The Christian ministry is set apart to bring Gospel nourishment to the Body of Christ on earth and to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. Our Redeemer, by His very life, bequeathed a season that captures the world’s attention each year. Welcome, Advent. Welcome, Christmas.
I wanted to aid congregations and pastors, particularly those from evangelical and free church backgrounds, who want to move away from the commercialization of the season to focus on the Incarnation. That is a hard sell, to be sure. A normative way to refocus the minds and hearts of people to the reality of Christ with us is through the seasons of the church calendar. The pastor can accomplish his goal by acknowledging the festivity of the wondrous season and drawing the people’s hearts away from the selling sites to the sacred Scriptures. Returning to the seasons marking the life of Jesus our Lord helps us to order discipleship on a cycle of Scripture.
A normative way to refocus the minds and hearts of people to the reality of Christ with us is through the seasons of the church calendar.
Here is a statement that I used a few years ago before beginning a weekly time of Advent readings on the Lord’s Day. In our church, I also introduced the lighting of the Advent candle. Both of these things are done in my home. I have sought to focus the hearts of our children on Christ in this way. And since I think the pastor is a father (relational, not authoritative, as Stott reminds us) of a congregation, not a CEO, I felt this was the way I wanted to lead Jesus’ children back to Him during the season of Advent.
I offer these readings to you with references and resources at the conclusion. I begin with a statement I used on celebrating Advent.
Returning to the seasons marking the life of Jesus our Lord helps us to order discipleship on a cycle of Scripture.
Our Worship of Jesus Christ in Advent
Presbyterians and other churches coming out of the Reformation have historically recognized the value of the Church Year without feeling obliged to follow it in their services slavishly. Many in the Reformed churches have singled out Advent and Christmas, Easter and Pentecost as major movements in the life of our Lord and His Church that are helpful in the devotional life of our churches. In that spirit, our Women in the Church have decorated our sanctuary for this special time. The Senior Pastor has prepared a series of special messages on the Advent of Jesus Christ. And we begin our services with a lighting of the Advent Candle. Our assistant pastors have sought out individuals and families representing the life of our congregation to observe this time before each service in Advent and on Christmas Eve. The lighting of these candles reminds us of the promise that a Light would come to the World:
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”Isaiah 9:2
Each candle brings us closer to the time we recall His birth and Second Coming. Remembering Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25.1-13, the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we also seek to be wise and have our lamps ready for the Bridegroom who is coming again. As Jesus said:
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”Matthew 25:13
As we worship our Lord Jesus and recall His first coming, look forward to His Second Coming, and let us also be attentive to His present coming. As Max Lucado has written:
“The One who came still comes. The One who spoke still speaks.”
May the Lord use this season to draw you and your family closer to Him so that you may know His presence, hear His voice, and follow Him with renewed love.
The following sequence of Sundays in Advent is the setting for a sacred festival of special music, hymns, Bible readings, and Advent candle lighting and prayer. I have often sought to emphasize various life stages in our congregations. Having singles from a singles class, a college class, or senior saints is as beautiful as a young family. This is a shepherding moment for you as pastor. You have the opportunity to publicly demonstrate the priority of generations in community.
First Sunday of Advent
Today we light the first candle of the Advent wreath. This is the candle of HOPE. With Christians around the world, we use this light to help us prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. May we receive God’s light as we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.”Isaiah 9:2
Let us pray:
Lord, as we look to the birth of Jesus, grant that the light of your love for us will help us to become lights in the lives of those around us. Prepare our hearts for the joy and gladness of your coming, for Jesus is our hope. Amen.
Hymns for the First Sunday in Advent
- O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (9th century Latin; translation by John M. Neale [v. 1 & 2] and Henry Sloane Coffin [v. 3 & 4] [public domain])
- Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Charles Wesley [public domain])
- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Henry W. Longfellow [public domain])
Second Sunday of Advent
Today we relight the candle of HOPE. Now we light the candle for the second Sunday in Advent. This is the candle of PEACE. As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we remember that Jesus is our hope and our peace. From the prophet Isaiah:
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”Isaiah 9:6-7
From the Gospel of John:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”John 14:27
Let us pray:
Gracious God, Grant that we may find peace as we prepare for our Lord’s birth. May divisions in ourselves and our families be peacefully resolved. May there be peace in our cities and the countries of our world. Please help us to see the paths of peace in our lives and then give us the courage to follow them. Lord, let us remember that you only are the giver of lasting peace and that you are always with us. Amen.
Hymns for the Second Sunday in Advent
- It Came upon the Midnight Clear (Edmund H. Sears [public domain])
- Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (Charles Wesley [public domain])
- While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (Nahum Tate [public domain])
Third Sunday of Advent
Today we relight the first two candles of the Advent wreath. The candle of HOPE and the candle of PEACE. Now we light the third candle of Advent. This is the candle of JOY. As the coming of Jesus, our Savior, draws nearer, our joy builds with our anticipation of his birth. From the Book of Isaiah, we read the words of our Lord:
“But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”Isaiah 65:18
From the New Testament, the words of Paul to the people of the church at Galatia:
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”Galatians 5:22-25
Let us pray:
We joyfully praise you, O Lord, for fulfilling your promise of a Savior and what that means in our lives. Thank you for the gift of salvation through the birth of your Son, Jesus. Create us anew as we wait, and help us to see your glory as you fill our lives with your living Spirit. Amen.
Hymns for the Third Sunday in Advent
- Angels from the Realms of Glory (James Montgomery [public domain])
- Angels We Have Heard on High (Traditional French carol [public domain])
- How Great Our Joy (Traditional German carol [public domain])
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Today we relight the first three candles of the Advent Wreath — the candles of HOPE, PEACE, and JOY. Now we light the fourth candle of Advent. This is the candle of LOVE. Jesus demonstrated self-giving love in his ministry as the Good Shepherd. Advent is a time for kindness, thinking of others, and sharing. It is a time to love as God loved us by giving us his most precious gift. As God is love, let us be love also. In the Book of Deuteronomy, we find these words:
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”Deuteronomy 10:17-19a
From the Gospel of John, we hear:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35
Let us pray:
Teach us to love, O Lord. May we always remember to put you first as we follow Christ’s footsteps so that we may know your love and show it in our lives. As we prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ birth, also fill our hearts with love for the world, that all may know your love and the one whom you have sent, your son, our Savior. Amen.
Hymns for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
- Joy to the World (Isaac Watts [public domain])
- Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (Charles Wesley [public domain])
- O Heavenly Word (author unknown, 1859; music, Breslau, 1625 [public domain])
The Evening of December 24th
On the eve of our Christmas celebration, Jesus’ birthday, we light all the candles of the Advent wreath. First, we light the candle for HOPE because Jesus is our hope. Second, we light the candle for PEACE because Jesus is our hope and peace. Third, we light the candle for JOY because Jesus brings joy. Fourth, we light the candle for LOVE because Jesus is love. Finally, we light the center candle. This is the CHRIST candle. Jesus is born. Jesus has come. Jesus is our salvation.
Here is a reading from St. Paul to the Galatians:
“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law”—Galatians 4.4Galatians 4:4
Let us pray:
Great God of love and light, we thank you now for the light of that special star over two thousand years ago that guided humble shepherds and learned wise men to the holy babe. Lead us now, by the light of your love, that we also may follow you to the new life in him. In celebration of the birthday of our King and our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
Hymns for Christmas Eve
- Once in Royal David’s City (Cecil Alexander [public domain])
- Away in a Manger (Attributed to John Thomas McFarland, 1887 [public domain])
- The First Noel (Traditional English carol of the 16th or 17th century, but possibly dating from as early as the 13th Century)
- Gentle Mary Laid Her Child (Joseph Simpson Cook [1859-1933])
- Go Tell it on the Mountain (African-American Spiritual, the early 1800s)
Note: See this site for a full listing of Christmas hymns and carols.
Please Consider a Gift to Faith for Living
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A Select Bibliography for Planning Advent Services
Book of Common Order of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. 2nd ed. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1929. Print.
Book of Common Worship, Daily Prayer. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. Print.
Book of Worship for United States Forces: A collection of hymns and worship resources for military personnel of the United States of America. Washington, DC: USGPO, 1974. Print.
The Reformed liturgy. Philadelphia: Liturgical Conference, 2009. Print.
Cummings, Brian. The Book of Common Prayer: the texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.
Dyke, Henry. The Book of Common Worship. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1926, 1906. Print.
Farhadian, Charles E.. Christian Worship Worldwide: expanding horizons, deepening practices. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007. Print.
Gore, R. J.. Covenantal Worship: Reconsidering the Puritan Regulative Principle. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub., 2002. Print.
Hefling, Charles C., and Cynthia L. Shattuck. The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A worldwide survey. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.
Johnson, Terry. Leading in worship: A Sourcebook for Presbyterian Students and Ministers Drawing upon the Biblical and Historic Forms of the Reformed Tradition. Oak Ridge: Covenant Foundation, 1996. Print.
Lutheran Book of Prayer. Rev. ed. Saint Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 2005. Print.
Old, Hughes Oliphant. The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship. Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1975. Print.
_____. Worship that is Reformed according to Scripture. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984. Print.
_____. Themes and Variations for a Christian Doxology: Being the Clinton Lectures, Delivered Spring Semester, 1989, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1992. Print.
_____. The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 19982010. Print.
_____. Worship: Reformed According to Scripture. Rev. and expanded ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002. Print.
Owen, John. Introduction to the Worship of God. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 199. Print.
Rogne, David George. Advent Services. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007. Print.
Taylor, Benjamin, and Simon Jones. Celebrating Christ’s Appearing: Advent to Candlemas. London: SPCK, 2008. Print.
The Book of common prayer with the additions and deviations proposed in 1928. Oxford: The University Press; 1928. Print.
The Worship Sourcebook. Grand Rapids: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship:, 2004. Print.
Weaver, J. Dudley. Presbyterian Worship: A guide for clergy. Louisville, Ky.: Geneva Press, 2002. Print.
Webber, Robert. The Services of the Christian Year. Nashville, Tenn.: Star Song Pub. Group, 1994. Print.
Ylvisaker, N. M. Service Prayer Book: With Bible Readings, Hymns, and Orders of Worship: dedicated to the Army, Navy, Marine and Air Corps of the United States and to the Canadian Armed Forces. Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1940. Print.
Milton, Michael A. “Advent Readings and Lightings: Pastoral Preparations for the Coming Season.” See http://mikemilton.wordpress.com/2007/12/06/an-advent-series-with-order-of-worship-readings-lighting-sermon-series-and-quotes/
McGrew, Darin, “McGrew’s Miscellanea, “An Advent Celebration,” (http://www.rahul.net/mcgrew/advent/), accessed, December 8, 2011.
Weaver, J. Dudley. Presbyterian Worship: A Guide for Clergy. 1st ed. Louisville, Ky.: Geneva Press, 2002.