Written to be sung following the second stanza (“God of God . . .”) of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
Gently she holds him, deity enshrouded.
Love comes redeeming our mortal estate.
Sharing our dying, firstborn of our rising.
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord!
Most churches celebrate the season of Advent. But for many pastors and worship committee members, this season can be a challenge. There are, it seems, only a limited number of ways to retell the Christmas story in a way that is fresh and insightful.
With this in mind, we decided to base our Advent worship on the theme of Christmas carols. It was a challenge to select just a handful of songs to focus on during the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, but we chose these five popular carols:
Voice 1: A reading of Matthew 2:13–14
When [the magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.
What if . . . ?
What if the angel hadn’t warned Joseph in a dream that Herod was seeking to kill Jesus?
This Christmas service of songs and readings examines Jesus’ birth and how he is the fulfillment of God’s covenant from four perspectives: Isaiah the prophet, Mary the mother of Jesus, Paul the apostle, and the believers living in the present time. As the covenant people living under God’s faithfulness, we shall re-examine our role or responsibility in this grand story.
The Chronicles of Narnia have held a special place in my heart and life for many years. They invite me to imagine other worlds and give me fresh insights into the ways the biblical narrative of creation, sin, and sacrifice can be understood and experienced. I’m not alone in my deep appreciation for all the times that Aslan, Lucy, Eustace, Reepicheep, and other Narnian characters have popped into conversation as illustrations from another world for how we might live in this world.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the scope of the incarnation. Jesus was born and dwelt among us. But who is the ‘us’? Were there ever any borders, either physical or metaphorical, that Jesus stayed within? Any study of Scripture is quick to show that Jesus made it a practice to cross as many borders as possible in his time on earth.
It hit me a couple of weeks ago when I realized the worship planning team or someone—the pastor, probably, late Saturday night—used a banner I had designed at least fifteen years ago to signal this Sunday was Communion Sunday. Surely we must have done something different or new since then, right? Nope. I couldn’t think of anything beyond an on-screen graphic done up a couple of years ago for a Good Friday service.
It is common to come into a church and hear music. Singing, on the other hand, is another issue.
I have worked at several kinds of churches, including Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and non-denominational. I’ve been a choir director, worship leader, and organist. I’ve noticed a common thread about singing running through every church: Each has a pastoral musician whom they trust.
Note: This article is adapted from the introduction of Visser’s book The Birth of Jesus the Messiah: The Stories of Matthew and Luke for Preaching and Teaching, (WestBow Press, 2017).
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.
Recently Reformed Worship was able to pose the following questions about the incarnation to three individuals.
I’ve sometimes heard the phrase “incarnational worship.” What does that mean? What is the significance of the incarnation for our daily living and worship?
Here are their responses:
During this season of Advent we celebrate God’s extraordinary gift of his son, Jesus, who became the bridge between heaven and earth, a redeeming bridge between God and us. Through the incarnation of Christ, this spark of God’s glory, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us. This is one of the core treasures of the Christian church, shared by believers of all faiths and denominations.
The World Needed a Savior . . .
Call to Worship
With two readers.
People of God, today we worship a God of revolution;
a God who is in the business of turning our lives—
turning the world―right-side up.
The prophet Isaiah says:
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”
A branch, bearing fruit?
What a vision of peace the prophet Isaiah paints for God’s people in the southern kingdom of Judah! Invasions by the ruthless Assyrians came from the north, they were betrayed by their sister kingdom Israel, and inadequate kings of their own made the time perilous.
Christmas, children, and surprises go together like peanut butter and jam. There is nothing more delightful than seeing a child’s eyes light up as they unwrap a Christmas gift they really wanted but didn’t expect to get, or than when you’ve found that perfect gift for someone. Christmas surprises are joyful surprises.
At a Church Near You . . .
Lisa, overflowing with energy and excitement greets a visiting couple. “It’s so good to have you here today. I’m on the worship planning committee and we have so many special portions to our service this morning. While this will be a surprise to the congregation, we asked the brass ensemble to join the opening song, but they are in the balcony so it will be an unexpected delight for all. We also get to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. This is a great day for you to be part of our community.”
Last week I was asked to lead worship at a small church plant. It was a young church where I, a 31-year-old, would be one of the older attendees. So I looked through my song list and choose three songs that would be fitting for the night before Easter. I wasn’t looking for any particular kind of song; just songs that conveyed the message of the cross and that might be familiar and singable with this group. It wasn’t until after I picked out the songs that I realized all three were hymns.
I’m sure I’m not the only worship leader to wonder what to do for the annual Thanksgiving Day service. Sometimes it feels like I have to manufacture a spirit of thankfulness for this one day before returning to business as usual the next morning. What if I’m not in a particularly thankful mood? What if my congregation is facing or enduring a tough situation? Manufacturing thankfulness for an hour of worship sounds trite and inappropriate.
Our church feels called to address some major societal issues as a congregation, including racism, the history of genocide of indigenous peoples, and human trafficking. The question is how we will do this in worship. Some have suggested we have a special service that focuses on each key issue. But that doesn’t feel right. I fear we will just have a succession of single-issue services and then drop our concern.