Enter the Songs

An Advent Series with a Lessons and Carols Service

Finding a fresh way to share, experience, and delight in the Advent season and in the celebration of Christmas can prove challenging year after year. The story is well known to church members, and creating services that encourage them to enter the story with fresh, excited, and expectant eyes and hearts can be difficult.

Our pastor and worship planning team chose to use the words (or, rather, the spontaneous songs of joy and excitement) of some of the central characters recorded in Luke as a catalyst for creating joy, excitement, and expectation in our congregation. We hope that these service outlines and resources will help inspire you as you lead your congregation in worship this Advent season.

The gospel writer Luke wants to awaken us to the wonders of Christ’s coming. He fills the story with the sounds of singers singing their songs of joy and wonder at the new day dawning before their very eyes. The songs Luke has us listen to are not tame or quaint. They’re not the kind of songs that make for easy listening or calm, silent nights. Luke’s Advent songs are more like the ringing of the alarm clock shattering the early morning silence or the burst of energy when a race begins.

Luke aims to have us listen to these singers and their songs, not just to marvel at what God did once upon a time in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem’s manger, but to have us sense the energy of heaven that God unleashed on earth when he came to (as Mary sings it) “fill the hungry with good things but send the rich away empty.” Luke does not want us to be spectators of the story; he wants us to live it. The songs Luke records are meant to awaken us, fill our hearts with great rejoicing, and delight us with what God is still busy doing even today.

We incorporated several special things into the series to make it more meaningful to the congregation. The children’s time was moved to the beginning of the service. The children sat in a circle around the Advent wreath, which was on a low stand. The children’s time leader spoke briefly about Advent and the theme for the week, then lit the candle with the children. The children sang “Come, Lord Jesus” each week. On Christmas Day they also recited a Scripture passage they had learned in Sunday school, announcing Christ’s birth as they lit the Christ candle.

This series of services includes

  • Week 1:

    Mary’s Song—“God Is My Redeemer”
    (from Luke 1:39-56)

  • Week 2:

    Zechariah’s Jesus Song—“The Horn of Salvation”
    (from Luke 1:67-75)

  • Week 3:

    Zechariah’s John Song—“The Rising Sunshine”
    (from Luke 1:76-80)

  • Week 4:

    Simeon’s Song—“Light to the Gentiles”
    (from Luke 2:25-33)

  • Christmas:

    The Angels’ and Shepherds’ Song—“Peace on Earth”
    (from Luke 2:1-20)

  • Lessons and Carols:

    Enter the Songs

To bring the texts to life and give the songs additional meaning, we had different people in the congregation memorize them and recite them during both the Lessons and Carols service and the Advent services. Some used props (clothing, and so on), and one person actually sang Mary’s song in the middle of her recitation. The presenters ranged in age from teens to senior citizens. On Christmas Day, more Scripture passages were included, presented from memory by children of the congregation. (For more about Scripture memorization see Trygve Johnson’s article on p. 44.)

One final and meaningful aspect of this series was a liturgical dance performed by four Sunday school children. One of the children has Down syndrome, and with simple modifications to her choreography and good communication between the parents and the choreographer, she danced the part of Mary beautifully.

Week 1:
Mary’s Song—“God Is My Redeemer”

Sermon Synopsis

Mary’s song celebrates the redeeming nature of God, the nature that addresses people personally. Note the repeated “my” to indicate that Mary speaks personally of how God has touched her in his redemptive, caring way. Her song goes beyond the personal connectedness to speak of the very nature of God the Redeemer. God addresses injustice and unexpectedly turns this world’s way of worshiping its celebrities upside down (or right side up).

Sing Out, My Soul

Call to Worship
Our souls magnify the Lord.
Our spirits rejoice in God our Father.
The mighty One has done great things for us!
Holy is God’s name!
Let us worship God
for God is our Maker and Redeemer. (TWS.1.2.10)

Gathering Songs
“Sing Out, My Soul, With Praise” (Daniel B. Merrick)
“Lord, Our Lord, Your Glorious Name” LUYH 500/501, PH 163, PsH 8, TH 114

God’s Greeting

Song of Praise: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” PH 309, PsH 342, TH 162, WR 181

Children’s Time: “Waiting with Mary”

Lighting of the Advent Candle
“Come, Lord Jesus” SNC 103
“Prepare the Way of the Lord” LUYH 58, SNC 105, WR 174
“Come, Light, Light of God” LUYH 107, SNC 76

We Sing in Confession and Communion

Song of Preparation: “My Soul in Stillness Waits” (st. 2) SNC 95

Holy Communion

Song of Thanksgiving: “Tell Out, My Soul” (st. 1, 3, 4) LUYH 364, PsH 478, TH 26, WR 41

God Gives us His Song

Prayer of Illumination

Scripture: Luke 1:39-59
Message: “The ‘God Is My Redeemer’ Song”

We Sing in Thankfulness

Songs of Response
“Song of Mary” (st. 1-4) PsH 212, PFAS 1019
“My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout” LUYH 69, PFAS 75B

Prayers of the People

Offering

We are Sent to Sing

Prayer for Holy Living (in unison)
Lord Jesus Christ,
your world awaits you.
In the longing of the persecuted for justice,
in the longing of the poor for prosperity,
in the longing of the privileged for riches greater than wealth,
in the longing of our hearts for a better life,
and in the song of your church, expectation is ever present.
O come, Lord, desire behind our greatest needs.
O come, Lord, liberator of humanity.
O come, Lord; O come, Emmanuel.
Amen.

Closing Song: “Shout to the Lord” SNC 223, WR 94

God’s Blessing

Week 2:
Zechariah’s Jesus Song— “The Horn of Salvation”

Sermon Synopsis

Zechariah’s song addresses the “Lord and King” nature of God’s character. This nature is what God is about to launch into this world in a new way through the advent of his Son. Zechariah, the sleepy, despondent priest, suddenly catches on to the wide-awake ways of God and calls us to see God at work in his Son.

Sing Out, My Soul

Call to Worship
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
As we wait expectantly, we wait with joy.
As Advent people, we give thanks to the One who is faithful.
Let us proclaim the wonder of the God who came,
is coming, and will always come.
In word and action and with joy in our hearts
we will sing as we celebrate the advent of our God.

Gathering Song: “All Earth Is Waiting” LUYH 57, SNC 93

God’s Greeting

Songs of Praise
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” (refrain only, two times) LUYH 76, PH 41/42, PsH 340, TH 208, WR 182
“Sing to the King” LUYH 474

Children’s Time: “Waiting with Zechariah”

Lighting of the Advent Candle
“Come, Lord Jesus” SNC 103
“Prepare the Way of the Lord” LUYH 58, SNC 105, WR 174
“Come, Light, Light of God” LUYH 107, SNC 76

We Sing in Sorrow and in Hope

Prayer of Confession
God of love,
all year long we pursue power and money,
yet you come in weakness.
All season long we covet great material gifts,
when you alone offer what is lasting.
Through the work of this Lord Jesus,
who comes among us full of grace and truth,
forgive us, heal us, correct us.
Then open our lips,
that we may sing your praise with the angels,
and remake our lives,
that we may witness to your transforming love.
Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon
The good news of the Advent season
is forgiveness of sin and new life.
Let us commit our lives to Christ’s way of hope and peace.
Thanks be to the Advent God who comes among us,
setting us free to sing and to serve.

Song of Assurance: “You Are My King” LUYH 360

God Gives Us His Song

Prayer of Illumination

Scripture: Luke 1:67-75

Message:

“The ‘Horn of Salvation’ Song”

We Sing in Thankfulness

Songs of Response
“Awake! Awake and Greet the New Morn” SNC 91, WR 160
“The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” LUYH 476

Prayers of the People

Offering

We are Sent to Sing

Prayer for Holy Living (in unison)
O King of nations,
your reign spreads through all the lands.
You defend the cause of the poor
and plead for the wretched of the earth.
Fashion us into an obedient people,
that we may spread the good news
of your reign of perfect peace and justice,
until all creation will finally rejoice in your perfect will,
until all bend the knee to the King of kings and Lord of lords,
in whose name we pray, even Jesus Christ, your Son and our Savior. Amen.

Closing Song: “Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes” (st. 1, 4, 5) LUYH 60, PsH 335

God’s Blessing

Week 3:
Zechariah’s John Song—“The Rising Sunshine”

Sermon Synopsis

Zechariah’s song has two parts. The first part is about the coming Savior; the second part is about the role his own son, John, will have in “preparing the way.” Zechariah’s second stanza describes Jesus as the sunshine that rises to shed God’s light on all who live in darkness. This bright, promising, life-giving introduction to Jesus challenges us to not let his coming be trivialized by the glittering lights of Christmas consumerism. The Advent of Christ’s coming and the celebration of his birth may not be limited to these four weeks. Zechariah’s song invites us to join in his son’s song: “Prepare the way for the Lord.”

Sing Out, My Soul

Call to Worship (from Isaiah 40)
In the desert, prepare the way for the Lord.
Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed.
And all mankind together will see it.
Thanks be to God.

Gathering Songs
“People in Darkness Are Looking for Light” (st. 1)
“Comfort, Comfort Now My People” LUYH 59, PH 3, PsH 194, TH 197, WR 155

God’s Greeting

Songs of Praise
“My Lord He Is a-Comin’ Soon” (Laura Winnen, Jeff Cothran)
“My Lord, What a Morning” LUYH 481, PH 449, TH 328, WR 537
“Soon and Very Soon” LUYH 482, SNC 106, WR 523

Children’s Time: “Waiting with Zechariah”

Lighting of the Advent Candle
“Come, Lord Jesus” SNC 103
“Prepare the Way of the Lord” LUYH 58, SNC 105, WR 174
“Come, Light, Light of God” LUYH 107, SNC 76

We Sing in Sorrow

Prayer of Confession
Almighty God,
you who shaped out of nothing all that is,
forgive us for returning empty-handed.
You who called forth light,
forgive our preference for the dark!

Song of Confession: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (st. 4, no chorus) LUYH 88, PH 44, TH 201, WR 180

You who sent John to be a voice crying,
forgive our unwillingness to say anything at all!
Create in us clean hearts, O God,
and renew a right spirit within us, we pray.

Song of Confession: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (st. 4, no chorus)

Assurance of Pardon
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
“Your sins are pardoned. The penalty is paid.”
Thanks be to God.

Song of Assurance: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (st. 4, no chorus)

Liturgical Dance: “Mary, Did You Know?”
(Four young Sunday school children performed a liturgical dance to a recording of this song.)

God Gives Us His Song

Prayer of Illumination

Scripture: Luke 1:67, 76-80

Message: “The ‘Rising Sunshine’ Song”

The songs Luke has us listen to are not tame or quaint. They’re not the kind of songs that make for easy listening or calm, silent nights.

We Sing in Thankfulness

Song of Response: “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” LUYH 70, PH 10, PsH 327, WR 156

Prayers of the People

Offering

We Are Sent to Sing

Call to Holy Living
As he did for Zechariah, may God, who in Jesus Christ
called us out of darkness into the marvelous light,
fill us with his song,
enable us to declare his wonderful deeds,
thank him for his steadfast love,
and praise him with heart, soul, mind, and voice,
now and forever.

Closing Song: “Song of Zechariah” (st. 1, 3) LUYH 67, PH 602, SNC 104

God’s Blessing

Week 4:
Simeon’s Song—“Light to the Gentiles”

Sermon Synopsis

This song is usually kept back for the post-Christmas/Epiphany time, but it is a theme that characterized God’s advent from the start. God sent Jesus to be “for the glory of Israel” (mentioned in Simeon’s second line); but this glory was that he was the Light of God “to shine on the Gentile community,” a theme that Luke displays in his gospel and in the book of Acts as the very plan of God. Through Simeon’s song we are led to celebrate God’s love for the world and to let God’s Light shine through us.

Sing Out, my Soul

Call to Worship
God comes as a light,
grace-filled yet baby-frail.
Now may our hearts cradle you,
our voices sing to you,
our spirits leap with you,
and our hearts dance with you.

Gathering Songs
“Come and Stand Amazed, You People” PsH 338
“God Reigns! Earth Rejoices!” LUYH 91, PFAS 97A
“Gather Us In” LUYH 529, SNC 8, WR 649

God’s Greeting

Songs of Praise
“Let It Rise” (Paul Baloche)
“Here I Am to Worship” LUYH 567

Children’s Time: “Waiting with Simeon”

Lighting of the Advent Candle
“Come, Lord Jesus” SNC 103
“Prepare the Way of the Lord” LUYH 58, SNC 105, WR 174
“Come, Light, Light of God” LUYH 107, SNC 76

We Sing in Sorrow and in Hope

Prayer of Confession
Arise, shine: for your light has come.
O God, we live as if the light had never defeated
the darkness in the world or in us.

And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
We confess that we ignore the Christ
you sent to be among us, to be in us.

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
We’ve kept the birth of your Son confined
to the Christmas season and
do not yearn for his birth
each moment in our waiting hearts.

And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lord, you came to us in the fullness of time.
Forgive us for not opening our eyes to your coming.

It’s time that we prepare for your coming.
Let the earth ring with song. Let the light break forth.
Let us all rejoice in the miracle of love.
Let Christ come into the fullness of our time. Amen.

Songs of Confession
“Shine On Us” (Michael W. Smith)
“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” LUYH 730, SNC 77, WR 248

Assurance of Pardon (based on Isaiah 52:9-10; Luke 2:14)
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
People of God, through the coming of Jesus Christ,
the Lord has comforted and redeemed us too!
In Christ we receive the salvation of our God.
Glory to God in the highest!

Song of Assurance: “Arise, Shine, for Your Light Is Come” LUYH 103, PsH 198

God Gives us his Song

Solo: “People In Darkness” (Handel)
or Song: “Christ, Be Our Light” LUYH 908

Prayer of Illumination

Scripture: Luke 2:25-33

Message: “The ‘Light to the Gentiles’ Song”

We Sing in Thankfulness

Song of Response: “Meekness and Majesty” LUYH 157, SNC 109, WR97

Prayers of the People

Offering

We are Sent to Sing

Call to Holy Living (from Isaiah 42, The Message)
I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
I have taken responsibility for you, kept you safe.
I have set you among my people to bind them to me,
and provided you as a lighthouse to the nations,
to make a start at bringing people into the open, into the light,
opening blind eyes, releasing prisoners from dungeons,
emptying the dark prisons. I am God.”
Now go. Sing a brand new song.
Sing his praises all over the world!

Closing Songs
“God of Justice Ever Flowing” (st. 1-3) SNC 101
“We Are Called” LUYH 296

God’s Blessing

Christmas Day:
The Angels’ and Shepherds’ Song—“Peace on Earth”

Sermon Synopsis

The song of the angels reveals and revels in the shalom that God promises to bring to the entire world through the coming of his Son. Shalom is more than a cessation of war; it is a way of defining the wholesomeness of a life put back together. This wholesomeness is intended for the enjoyment of everyone and every living and “dead” thing, as God originally intended, for the “good” creation.

Sing Out, My Soul

Call to Worship (from Isaiah 12:4-6)
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.

Gathering Song: “O Come, All Ye Faithful” LUYH 76, PH 41/42, PsH 340, TH 208, WR 182

God’s Greeting

Song of Praise: “Joy to the World!” LUYH 92, PH 40, PsH 337, TH 195, WR 179

Children’s Time: “Singing with the Angels”

Lighting of the Christ Candle

Scripture: Luke 2:11 (recited by Sunday school children)

Song: “Away in a Manger” LUYH 86, PH 24/25, PsH 348/349, TH 204/205, WR 203/205

Scripture: Psalm 66:1-5 (dramatic recitation from The Message)

Songs
“Jesus, Name Above All Names” SNC 114, WR 177
“Jesus, Jesus, Oh, What a Wonderful Child” LUYH 99, SNC 108

Scripture: Psalm 9:1-2 (dramatic recitation from The Message)

Song: “Angels We Have Heard on High” LUYH 82, PH 23, PsH 347, TH 214, WR 188

Solo: “Jesu Bambino” (Pietro Yon/translated by F.H. Martens)

God Gives us his Song

Prayer of Illumination

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20 (recited)

Message: “Peace on Earth”

We sing in Joy and Thankfulness

Song of Response: “Glory to God” LUYH 84, PsH 214

Prayers of the People

Offering

We are Sent to Sing

Scripture: Ephesians 5:19b-20 (dramatic recitation from NIrV)

Closing Song: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” LUYH 80, PH 31/32, PsH 345, TH 203, WR 185

God’s Blessing
May the songs of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon
and the praises of the angels and shepherds
fill your hearts and lives so that as you leave this place,
you leave with the courage to enter the songs.
May the light of Jesus shine in and among you as you sing to him.

Scripture: Exodus 15:1-2 (dramatic recitation from The Message)

Parting Song: “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” LUYH 93, PH 29, PsH 356, TH 224, WR 218

Lessons and Carols:
Enter the Songs

Sermon Synopsis

On the first Sunday of Advent we traditionally hold a Lessons and Carols service with three other churches in our area. It is a difficult service to pull off, as many congregants want to be filled with something new yet familiar. This year we decided to take the Advent services we had planned for our worship, combined with Old Testament lessons, and produce a service that many found moving and memorable.

This year the three pastors from the area churches introduced the service with a reading and then moved to the back of the church where they read the Old Testament passages unseen, giving the illusion of hearing things from the past. The New Testament passages were presented from memory by congregational members from the front of the church.

We Gather to be Amazed

Call to Worship (Isaiah 12:4-6)
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.

Gathering Carols
“Come and Stand Amazed, You People” (st. 1-3) PsH 338
“How Great Our Joy” LUYH 90

God’s Greeting

Reading

Reader 1: We do not know when the season of Advent was first introduced to the Christian church. The word “advent” comes from a Latin word that means “to wait.”

Reader 3: Traditionally this is the season when the church waits for the momentous celebration of Christ’s birth. The waiting is a reenactment of the waiting Israel experienced in her longing for the coming of the Messiah.

Reader 2: Advent prepares us for the event of all events in our world’s history—the moment when God moved into our neighborhood, flesh of our flesh, to redeem us. But it is more than a reliving of that first longing for the Messiah to come; it is also a reminder that we are waiting again for Christ.

Reader 1: This is the season of waiting for Christ’s second coming. Every day is another day of advent, a day of waiting. The four weeks of Advent are prime moments to ask ourselves if we are indeed “waiting,” longing for Christ’s return as some in Israel anxiously waited for the coming of the Messiah.

Reader 2: Our North American culture of consumerism immerses us in this season of Advent by counting down how many days of shopping we have left before the festivities of Christmas Day come upon us. We are taught to be anxious

Reader 3: (purchasing just the right gift),

Reader 2: driven to overspend

Reader 3: (thank goodness for Visa),

Reader 2: and loaded with guilt if we do not conform to the expectations of this season

Reader 3: (who wants to be a Scrooge?).

Reader 1: Advent is not necessarily a season in which we are moved to sing out of pure joy and with thanksgiving to God. Many times we are too busy to be thankful and too burdened to be joyful. This has not become a season for songs. We have too much to do and little time for singing.

Reader 3: Besides, if Advent is supposed to kick-start our interest in Christ’s coming to this world the second time, we’d better be sure that we know what we are doing.

Reader 2: Far too many times we have been embarrassed in the Christian community by those who predicted the precise moment of Christ’s return, only to have their “advent” enthusiasm fizzle to nothing.

Reader 1: Especially within the Reformed community, we are suspicious of those who blow the second coming trumpet too much. We are “Reformers,” a feet-on-the-ground kind of people, serving the Lord where we are today, keeping ourselves busy until Christ returns.

Reader 3: Maybe we approach Advent with a “grin and bear it” attitude. We respectfully acquiesce to the four weeks of intensified waiting on the Lord, recognizing it as a tradition we have inherited from the wider Christian community.

Reader 2: It only lasts four weeks. Besides, the Advent wreath and its candles do add to the festivities of the season.

Reader 1: The gospel writer Luke wants to awaken us to the wonders of Christ’s coming. He fills the story of the events surrounding Christ’s coming with the sounds of singers singing their songs of joy and wonder at the new day dawning before their very eyes.

Reader 3: The songs he has us listen to are not tame or quaint. They are not the kind of songs that make for easy listening or calm, silent nights.

Reader 2: Luke’s Advent songs are more like the ringing of the alarm clock shattering the early morning silence or the burst of energy leaping from the gate when a race begins.

Reader 1: Luke aims to have us listen to these singers and their songs, not just to marvel at what God did once upon a time in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem’s manger, but to have us sense the energy of heaven that God unleashed on earth when he came to (as Mary sings it) “fill the hungry with good things but send the rich away empty.” Luke does not want us to be spectators of the story; he wants us to live it. The songs Luke records are meant to awaken us, fill our hearts with great rejoicing, and delight us with what God is still busy doing even today.

God's Mighty Deeds

The Song of Mary
New Testament Lesson: Luke 1:39-56

Solo: “Mary’s Song”

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 54:1, 4a, 5, 8

Carol: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (st. 1, 2, 4) LUYH 78, PH 309, PsH 342, TH 162, WR 181

Provinding the Freedom to Serve

The Song of Zechariah (Jesus)
New Testament Lesson: Luke 1:67-75

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 11:1-5

Liturgical Dance: “Mary, Did You Know?”

Carol: “Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes” (st. 1, 3, 4) LUYH 60, PsH 335

Preparing the Way of the Lord

The Song of Zechariah (John)
New Testament Lesson: Luke 1:67, 76-80

Solo: “Comfort Ye, My People” (G.F. Handel)

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 40:1-5

Carols
“My Lord He Is a-Comin’ Soon” (Laura Winnen, Jeff Cothran)
“My Lord, What a Morning” LUYH 481, PH 449, TH 328, WR 537
“Soon and Very Soon” LUYH 482, SNC 106, WR 523

God's Global Salvation Story

The Song of Simeon
New Testament Lesson: Luke 2:25-33

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 42:1, 5-8a

Carols
“O Lord, How Shall I Meet You” PsH 331, TH 156
“Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding” LUYH 478, PsH 332

Peace on Earth

The Song of the Angels
New Testament Lesson: Luke 2:1-14

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 and 42:10, 11b-12a

Carols
“Glory To God” LUYH 84, PsH 214
“Angels We Have Heard on High” LUYH 82, PH 23, PsH 347, TH 214, WR 188
“Glory to God” LUYH 83

The Joy of the Redeemed

The Song of the Shepherds
New Testament Lesson: Luke 2:15-20

Solo: “O Holy Night” (Adolphe Adam)
or Song: “Silent Night! Holy Night” LUYH 85, PH 60, PsH 344, TH 210, WR 186

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 12:4-6

Carol: “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” LUYH 93, PH 29, PsH 356, TH 224, WR 218

Blessing