“Angels We Have Heard on High” CH 278, PH 23, PsH 347, SFL 133, SWM 90, TH 214, WR 188

Candle Lighting: Christmas
God’s promise of a redeemer is fulfilled! Jesus Christ is born, bringing the greatest gift ever—salvation and eternal life. Today we light the Christ candle because Jesus, the Light of the world, was born under the Bethlehem star. Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of our hopes and joys, granting us true peace and love. Like the shepherds, let us glorify and praise God for his gift to us today!

Christmas Prayer
Dear God, we thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. Help us always to live and walk in the Light, so that others will be able to see Jesus in us. Amen.

Songs of Christmas
“Once in Royal David’s City” CH 286, PH 49, PsH 346, TH 225, WR 183
“What Child Is This” CH 281, PH  53, TH 213, WR 184

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

Sung Prayer for Illumination: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (st. 4) CH 250, PH 44, TH 201, WR 180

Scripture: Ruth 4:18-22

Sermon: Under the Bethlehem Star: A Son for the World

We Respond with Joy: “Joy to the World” CH 270, PH 40, PsH 337, SFL 137, SWM 94, TH 195, WR 179

Prayer

Offering

Worship Choir: “The Face of God” (Stokes/Carlson)

God’s Christmas Blessing

We Depart in His Radiance (choose one)
“Jesus, Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child” SNC 108
“Song of Simeon/Lord, Bid Your Servant Go in Peace” PH 603, SNC 292, SNT 11

[Those who wish to join the choir in the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus are invited to come forward.]

Hallelujah Chorus (Handel)

Postlude

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