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Light for Our Wilderness

A Candlelight Service

While candlelight services often take us through the Christmas story with opportunities to sing beloved carols, this service is unique in that it focuses on our wilderness. So many of us relate to that dry place, that dark place, that lonely place, a place of despair, of yearning. The world around us is such a place, and it is to such a place that Christ came to be our Light. This service provides a beautiful and meaningful way to approach Christmas.
—JB

Prelude

“Gesu Bambina” (arr. C. Tornquist)
“What Child Is This?” (arr. C. Tornquist)
“Silent Night! Holy Night!” (arr. L. McKechnie)

Welcome and Call to Worship

Welcome to this annual candlelight service. Christmas is just days away, and tonight we have the opportunity to celebrate what Christ’s coming means for each of us. Our service tonight is called “Light for Our Wilderness.”

The wilderness is barren, hot, chalky. The wilderness is a place of need—a place of struggle and hardship. It’s a place where we learn hard lessons, a place we don’t want to go, a place we do everything we can to avoid.

But the wilderness is also where God spoke to Moses from a burning bush and it’s where God gave the Israelites the Law and formed a covenant relationship with them.

Even in the wilderness, there is hope. A stream gushing up from the cracked earth. Water flowing from a rock. A light springing out of the darkness and illuminating the path to peace.

Advent is the time when we remember God entering our wilderness and bringing the restorative water and illuminating light of Jesus Christ. It is because we are in the wilderness that we so eagerly long for his coming.

So tonight we’ll remember the journey of God’s people and their struggle as they awaited the Messiah, and we’ll remember our own struggles too. God invites you to have hope, knowing that Christ came to bring us peace and will come again. Please follow along in your worship bulletins, as much of tonight’s service will proceed unannounced.

Song

“Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding” (st. 1, 2, 5) LUYH 478, PsH 332

God Greets Us and We Greet Each Other

Song

“All Earth Is Waiting” LUYH 57, SNC 93

God Speaks to Us in the Wilderness

Scripture

Exodus 3:1-12

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Light First Candle

Song

“O Come, O Come Immanuel” (st. 1, 3, 6) LUYH 61, PH 9, PsH 328, TH 194, WR 154

Responsive Reading

“An Advent Lament” LUYH 62

Leader: Lord, remember us. Have regard for your covenant.

People: We need your redemption.

Leader: Where hands have brought about destruction, desolation, and desecration, where words have condemned, betrayed, and deceived, where silence has concealed, isolated, and ignored—

People: O come, Immanuel.

Leader: Shine light in the dark places, speak peace in the lands haunted by violence, and ransom your people.

People: As we remember your steadfast love and faithfulness, we wait expectantly; we rejoice in your coming. Amen.

God Teaches Us in the Wilderness

Scripture

Numbers 14:1-4, 26-29

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me.’”

Song

“Lord, You Have Lavished On Your Land” (st. 1-3) LUYH 65, PsH 85

God’s Love Endures Forever

Scripture

Psalm 136: 1-9, 16-17, 23-26 (read responsively)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.
to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.
to him who struck down great kings,
His love endures forever.
He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

(IDEA: If your congregation has a djembe player, consider using the djembe under this reading to help keep the rhythmic vitality, maybe beginning slower and softer and increasing in energy as proclamation of love piles upon proclamation. See tinyurl.com/RWHandDrumming and tinyurl.com/RWHeartbeatGod.)

Light Second Candle

Choir

“Coventry Carol” (arr. Walter L. Pelz)

Joy of the Redeemed

Scripture

Isaiah 35:1-8a

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.

Light Third Candle

Choir

“Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” (Paul G. Bunjes)

Prayer

Light for Our Wilderness

Scripture

Isaiah 40:3-8

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord[a];
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.”
A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”

Meditation

Song

“Here I Am to Worship” LUYH 567

Offering

Offertory

“Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head” (arr. M. Ham).

The Light Has Come

Scripture

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Light Fourth Candle

Song

“View the Present through the Promise” LUYH 470, SNC 90

Hope Yet to Come

Scripture

Revelation 22:1-5

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Handbell Choir

“Still, Still, Still” (arr. Susan T. Nelson)

As the Handbell Choir plays, the light from the Advent candles is passed to those sitting on the aisles. Please pass the light toward the outside of the church by dipping the unlit candle into the lighted one. Please extinguish your candles as you leave the sanctuary.

Songs

“Silent Night” LUYH 85, PH 60, PsH 344, TH 210, WR 186
“Angels We Have Heard on High” LUYH 82, PH 23, PsH 347, TH 214, WR 188
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (st. 3) LUYH 80, PH 31/32, PsH 345, TH 203, WR 185

Postlude

“He Is Born, the Divine Christ Child”
(arr. C. Tornquist)

Visuals

For the bulletin we chose the image “Sun of Righteousness” from Visuals for Worship by Elizabeth Steele Halstead (Faith Alive, 2006, currently out of print). With the purchase of this book we received a CD with many linoleum block print images for download as well as ideas for use with projection.