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From Genesis to Revelation

Finding Our Place in God’s Story with Christmas Eve and Two Other Services

At the Calvin Worship Symposium in January, world-renowned New Testament scholar N. T. Wright emphasized that congregations and Christians today need the broad themes of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. We treat Scripture in devotional or moral bits, but we don’t know how the Scriptures go together. While the Revised Common Lectionary does provide some tools for this—it essentially organizes the church year around the life of Christ—it is missing the narrative or chronological journey through the Scriptures.

In recent years, Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, has developed a Narrative Lectionary found at the website Working Preacher (www.workingpreacher.org). The Narrative Lectionary is a four-year cycle that begins after Labor Day, starting in Genesis and progressing through the Old Testament, arriving at the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Then the congregation journeys through one of the gospels, arriving at the resurrection of Christ on Easter. After Easter the congregation stays in Acts for a couple of Sundays before continuing with a few passages in Paul’s letters. Each church year finishes with Revelation in June. The Narrative Lectionary makes practical use of a church program year while also including the important holidays of the regular liturgical calendar.

Third Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, typically follows the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), but we sensed that we were missing the broad sweep and unity of the Scriptures. So we decided to use Year 4 of the Narrative Lectionary, which is keyed to the gospel of John, because the RCL intersperses passages from that gospel throughout its three-year cycle. This gave us an opportunity to focus on John’s gospel so that “we might believe” (John 20:31).

Messages for each week referred both back and ahead in the broad stream of Scripture. Messages from the New Testament reminded the congregation of some of the great themes of the Old Testament. A book by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The True Story of the Whole World (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2009), referenced N. T. Wright’s description of Scripture as six acts and held together the preaching for the year. We developed weekly devotional books to supplement the Old Testament passages in the fall and the gospel of John after Christmas. This helped the congregation keep the whole story of the Bible in mind. Other effective preaching resources and podcasts can be found at workingpreacher.org.

The Scriptural narrative was reinforced visually. The congregation entered the sanctuary each week through a doorway surrounded by a mural called “The Story: Finding Our Place in God’s Story.” Art from member Joel Schoon-Tanis’s book 40: The Biblical Story complemented each week’s message. Art historians and graphic designers chose appropriate works for the bulletin cover each Sunday. That art was also posted in the church’s gathering area, creating a biblical timeline to give the congregation a sense of the sweep of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. And Linda Strouf, our music minister, selected hymns, songs, and choir anthems each week to fit the biblical story.

One other key work of art was the hourglass-shaped banner representing the biblical story. Like the top of the hourglass, the story of God’s people begins widely with the creation, then narrows to the covenant people of Israel, who are to be a light to the nations. The Old Testament narrows further until the New Testament and one man, Jesus Christ. The bottom of the hourglass, comparable to Israel, is the new community of the church, which gives witness until the new heaven and the new earth, represented by the width at the bottom of the hourglass.

Here are three samples of the forty services that helped us journey from Genesis to Revelation and find our place in God’s story:

The First Sunday: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

(We began in September with Genesis 1.)
Creator God, you made all that is, both seen and unseen. You made us in your image, both male and female, that we might reflect your goodness, wisdom, and love. As we gather around your Word and Table this year, may we come to know you, continue to know you, and to serve you forever. Amen.
Belonging to God: Catechism Resources for Worship. Geneva Press, 2003 © 2003, Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). Used by permission.

Your silence before the service enables others to pray.

WE COME INTO THE PRESENCE OF GOD OUR CREATOR

Prelude “There’s a Wideness to God’s Mercy” Ovid Young

Votum

Call to Worship
Lord, our Lord, you are so awesome!
You are beyond what we can imagine possible.

When we take a look at all that you have done and all that you have made, we wonder why you care for people like us.

You give us an honorable position on this earth of ours—to care for the things you have made, to preserve them and maintain them.

You have entrusted living things to us!
Lord, our Lord, the whole earth recognizes how awesome you are!

—paraphrase of Psalm 8

God’s Greeting

Hymn of PraiseAll Creatures of Our God and KingLUYH 551, PH 455, PsH 431, SWM 14, TH 115, WR 23, GtG 15

Sharing the Peace of Christ
The peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
(The congregation may exchange the peace.)

Introduction to Confession

Prayer of Confession (in unison)
Loving and forgiving God,

in our self-centeredness we have neglected the earth. We have put ourselves before others. We have failed to follow you.

Forgive us for all that we have thought, done, and said. Forgive us for what we have failed to do or say. Renew us to new life in your kingdom. Amen.
© 2013 ClergyStuff.com. Used by permission.

Words of Assurance Romans 8:18–21

Call to New Obedience 1 Timothy 4:4

WE CELEBRATE THE SOURCE OF ALL GOODNESS AND GROWTH

Celebration of Education
Presentation of Bibles
Introduction of Teachers
Dismissal of Children to “Parable Quest”

SongLord, Let My Heart Be Good SoilSNC 79

WE HEAR FROM GOD’S STORY

Prayer for Illumination

Old Testament Lesson Genesis 1:1–2:4
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Gospel Lesson John 1:1–5
This is the gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

Hymn of IlluminationFor the Beauty of the EarthLUYH 19, PH 473, PsH 432, SWM 54, TH 116, WR 40, GtG 14

Sermon “Creatures of the Creator”

Prayer for Blessing on the Word

WE RESPOND TO GOD WITH ALL CREATION

Affirmation of Faith (in unison)

We believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

We believe that God’s love is powerful beyond measure. God not only preserves the world; God continually attends to it.

God commands us to care for the earth in ways that reflect God’s loving care for us.

We are responsible for ensuring that the earth’s gifts are used fairly and wisely, that no creature suffers from the abuse of what we are given, and that future generations may continue to enjoy the abundance and goodness of the earth in praise to God. Entrusting ourselves wholly to God’s care, we receive the grace to be patient in adversity, thankful in the midst of blessing, courageous when facing injustice, and confident that no evil may afflict us that God will not turn to our good.
Study Catechism #23. Geneva Press, 2003. © 2003, Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). Used by permission.

Moment for Mission and Sharing the Gift of Fellowship

Presentation of Tithes and Offerings

Offertory “Let the Whole Creation Cry” arr. Roland E. Martin

DoxologyPraise God, from Whom All Blessings FlowLUYH 964/965, PH 591/592, PsH 638, TH 731/732, WR 34/44/147

Prayers of Thanksgiving, Intercession, and the Lord’s Prayer

Hymn of Dedication Great Is Thy FaithfulnessLUYH 348, PH 276, PsH 556, SWM 194, TH 32, WR 72, GtG 39

Benediction

Postlude “Dance for the Organ” Iteke Prins

Christmas Eve

WE ENTER INTO THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Prelude

Call to Worship (responsively)
Reader One: We light the Advent candles to remember the promise of the prophets of Israel and the hope for a Messiah to come.

Reader Two: For a child has been born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to all on whom his favor rests.

All: Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Processional HymnO Come, All Ye FaithfulLUYH 76, PH 41/42, PsH 340, SWM 102, TH 208, WR 182, GtG 133

Prayer for Christmas Eve

Sharing the Peace of Christ
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
And on earth peace among those he favors.
(The congregation may exchange the peace.)

WE ENCOUNTER THE CHRISTMAS STORY

God creates the world good, but sin enters the world
Reading Genesis 1:26–31; 3:1–7
Sung ReflectionOf the Father’s Love BegottenLUYH 78 (v. 1), PH 309, PsH 342, TH 162, WR 181, GtG 108

The prophet Isaiah prepares Israel and the Gentiles for the coming Messiah
Reading Isaiah 11:1–9
Sung ReflectionO Come, O Come, EmmanuelLUYH 61, PFAS 458, PH 9, PsH 328, SWM 81, TH 194, WR 154, GtG 88

The angel appears to Mary
Reading Luke 1:26–35, 38 
Sung ReflectionWhat Child Is ThisLUYH 95 (v. 1), PH 53, TH 213, WR 184, GtG 145

St. Matthew tells the birth of Jesus
Reading Matthew 1:18–25
Sung ReflectionO Little Town of BethlehemLUYH 88, PH 44, TH 201, WR 180, GtG 121

St. Luke announces the birth of Jesus Christ
Reading Luke 2:1–7
Sung ReflectionAway in a MangerLUYH 86, PH 24/25, PsH 348/349, SWM 87, TH 204/205, WR 203/205, GtG 114/115

The shepherds go to the manger
Reading Luke 2:8–20
Sung ReflectionHark! The Herald Angels SingLUYH 80, PH 31/32, PsH 345, TH 203, WR 185, GtG 119

The wise men are led by the star
Reading Matthew 2:1–11
Sung ReflectionWe Three Kings of Orient ArePH 66, WR 233 (v. 1, 5), GtG 151

Sermon “Finding Our Place in the Christmas Story”

Harp Solo O Holy NightAdolphe-Charles Adam

WE RESPOND IN FAITH & EXULTATION

Affirmation of Christmas Faith (responsively)
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not
one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world
came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him,
who believed in his name,
he gave power to become
the children of God,

who were born, not of blood
or the will of the flesh or the will of man,
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and lived among us, and we have seen
his glory, the glory as of the father’s
only son, full of grace and truth.

—John 1:1–5, 9–14 (NRSV)

Lighting of the Christ Candle

Hymn of AffirmationJoy to the WorldLUYH 92, PFAS 618, PH 40, PsH 337, SWM 94, TH 195, WR 179, GtG 134/266

Presentation of Tithes and Offerings

Anthem “In the Stillness of our Darkness” Arlen Clarke

DoxologyAs With Gladness Men of OldLUYH 105 (v. 3), PH 63, PsH 358, TH 226, WR 236, GtG 150

Prayer of Intercession

Hymn of DedicationSilent Night, Holy NightLUYH 85, PH 60, PsH 344, TH 210, WR 186, GtG 122

Benediction

Postlude

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

(In February we moved deeply into the gospel of John.)
God of restoration, you have the power to heal and to renew. Mend all that is broken in us and in our world, and bring us to wholeness, for the sake of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
© 2014 ClergyStuff.com. Used by permission.

THE APPROACH TO GOD

PreludeCome, You Faithful, Raise the Strainarr. Jon D. Vieker

Votum

Our Purpose for Gathering

Call to Worship (responsively)
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me up from the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
 
—Psalm 40:1–3

Hymn of Praise Praise, My Soul, the King of HeavenLUYH 571, PH 478, PsH 475, TH 76/77, WR 82

Prayer of Confession (in unison)
Too often we have wallowed
in our sorrow and sickness.
We have let our fears
and resentments guide us.
We have neglected the needs of others.
Forgive us for all we have
thought, done, and said.
Forgive us for what
we have failed to do or say.
Restore us to right relationship with you. Amen.

© 2014 ClergyStuff.com. Used by permission.

Words of Assurance & Grateful Living Romans 5:1–5

Sharing the Peace of Christ
The peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.

(The congregation may exchange the peace.)

Dismissal to Worship Centers

SongKwake Yesu nasimama/Here on Jesus Christ I Will StandLUYH 708

THE WORD OF GOD

Prayer for Illumination

Gospel John 4:46–5:18
This is the gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

Hymn of IlluminationO Christ, the HealerWR 638, GtG 793

Sermon “Matters of Faith and Healing”

Prayer for Blessing on the Word

THE RESPONSE TO GOD

Affirmation of Faith

Dear friends,
let us love one another,
for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves
has been born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love
does not know God,
because God is love.

This is how God showed his love among us:
He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
This is love:
not that we have loved God,
but that he loved us
and sent his Son
as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Dear friends,
since God so loved us,
we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God;
but if we love one another,
God lives in us
and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know
that we live in him and he in us:
He has given us of his Spirit.
And we have seen and testify
that the Father has sent his Son
to be the Savior of the world.
If anyone acknowledges
that Jesus is the Son of God,
God lives in them and they in God.
And so we know and rely on
the love God has for us.

—based on 1 John 4:7–17

Opportunities for Ministry and the Gift of Sharing

Presentation of Tithes and Offerings

Offertory “There Is a Balm in Gilead” Traditional African American Spiritual, arr. John L. Bell

DoxologyPraise God From Whom All Blessings FlowLUYH 964/965, PH 591/592, PsH 638, TH 731/732, WR 34/44/147

Prayer of Thanksgiving, Intercession, and the Lord’s Prayer

Hymn of Dedication: Go, My Children, with My BlessingLUYH 946, SNC 284, WR 719, GtG 547

Benediction

Postlude “O Rejoice, Ye Christians, Loudly” arr. Donald Rottermund