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September 2009

Worship as a Foretaste of Heaven; Jesus' Baptism and Transfiguration

Q My pastor was explaining John Calvin’s understanding that in the Lord’s Supper “the Holy Spirit lifts us up so that we commune with Jesus in heaven.” This sounds beautiful—but it also sounds pretty far-fetched. The Lord’s Supper doesn’t feel, taste, or look like heaven. What are we to make of this?

A Christmas Dilemma

I admit it. I’m a self-professed worship nerd. I’ve been known to match the color of the runner on my office table to the current season of the church year. In fact, just about all the décor in my office and home is liturgical in nature. I like to surround myself with reminders of who I am in the much larger scheme of God’s plan of redemption. At Christmas, of course, the décor includes a nativity set.

Review

The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise & Worship
Robert H. Woods and Brian D. Walrath, eds. (Abingdon, 2007)

This excellent study seeks to give a balanced assessment of both the text and music of contemporary worship music by studying the seventy-seven most commonly used songs in American churches as reported by CCLI (the copyright licensing company).

Who Is Jesus?

Advent Dialogues for Parents and Children

For this Advent series we created dialogues where parents would speak informally with their children about who Jesus is. Each week we sang Graham Kendrick’s “Meekness and Majesty” (SNC 109), which contrasts Jesus’ divinity with the humble circumstances of his birth. These dialogues accompanied the lighting of the Advent candle each week.

News, Notes and Letters

New Search Engine for RW

Searching just became much easier on the RW website, as it is now powered by Google. Search results are more accurate and comprehensive, making it much easier to navigate the large amount of material available. Check it out!

A Universe of Promise

Five Services for Advent

How far and deep does the meaning of Advent go? Christmas can easily become sentimentalized with nativity scenes or mistakenly celebrated as the beginning of an escape to heaven. Our worship planning group tried to bring out a sense of the deep adventure that Advent really is by drawing in the cosmic scope of Christ’s incarnation in the world.

Big News from Little Children

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”
—Matthew 2:1-3

What Child Is This?

A Festival of Lessons and Carols

This service is modeled after the renowned “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” heard every Christmas Eve over BBC radio. It was first drawn up by Archbishop Benson when he was Bishop of Truro for use in that Cathedral. In 1918 it was simplified and modified for use in King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England, by Eric Milner-White, who, at age thirty-four, had just become dean of King’s College.

Stars of Wonder

For Christmas last year, my daughter, a sixth-grader, was given a sturdy box filled with 365 pieces of origami paper—one for each day of the year. On the back side of each brightly colored “tomorrow’s” sheet of paper is a pattern for “today’s” origami.

As I write this, we are at day 148, and she has folded 148 pieces of paper, almost to the day. She’s like that. Oh, and of course, we save each and every one.

Article Resources: 

Songs for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany

My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout; Come and Hear the Joyful Singing; Blest Are the Innocents; Dear God, It's All Too Much for Me to Carry!

The Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle is a time of newness: a new liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. A new year on the secular calendar begins before the cycle is done. And let’s not forget the new babies in the stories!

Telling God's Story

A Children's Christmas Program

This children’s Christmas program, which incorporates questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism, follows the well-known structure of “sin, salvation, and service.” It is a celebration of God’s love for us and our response in faith.

. . . And Peace on Earth

Many hymnals have a large section devoted to Christmas. In actual practice, this section gets used throughout Advent (thereby shortchanging the character of Advent). If you take a few moments to page through the Christmas carols and hymns in almost any hymnal, you’ll find that narrative and folksy, sentimental lyrics easily outweigh songs with a theological treatment of the meaning of Christ’s incarnation.

Star of Wonder

A Children's Program for Epiphany Sunday

Prelude
“We Three Kings/Bell Carol,” arr. Foncannon
“Songs of the Season,” arr. Keveren

Welcome

Epiphany Prayer
Eternal God, you have made yourself known to people of all ages, all times, and all walks of life. As the magi were overjoyed when they saw the star, so may we be filled with joy as you reveal yourself to us this morning. Amen.

Praying for Justice

Two Microphones, Sixty Petitions, Four Hundred Students

A shy female student stepped to the microphone and prayed: “Bring peace to regions of conflict, especially Sudan, Israel, and Gaza.” A tall male student bent over the same microphone: “Bring consolation and companionship to widows and orphans.” Another student, standing on tiptoes, adjusted the microphone to her mouth: “Renew our nation in the ways of justice and peace.”

From Protest to Praise

A "Psalm-Sing" Service

Our church can be described as a singing church. As part of our worship pattern, once a year we usually hold a hymn-sing, gathering to worship God specifically through song. This year our pastor preached a series of sermons based on various psalms, so instead of a hymn-sing we decided to hold a psalm-sing.

Star Gifts

Words to Ponder All Year Long

The season after Christmas and before Lent can often seem like a “down” time in the church year—as if we’re simply marking time while waiting for another grand celebration. Whether it is because people are suffering from holiday fatigue or influenced by gloomy winter weather, the season of Epiphany can go by unnoticed and unheralded.

A Letter from Tapescrew

With Apologies to C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters consists of an imagined correspondence between the senior demon Screwtape and his young nephew Wormwood. Screwtape gives advice on tempting and leading humans astray. Lewis uses this correspondence to make some insightful and often biting observations about the human condition, and how easily we are deceived by the forces of evil.

Coram Deo: In the Presence of God

A Service for Reformation Sunday

Each year four churches in Woodstock, Ontario, gather for a combined service to celebrate Reformation Day. Those four churches are Knox Presbyterian, Emmanuel Reformed, Maranatha Christian Reformed, and Covenant Christian Reformed. In this service the focus was on remembering that God is present in all facets of our lives.

Gathering

Prelude

Welcome and Announcements

Silent Prayer (Concluded with singing “I Love You, Lord”)

My Only Comfort

A Dramatic Reading by Young People

This versatile drama presentation, based on the Heidelberg Catechism’s first question and answer, can be included in a worship service in a variety of settings and stages. The reading can be adapted to include five to twenty or more student readers. For Part 3, you’ll need three different colors of T-shirts for three small groups of two to three students—each of the small groups puts on a matching color T-shirt to identify them as a group. (Inexpensive colored T-shirts are available at most large craft stores.)

A Community Banner

The purpose of Reformed Worship is to support the creative and discerning process of worship planning and leadership. We hope that churches will adapt all the resources included in this journal, but sometimes we wonder how they’re doing that.

We were encouraged by the following note from Mary Winters, particularly because her whole church got involved in the project. We share this with you in the hope that you will find it equally encouraging. —JB