As I reflect on this issue of Reformed Worship, the words “longing” and “journey” come to mind. Longing is what sends us out on our journey to discover what more there is to life. Ever since the fall, people have been longing for things to be the way they were meant to be. We long for the restoration of relationships gone wrong. We long for a creation restored. We long for an end to war and violence and hunger and pain. And so we journey on in faith and hope.
We long for more. Especially at Christmastime, we long for more. I don’t mean the common longing for toys and family, carols and jolly feelings, eggnog and Santa. I mean a real, deep longing for something that actually fills us up and satisfies. We long for Christ to be with us.
Somewhere inside the busyness of the “real world” there’s “rest,” but it can be hard to find. Although we look for it in various places, it is often elusive or fleeting, at best. Today, I want to introduce you to a man who was forced to learn the hard way to find rest. Zechariah was a priest. You can find the word “rest” inside the word “priest,” but Zechariah had a hard time finding it. His story helps me, and I hope it helps you too. This is the story of Zechariah.
Reading and hearing the biblical narratives leading up to the birth of Christ seems countercultural these days. Commercial establishments begin celebrating an “instant” Christmas the day after Halloween. But when there’s no room for Advent celebration, there’s no “prepare the way of the Lord,” no waiting and working for Christ’s kingdom.
First Sunday in Advent
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
Advent is a time of waiting, but it can also be a very meaningful time of confession. These four litanies for confession and assurance are designed for consecutive use during the four Sundays in Advent.
First Sunday in Advent
Song: “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” (st. 1-2, sung by choir) LUYH, CH 245, PH 9, PsH 328, SFL 123, SWM 81, TH 194, WR 154
In the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) yearns for something better. But, beginning with his father’s untimely death, circumstances beyond George’s control thwart each of his plans to escape the runty town of his birth. George doles out his life helping small people live their small-town dreams. All the while, he believes he is missing something. He longs for something more, something exotic and adventurous, and audiences all over the world have identified with his longings for more than sixty years.
This Christmas Eve service tells the story of God’s salvation plan from the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ resurrection. It shows how all of Scripture is one big story of God calling his people back to him. The service is appropriate for people of all ages and all stages of the faith journey, and can be used in a wide variety of settings.
Christmas can be a beautiful time to incorporate movement into your worship gatherings. Christmas Eve candlelight services provide an especially wonderful atmosphere for introducing a simple dance done either in a group or solo. Christmas programs are also a perfect time for children to lead movement and get comfortable worshiping through motion. And what better occasion than Christmas Day, the birth of our King, to get the whole congregation involved in a processional with simple side steps and clapping?
One of the challenges when planning a hymnal is deciding where a particular song belongs, knowing that though the index in the back of the hymnal may suggest multiple places for a particular song, the location of the song has greater influence on when it will be sung. The challenge in this Noteworthy is to think outside the hymnal placement, as each one of these songs can be used both during the time from Advent to Epiphany as well as at other times of the year.
Q: Sometimes I worry that the kids I teach don’t see how the Bible fits together. How can I help them get “the big picture”?
Several recent books have lamented that while many people know some Bible stories, they really don’t have a sense of “The Big Overarching Story” of God’s mission in the world. Some people wonder whether worship reinforces this problem by jumping around from one part of the Bible to another.