2014 Advent to Christmas Series "The Promise" Worship Helps

As promised, here are the candle lightings, calls to worship, and corporate or pastoral prayers for our

2014 Advent to Christmas Series "The Promise"

.  Everything is designed to get the point across for each particular Sunday and is free to use.  Let us know me the comments if any of this is of help to you!

This year, I decided to go with the traditional names for the Advent Wreath Candles (perhaps for the first time since I started writing original lighting liturgies).  I'll have a graphic for worship guides in the next couple of days!

November 30 (Advent 1) - “A Promise and a Plea” Isaiah 64:1-9

Lighting the Candle of Hope

Long ago the prophet Isaiah cried out for God’s mercy to be shown to God’s children – all of us.  God heard that prayer, though God came in God’s own time.  Even though God may not move in the way we expect or as quickly as we would sometimes like, God still keeps the promises that God makes.  God hears our cries for mercy, even today.  This morning, as we light the Candle of Hope, may this small light be a symbol to all of us that waiting and hoping for God to come to us again.

Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.  Hope is here!

Call to Worship

Lord, hear our prayer!

Listen to your children praying!

Hear your people crying out for mercy this morning, God of our Salvation.

May the hope of Jesus arise in us this morning!

Prayer of Confession

Merciful God, we have much to confess.  We lose our focus.  We forget the reasons we’ve had for the holiday season.  We get caught up in being busy, caught up in ourselves, caught up in the world.  Help us to focus on you, and in so doing becoming more like you.  The world around us needs you, needs people focused on you and ready to meet the needs of those that are hurting and lost around us.  Focus us God, lead us with your Holy Spirit, so that when the Hope of the Nations does arrive, we are ready.  Amen.

December 7 (Advent 2) - “Passing the Baton”Mark 1:1-8

Lighting the Candle of Peace

John the Baptist’s ancient words, calling us to prepare the way of the Lord were more ancient than he was.  He learned them from Isaiah.  But in John’s time, Jesus did finally arrive.  The Hope of the Nations walking among the people.  This morning, we light the Candle of Peace.  May we carry the Lord’s peace with us this holiday season, as we remember that Jesus was, and is, real.

Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.  Peace is here!

Call to Worship

Peace of the Lord be with you today!

Peace of the Lord be with you!

We have work to do to prepare the way of the Lord!

May Jesus make his true way into our hearts, today.

Prayer of Confession

Everlasting Lord, we confess that Advent is not a peaceful season, and that it is our own making.  We forget that your incarnate love in Jesus Christ wasn’t just meant for the church or the people that call themselves ‘Christian’ … It is for everyone.  Can you help us be peace-bringers this season?  Can you open our hearts and minds to those that need us to bring your healing touch?  To those that need to be introduced to your son, Jesus Christ?  To those that need the way to you made plain?  Calm our hearts and steady our minds, dear God, that we may find your peace and show it to others.  Amen.

December 14 (Advent 3) - “A Mother Sings” Luke 1:46b-55

Lighting the Candle of Love

Mary’s song reminds us that God’s love is truly for everyone, that we are all God’s children, and God’s mercy is equally given.  Mary helps us to remember that God’s view is different from ours– that those we might consider the lowly, the outcast, are equal in God’s eye to the powerful and the strong.  This morning we light the Candle of Love, reminding ourselves that God’s love is without boundary, it is timeless, it is free to all.

Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.  Love is here! 

Call to Worship

This morning, we are called to sing!

To sing of the Lord’s everlasting mercy!

To sing of the Lord’s faithfulness!

Thank you God for keeping your promises from generation to generation!

Prayer of Confession

God on high, we know you love us, but we confess that we forget to return that love.  You give us everything and we squander our resources.  We spend on ourselves, we pour extravagance on ourselves, all while those around us, in our neighborhoods, communities, and families struggle just to keep healthy food on the table.  Let us hear Mary’s song anew this morning, may we be reminded that the ways of the world, where the strong forget the weak, are not your ways.  Your ways are higher, God.  Help us to bring your Kingdom more fully onto this earth.  Amen.

December 21(Advent 4) – “Yes!”Luke 1:26-38

Lighting the Candle of Joy

As the angel tells Mary not to fear, we hear that call on our own hearts this morning.  Because we know that the promise of God, delivered by an angel, and received by Mary, is true.  When the world cried out for a savior, that savior did come to us.  Not as a king, but as a baby.  As we light the Candle of Joy this morning, may we be reminded, with joy, that the Lord loves us so much, that the Song of God came into the world like one of us.

Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.  Joy is here!

Call to Worship

The Lord is with us this morning!

Yes, indeed.  The Lord’s joy is here!

Are you prepared for miracles?

Nothing is impossible with God!

Prayer of Confession

God of Compassion, we are a fearful people.  We carry so much with us … hurt, pain, disease, strife.  We confess that we forget that you are with us, often in the hardest times.  We confess that sometimes this season of joy is less than joyful, because we lose track of you.  We need you to heal our hurts God, we can’t make it on our own.  Heal us God so we can be prepared to say “Yes!”, as Mary did.  Yes, to your call to lift up each other, to carry each other and lift burdens for one another, not just for our friends and family, but to everyone.  Help us to receive the gift of your healing, and joyful, love in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

December 24 (Christmas Eve) - “The Promise is Kept”Luke 2:1-20

Lighting the Christ Candle

As we light the Christ Candle, we remember that long ago God’s promise to us was kept!  We called on the Lord for salvation, and not only did the Lord bring it, the Lord Our God appeared to us as a baby.  A baby to be loved and nurtured in a human family.  A baby Messiah that would grow up to preach the good news that all are welcome and loved in the Kingdom of God.  Today, we welcome Jesus Christ!

Welcome to you, Lord Jesus!  May this light remind us of the hope, peace, love, and joy that can only be found in you!

Call to Worship

Let heaven and nature sing -

Joy to the world!

Oh come, all ye faithful –

Joyful and triumphant!

The herald angels sing –

Glory to God!

Jesus is here!

Jesus is here!

A Christmas Prayer

God, we welcome you here.  We have been waiting for you, anticipating your arrival, expecting you to visit us today.  We need you God, and we are so grateful that you love us so much that you came to us in the form of a child.  You place so much trust in us, even trusting a humble family to raise your own son.  On top of that, you gift us with care over one another.  Yes, it’s a care that we often fail to give.  Thanks be to you God that no matter how often we forget to take care of each other, to love each other as you love us, your forgiveness knows no end.  Forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love that became incarnate in Jesus Christ.  A promise of salvation that is kept.  Welcome to the world, Lord Jesus.  May singing your songs, sharing in your gifts, and looking to your earthly life bring heaven closer to us this Christmas.  Amen.

December 28(1st Sunday After Christmas) - “Seeing Salvation”Luke 2:22-40

Call to Worship

In our church, today it is still Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

The angels are still singing!

Glory to God, and peace on earth.

Prayer for After Christmas

Lord Jesus Christ, another Christmas Day has come and gone.  How did we celebrate your birthday?  With family and friends?  With food and gifts?  Did we remember that you are the true gift of Christmas?  You are the agent of our salvation, the light in our darkness, a fulfilled promise of God.  And we, whom you would call friends, are called to share these great gifts, that only you can give, with the world. Remind us that the gifts we’ve been given aren’t ours to keep.  Remind us that there’s more than enough food for none to go hungry.  Remind us that through you everyone we meet is now a brother or sister.  Thanks be to God for the family of faith that began on Christmas Day and continues to grow into the future.  Amen.

Advent to Christmas 2014 Worship Series: The Promise

This Advent season at FUMCA we're following the thread of messengers, the people who prophesied and proclaimed the good news the culminated in a fulfilled promise with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Our Advent journey will take us from the heartfelt prayers of Isaiah, to the rugged preaching of John the Baptist.  Then to the tender joy of Mary, mother of Jesus, as she sings her song of thanksgiving after the angel Gabriel gives her the news that God has chosen her to bear the Son of God into the world.  Finally, after the long wait, the promise of God, Jesus the Messiah, comes to us at Christmas.  A promise fulfilled.

Here is an outline of our plan, with liturgy resources and graphics to come.  This is all shared freely, but if you use it within your faith family, just do me a favor and share that in the comments!

Advent to Christmas 2014 Worship Series:

The Promise

November 30 (Advent 1) - “A Promise and a Plea" - Isaiah 64:1-9

Isaiah prays, "Oh, that you would tear the heavens and come down ..."

This lesson is a heartfelt plea for mercy, which is unlike many of the iconic Advent scriptures we pull from this prophet's deep words.  Where is the Holy Mountain, or the Great Light?  Isaiah is speaking for a world that needs a savior, a messiah, a rescuer.  Do we not cry for this still today as we wait for Christ to come again?  We wait still for the great intercessor to appear.

We remind our people though, as evidenced by the Incarnation, that God does hear our prayers.  That God does move towards us.

December 7 (Advent 2) - “Passing the Baton” - Mark 1:1-8

John proclaims, "One who is more powerful than I is coming after me ..."

A rough and tumble prophet, John wasn't into the pretensions of his time.  He wanted to get down to business, declare a season of repentance, and get people right with God.  However, he wasn't the Messiah, he wasn't the endgame ... Jesus was/is.  John, the way-maker, is preparing the people to meet Christ, for real.  John starts the race, but Jesus finishes it.  So, the question may be, still today, how are we making the way for Jesus in people's hearts right here, right now?

December 14 (Advent 3) - “A Mother Sings” -  Luke 1:46b-55

Isaiah had cried out to God for mercy (as had many Israelites), and here mercy is, gifted to Mary to bring into the world.  The special thing, though, is that God is buying into the human experience.  Not only will God come down to earth and to our rescue, but God will do so by coming into the world the way all humans do.  You might say, "God has skin in the game."

And, of course, this is Mary's song.  It's a riff on Hannah's song from the First Samuel, but Mary makes it her own.  She's prophesying in a way, singing the themes that are the Gospel of Luke's central message: the world as we know it is upside down from here on out.  That is, God's heart is for the lowly, the tread upon, the outcast, the ill, those who have no way out in society.  Mary is one of those people, and here she is, soon-to-be Mother of God.

December 21 (Advent 4) – “Yes!” - Luke 1:26-38

"Nothing is impossible with God ..."

God makes it happen for God's children.  The world needs a savior, and a savior is sent.  Not on a flaming chariot with an angel army as backup, but as a child.  However, the approach to Mary needs to be made, and Gabriel gets to make it.  Angels in the OT aren't bringers of joy, on the whole.  The Israelite history with angels is pretty scary stuff, so it's no wonder that Gabriel first tells Mary not to fear.

The Lord is with us, we don't need to fear.  Do we fear things this time of year?  Loneliness?  Money problems?  Brokenness in our families and relationships?  Are there things in our lives that we find impossible?  Is God there to help us find a break through?  The Incarnation is proof to us that God is ready, willing, and able to work miracles.  Mary was brave enough to say "YES!" to God, what about us?

December 24 (Christmas Eve) - “The Promise is Kept” - Luke 2:1-20

This sermon is so easy, but so hard.  How do  you bring something new to the Christmas story?  Do you even need to?  The awe, wonder, and praise wrapped into these twenty history-changing verses are timeless.  The joy of the angels, the shock to the shepherds, the love of the holy family.

But perhaps the greatest thing of all: God was always on the move to bring us Jesus, and God is still on the move in the world today.  Karl Barth wrote of the incarnation, not just that Emmanuel means "God with us", but also that "God does not want to be without us."

That is the Good News of Christmas!

December 28 (1st Sunday After Christmas) - “Seeing Salvation” - 2:22-40

"My eyes have seen your salvation ..."

The Song of Simeon rounds out the three songs that open the Gospel of Luke (Mary's Magnificat and the Song of the Angels being the other two).  Most people may know the Nunc Dimittis, 'Let your servant go in peace', set to music, but it doesn't give much of the scriptural context.  Simeon had been waiting, and waiting for the arrival of the savior, having a witness that he would meet the Messiah from the Holy Spirit.

What a gift Simeon received - to have tangible proof that God's promises are true.  We humans, some 2,000 years later have to take to these stories on faith.  However, the point should be made more often that while we don't see the Human One in the flesh before us, we, the church, are the Body of Christ - baptized to love and serve others as Christ did.  In other words, others should be able to see Christ in us.  In the aftermath of Christmas and before the New Year, what can we do to better show people that we know Christ was/is real?  Do we bring good new to the poor?  Let the oppressed go free?  Help people shake off their spiritual blindness?  Proclaim the time of the Lord's favor on the whole wide world?

Hope is on the Way Conclusion: What Gift Did God Bring?

Sunday marked the close of our epic journey from Advent to Epiphany.  It was a blessed time from Sunday to Sunday, my first sermon series to compose from scratch.  We concluded with the poetic and musical creation/birth narrative from John 1.

The questions we asked: What gift did God bring us with the birth of Christ?

And ...

What do we do with that gift?

January 5, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Hope is on the Way: Hope in the King

This week we were back on track at FUMC Arlington after the snow day last week that forced mass church cancellations across the DFW area.  It was great to formally dig back into our sermon series, "Hope is on the Way".

This week, John the Baptist is back for a visit - except not really.  He's been imprisoned for proclaiming the Gospel.  Because he's holed up in jail, awaiting his execution, he starts to have some doubts.  So he reaches out to Jesus for a little validations.

Was it worth for him to be a risk-taker in the name of Jesus?

December 15, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Rethink Church Advent Challenge Week 1

I, and many others, are joining in the Rethink Church Advent Photo-a-day Challenge, a twenty-five day photo challenge to tell your advent journey - in pictures.

It's been a fun first week, full of study, and reflection - some serious, and some not.  We also had what the DFW area would consider a blizzard, most of us have been iced in the house since Thursday night.

I you want to follow the conversation, check out the tags #rethinkchurch and #rethinkchristmas on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!

Day 1:  Go
#Advent Day 1: Let's #go. #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas

Day 2:  Bound
Day 2: For better or worse, right? #bound #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas

Day 3:  Peace
#rethinkchristmas day 3: candle and holder from our time in #taize, a place of immeasurable #peace #rethinkchurch

Day 4:  Time
#rethinkchurch day 4: getting there tomorrow... How much #time does God spend on future planning? #rethinkchristmas

Day 5:  Flood
#rethinkchurch day 5: the only good #flood? #rethinkchristmas

Day 6:  Awake
#rethinkchurch day 6: this cotton-headed ninny-muggins is #awake. #rethinkchristmas

Day 7:  Ready
#rethinkchurch day 7: well, we were #ready for church tomorrow but we get another #snowday instead! #rethinkchristmas

Rethink Church Advent Photo-a-day Challenge!

I'm joining in Rethink Church's Advent Photo-a-day Challenge this year.  I tried really hard to follow through on their challenge during Lent, and it fell to the back-burner during a crazy time when pulling out the phone to take pictures wasn't high priority.

This time, I'd like things to be different.  Photography is a great way to tell stories - which is what our primary job as Christians is to do.

So I'll be joining in the community with this one and updating my blog with the pictures at the end of each week.  Will you join in?

UPDATED: Hope is on the Way!

I've been kind of silent on my blog lately, and I can finally share the reason why!

For the last two months, I've been working on a writing assignment for GBOD Worship - sermon preparation ideas for the Hope is On the Way Advent Series I helped to put together for my faith family at FUMC Arlington.

It was a tall assignment, working out seven sermons a couple of months out, but it was a really fun project and a blessing to get this opportunity!

The GBOD published it all today!  So, if you're looking for a little bit of help with your sermon preparations for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, I hope you'll check out what we've offered.  With these notes, I also wrote out a few ideas each week for you to discuss with your worship planning team, questions to ask and ideas for you to own your worship this season and glorify God in your context.  Combine them with the liturgy resources we have, and it's a comprehensive resource to serve your congregation!  It's all free, but I'd love for you to comment if any of this is of help to you, or if you have a different perspective than from what I've given!

Blessings as you plan!

Hope is on the Way Series Art

One of the many blessings of working at the church I'm appointed to is having a trained graphic designer on staff who takes on most of our communications needs.  She doesn't just make fliers (though she does), she also manages our website, email communications, and designs our publicity materials for our various campaigns and sermon series.  As pastor of communications, I don't have to do the tricky stuff ... I get to deal with overall vision and scope, while my team does a stellar job of bringing our big ideas to life.

I don't know if you're church needs it or not, but we're offering our main graphic for our Advent series here for free.

It should give you a lot of room to use as you're church needs, for bulletins, fliers, banners ... Whatever you need.

As always, if you use it, just leave a comment to let us know how far it's gone!

You can also check out worship helps for the Hope is On the Way Series here.  And sermon notes at the GBOD worship site here.

Advent Sermon Series - "Hope is On the Way"

A couple of months ago, my senior pastor, knowing my liturgical nerdiness, tasked me with putting together our sermon series for the season of Advent through Epiphany Sunday (this year December 1 - January 5).  At our church, for the most part, we follow the Revised Common Lectionary and build our sermon series out of that, following at least one Gospel/Psalm/OT/NT stream for a month or more.

Looking through the Gospel lessons for the season going into Year A, I knew the Gospel's would be the way to go.  After all, while all years of the Lectionary justifiably spend time with Mother Mary, year A is the only one to truly spend time with Joseph, Jesus' adopted earthly father.

To break down and explain the plan for each Sunday, I've included the scripture chosen, key verse from that scripture, and key words and key themes to aid in hymn selection and sermon preparations.  As a nerd for the church year, I'm not too crazy about including Christmas hymns at the start of the season.  I think it's okay to build those in as we lead to Christmas Eve, but it's important to note that this is a season of anticipation as we spend a lot of time with prophecy from Christ and John the Baptist.  So, when it comes to building up the Christmas theme - pace yourself.  Remember, Advent is a season of past and future collision in the present ... A time of already here (as in Christ did come and is here) and not yet (Christ will come again.  If you focus on Christmas too early, you miss the point of the season.

To aid in worship, I've also included a Call to Worship, Candle Lighting Liturgy, and Prayer of Confession for each appropriate Sunday.  At our church, we'll have a family light the candle and a liturgist follow that with the Call to Worship.

Feel free to use any and all resources.  If you do use them in worship, please leave a comment!


Series Plan:  Advent through Epiphany Sunday
“Hope is On the Way”

Overall Themes:  Watchfulness, Looking backwards and forwards in time (at the same time), joyful repentance, trust, hope

December 1: “Managing Un-expectations” Matthew 24:36-44

Key verse: Matt 24:44 - “[Jesus says] Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Key words: prophecy (Jesus prophesies his own arrival!!), watchfulness, readiness

Possible Theme:  Jesus, close to the end of his earthly life, prophesies another beginning.  Jesus, the Messiah, tells the people to watch out for the Messiah.  Jesus goes meta.

Lighting the Candle of Expectation 
It was Jesus Christ himself that told us to be ready at any time.
So, today we remember that call.  The call to look for God in unexpected places, at unexpected times.
And even though we wait, we can expect Our Savior to show.
This morning, we light the Candle of Expectation.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
We gather this morning as a people waiting for the Lord.
The one who died, rose, and will come again.
Yes, this is the truth, and the great mystery of our faith!
Yes!  Lord Jesus, come into our hearts again this Advent Season!

Call to Confession
Everlasting God, we confess that we haven’t been watching.  We haven’t been looking out for you.  Like a thief in the night, you could pass us by and we would never know.  We have forgotten to look for you in the faces of our children, of the homeless around us, in the immigrants who struggle as they serve even us.  Forgive us, we pray, and make us ready to greet you in everyone we see on the street as we leave this place.  Amen.

December 8: “We Work While We Wait” Matthew 3:1-12

Key verse: Matt 3:2 - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

Key words:  Promise, strength, hope, readiness, repentance

Possible Theme:  We journey backwards to before Jesus’ baptism, to John the Baptist prophesying the Messiah’s coming – a Messiah already here.  Now is the time to get right with God.

Lighting the Candle of Prophecy
John the called on God’s people to repent, for the Messiah was near.
The people had prayed for it, yet they didn’t see the one they had been waiting for was truly among them.
That prophecy was being fulfilled in their midst.
This morning, we light the Candle of Prophecy
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
Today we to turn to God.
Lord, have mercy on us!
The Kingdom of Heaven is near.
Lord, help us to spread the good news!

Call to Confession
Merciful God, though your prophets still call out to us, millennia later, we still don’t change our lives.  As John the Baptist shouts to the people, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven as come near!”, we know that you are here, and still we don’t change.  Still we don’t hear the cries of the needy, still we don’t prioritize serving the poor, and still we refuse to meet the needs of those who are truly hungry and thirsty around us.  And yet, merciful God, you still count on us to carry out your mission, you still encourage us to follow you, you still are near.  Help us, Lord, as we seek your way.  Amen.

December 15: “Hope in the King” Matthew 11:2-11

Key verse: Matt 11:3 - [John in prison asks] "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

Key words:  Joyful repentance, fulfillment, hope

Possible Theme:  The ministry of John the Baptist is validated in Christ.  The hopes in John’s heart are fulfilled in the statements of Jesus, the one the world had been waiting for – who was, who is, who is to come.

Lighting the Candle of Hope
Even John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for?”
All of the hopes and dreams of God’s children were wrapped up in that question.
And the answer was, yes, the Hope of the Nations was there, and is here.
This morning, we light the Candle of Hope.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
Together, let us be a people unafraid to hope!
Christ comes to us in the unexpected!
Let us keep the faith together – that Christ will come again.
Lord, keep us on the straight and narrow path that leads to you!

Call to Confession
Our Lord and Our Hope, we know that we often fail you.  We forget to watch.  We forget to wait.  We make the holiday season more about ourselves than sharing the hope that only you can bring.  We get so caught up in what we’re supposed to get this season, we forget what we’re called to give.  Help us to remember that this season is about the message and ministry of your son, Jesus Christ, the one who came to heal, liberate, and share the good news of your faithful love.  Call us to be faithful only to you this season.  Amen.

December 22: “A Surprise Adoption” Matthew 1:18-25

Key Verse:  Matt 1:20 - "But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."

Key words:  Trust, Faith, Christmas
Possible Theme:  What about Joseph?  Here we have the rarer-read birth narrative from Matthew, focused on the choices of Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph.  What can his awkward circumstance tell us about keeping the faith?

Lighting the Candle of Joy
As we wait for Emmanuel, God with us to arrive, we remember the fears of his earthly parents.
We remember the commitment of Joseph, we remember the commitment of Mary.
We remember that the Lord sent angels to comfort and to guide – with joy.
In that spirit of joy, of expectation and hope, we light the Candle of Joy.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
With joy we call Emmanuel down to meet with us this morning!
Christ be with us!
Through the birth of Christ, we know God’s love for us.
Thanks be to God!

Call to Confession
God of our salvation and author of our hope, it’s hard for us to see the blessings you have for us.  We think that our plans are better, that the things and desires of the world are higher than your ways.  You, Lord, are the great interrupter and sometimes we can feel inconvenienced by the calls you put on us to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you.  Remind us that this season that leads to Christmas wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for you loving this world that you made.  Thank you for loving us, God.  Amen.

December 24: “Hope Has Arrived” Luke 2:1-20

Key verse:  Luke 2:10-11 - “But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Key words: Christmas, watchfulness, peace, love, hope, joy

Possible Theme:  The shepherds were awake to receive the good news, while the rest of the world was asleep.

Lighting the Christ Candle
With this lighting of the Christ Candle we rejoice with prophets, angels, and Mary and Joseph in welcoming Christ!
Our hope has arrived!
Thank you God, for sending us your Son.
May this light remind us of the hope we all carry because you love the whole world!

December 29: “We Are Family” Hebrews 2:10-18

Key verse: 2:17 - “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.”

Key words: Family, Christmas

Possible Theme:  In Paul’s writings, he looks at Christ’s life, Christ who called us brother and sister with him as we are children of the Father.  Christ our teacher, also called us family.

Call to Worship
Through the birth of Christ …
… God stands with us.
Through the raising of Christ by Mary and Joseph …
… God shows faith in us.
We are all family in Christ, and with Christ.
Thanks be to God, for this amazing news!

January 5 [Epiphany Sunday] “What gift did God bring?” John 1:1-18

Key verse:  John 1:16 - From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Key words: Giving, New Year, Beginnings

Possible Theme:  Since the beginning of all things, God has been giving to us.  And God hasn't stopped giving to us.  So what do we do with that?

Call to Worship
The Word of God has been with us from the start!
Praise the Lord!
The Word of God is with us even now!
Praise the Lord!
May the Lord’s grace and peace be with us in the start of this New Year!


For further help, I've partnered with the GBOD to offer sermon starters for the series!  Just go here for a few ideas to start your sermons and get your whole worship team thinking about the season.

Advent in July

Last week my senior pastor bestowed a big task on me - putting together our sermon series for the Advent and Christmas seasons.


In his words, "I feel like I haven't kept you busy enough."

Busy or not, I'm stoked for the opportunity.  If you've read this blog at all, you know that I'm a total nerd for the church year.  Following the liturgical seasons of the church is important in most of our United Methodist Churches and many of our mainline sister denominations.  I find it keeps my own personal soul centered on a direction throughout the year, and it's another great thing that connects us from church to church.

And now begins my pre-game ritual for worship planning of any season - reading the seasonal chapters of Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey.  I've been doing this since this book was assigned reading in my church music classes in seminary, and I find that it's the best way to keep things grounded in God's point and in the minds of those who crafted the Revised Common Lectionary in the first place.

Yes, call me a liturgy nerd.

In chapter 6, "Advent: The End and the Beginning", I find this gem on page 121, referring to the seemingly backwards nature of the Advent season:
... The beginning of the liturgical year takes our thinking to the very end of things.  For "end" means not only the "end of time," but the central purpose or goal of creation.  We are not aimlessly wandering in a wilderness, even though we may be temped to think so.  Rather, history is headed somewhere by direction (though not dictation) from God.  It is necessary that the liturgical year begin with this focus on a central, holy intention; for otherwise the story of Jesus, which is about to be rehearsed from conception and birth to death and resurrection, may seem less that what it is: the deliberate fulfilling of divine purpose, worked out through historical process.  Only this focus on the central purpose of God in history can keep the story of Jesus from falling into the superstitious or almost magical understandings that often afflict the Christian community, on the one hand, or into the trivialization and irrelevance that characterize secular interpretations, on the other hand.
This dual focus of the Advent season, a look ahead to the future coming of Christ through the voices of the prophets, but then the touching account of Christ's birth can be very confusing.  But then we remember the great mystery of faith:  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Confusingly good.  Time to plan.

A Liturgy for Peace

On December 8, 2012, our worship ministry presented our annual Christmas Gala.  It was  time to sing big, beautiful choral music, and it was also a time of worship and prayer.  This year the gala, We Pray for Peace, was focused on praying for the peaceful kingdom to finally come into fruition around us - and to ask God what it is we should be doing to help bring that kingdom about.

The 'meat' of the program was Gloria, by Antonio Vivaldi.  One of the more accessible master works in the canon, this neopolitan setting of the Gloria text of the Catholic Mass is just a lot of fun to sing.  Our primary instrumentation for the evening was a string quartet (the Gloria just isn't right without them), as well as piano, organ, and a little acoustic guitar for fun.  As is tradition in our faith family the event is intergenerational with our Chancel and Youth choirs combining voices for the service.  The Chancel Choir carried the brunt of the Gloria, and the Youth Choir offered anthems with a little more 'contemporary' feel.  Our bell choir also participated in a mighty way.

The program is presented in three acts.  The first act, "The Prophets Knew ...",  focuses on that peaceful vision of Isaiah.  The second act, "We Call on the Lord ..." begins with a plea from the psalmist as we pray for a change to come into us and to the world.  Here we pray for the world we live in today.  In the third act, " ... And the Lord is With Us!", we tell the Christmas story.  I've been told that every sermon should end on a hopeful note, so we closed with the Hope of the Nations, born unto us.  In our telling of the Christmas story, we focused on the readings that included the angels.

I'll be including commentary and links to resources throughout the liturgy of the program.  Feel free to use any or all of this program, and may the Peace of Christ be with you as you jump into 2013!


We Pray For Peace


Processional     Wonderful PeaceGustaf Nordquist
We began the service with both choirs processing to this beautiful, hymn-like anthem while holding candles.

Do you hear the angels sing?
They’re singing Glory to God!
But that’s not all!
They’re shouting down that Peace has come!
Listen to the angels sing!

*Carol 238     Angels We Have Heard on High, stanzas 1, 3, 4      GLORIA

Anthem      Da Pacem Domine      Melchior Frank, arr. by John Leavitt
                   Give us peace, O Lord.
The Prophets Knew …
Our youth pastor shared this short introduction to the journey of the service.  It was not printed in the program.
Long before the holy family, the angels, and the shepherds welcomed Christ into the world, the people were waiting and watching for the appearance of the Messiah.  The prophets preached to the ancient Israelites to be ready, for the light was coming and the peaceful kingdom would come to fruition.  But they often forgot to keep watch, just as we now often forget that the peace of Christ is within us, and that it is our great joy to spread that good news.  Tonight we’ll sing.  Tonight we’ll pray – pray with the Saints who have gone before us for these many centuries.  Tonight we call Christ down, to renew us, to revive us, to show us the meaning of this season again – to give God the glory, for God’s great redeeming love was revealed to us at Christmas.  May we hear the angels singing tonight – “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Gloria      movements 1 through 7      Antonio Vivaldi
Glory be to God in the highest!  And on earth peace to men of good will.  We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we adore Thee, we glorify Thee.  We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty and to our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son.
Old Testament Reading      Isaiah 11:1-9

Anthem      Creation Will Be At Peace      Anna Laura Page
This anthem setting of Isaiah 11:1-9 is stunningly beautiful.  It also comes with a bell choir addition to the accompaniment.

*Carol 211      O Come, O Come Emmanuel, stanzas 1, 2, 6, 7      VENI EMMANUEL
We Call on the Lord …

A Lesson from the Psalms      Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Carol      Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus      arranged by Travis Cottrell
Our youth choir presented this praise and worship setting of the advent carol by Charles Wesley.

Gloria      movements 8 through 10      Antonio Vivaldi
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.  Who taketh away the sis of the world, receive our prayer.  Who sitteth at the right hand of the father, have mercy upon us!

Hymn      For the Troubles and the Sufferings of theWorld      Rodolfo Neto
This plea comes to us from Brazil and can be found in Global Praise 3.  Our youth choir lifted it up.

Solo     “The Call” from Five Mystical Songs     Ralph Vaughan Williams
This baritone solo is the original setting of UMH 164.  It works very well with organ accompaniment.

Christmas Prayers of Intercession      When the World Was Dark      Iona Community
      Sung Response      Jesus, Remember Me      Taizé Community
We used this intercessory prayer time as an opportunity to bring two monastic communities together, Iona and Taizé.  We took our time here and didn't rush through.

Anthem      We Wait for Thee      Victor C. Johnson

Offertory Prayer 

Offertory      In the Bleak Midwinter     Gustav Holst, arr. by Karen Buckwalter
A touching setting of the hymn for bell choir.  It's not overdone in the least bit.

… And the Lord is With Us!

Gloria      movements 11 and 12      Antonio Vivaldi
For thou alone art holy.  Thou alone art Lord.  Thou alone, O Jesus Christ, art most high!  Together with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.  Amen!
Up to this point the Chancel Choir had sung all of the Vivaldi.  We had the Youth Choir join us here.  I couldn't let them out of learning at least a little bit of one of the great choral works ... And they loved it.

From the Gospel of Luke 1:26-33      The Angel Appears to Mary 
Carol 200      Tell Out, My Soul      WOODLANDS

From the Gospel of Matthew 1:19-23      Joseph Dreams of the Angel      
Carol      Sing We Now of Christmas      Arr. Lloyd Larson
For bell choir.

From the Gospel of Luke 2:1-7      Jesus is Born!
*Carol 246      Joy to the World, stanzas 1, 2, 4      ANTIOCH
From the Gospel of Luke 2:8-20      And the Angels Said …
Carol      Glory in the Highest      Chris Tomlin
The youth choir offered a version of Chris Tomlin's Christmas hymn with the string quartet.  The arrangement was found at

*Carol 240                                           Hark The Herald Angels Sing       MENDELSSOHN

Pastoral Benediction

Choral Benediction      Carol of the Bells      arr. Peter J. Wilhousky


And that's a wrap!  Total time of the program came in at an hour and a half, and we wouldn't have changed a thing.  But is there anything that you would have added in or taken away?

Sorrow + Joy

I've heard the Season of Advent frequently described as a time of 'already here, but not quite yet'.  Advent is the great in-between time; the 'already here' being that Christ has indeed already come, but the 'not quite yet' meaning that we're still waiting for him to come again.

Just think a moment on the opening line of our great Methodist Advent hymn Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
The hymn calls on Christ to intercede for us on a couple of different levels - that we'd need Christ to come again into our hearts right now, but also that we're looking towards that second coming of Christ.

Last night, we lost a dear friend of mine (and many, many others), an "Uncle" to my boy, to a heart attack.  It reminds me that even as we walk this earth, we're already in an in-between time before joining the Saints above.  Even as our church family mourns, we're also called to rejoice - a time that mirrors the paradoxical nature of Advent.  I'm sad in my heart, but its because I knew a great man who lived a wonderfully full life of family and ministry that I can rejoice.

I have to remind myself again of the truth - death has lost it's sting through Christ Jesus.

We'll be working out arrangements for his Celebration of Life this week, and I always feel it to be such a privilege to join in the planning.  I'm so thankful for the life my friend.

Christmas Eve Evangelism

'Tis the season ... for planning!  If you're anything like me, and I have no illusions that you are, you've been thinking about the Advent/Christmas season since June.  Really, I start visioning and planning for the season in June.  And my pastors love me for it...

A few months back I had heard of this idea, Christmas Business Cards for the church.  It's all pretty simple, draw up a business card with your Christmas Eve service times on one side and generic info about the church on the other (regular service and Sunday school times, website, contact info) and then scatter them to the wind in your local community.  Super simple evangelism ... But not particularly intentional.

A theme that I've been following in conversations lately is the true importance of Christmas Eve in the life of families, and not just in the churched - but also in the unchurched.  For many, Christmas can be a hard and lonely time, and a time of big questions.  Even in our secular understanding of Christmas, it's a time of gift-giving, family meals, and taking stock of our blessings.  Has it become ultra-consumer driven?  You bet.  But I'm of the mind that the heart of the season hasn't drifted so far off course that it can't be put back on track.

But what's the track it needs to be put back on?  That the reason Christ came to the earth was to bring the Good News of Salvation to the least, the last, and the lost.  God started things off with the very family Christ was born into ... a blue-collar, working-class family.

Most of our congregations have an influx of visitors on Christmas Eve, people looking for answers.  Sure many of those visitors are family members who've travelled in for a visit, but if we look around, our first-time visits are way up.  But what if we didn't wait for Christmas Eve to get people inside our doors?

This year our Evangelism and Worship teams will be partnering to do something big.  The idea is building off of something that the Downtown Campus of Church of the Resurrection began a couple of months ago with their E.P.I.C. idea to simply, intentionally, share random acts of kindness around the local community - through simple business cards.  And if you know anything of the Church of the Resurrection evangelism model, they do a lot of work to bring their A-game on Christmas Eve.  As a faith community they make themselves ready for their guests on this special night, making sure everyone knows about the faith community before leaving worship and they are so very welcome to come back to their regular worship services - even going so far as to advertise the upcoming sermon series and studies in the New Year (imagine that).

So what are we at FUMCD going to do to make the season special?  We'll have our simple business cards made, with the Christmas Eve services on one side, and generic info on the other.  Then, on December 16 we'll hand them out to the congregation, ask each member to take just one card and give it to somebody they know that is unchurched.  It's kind of hard in today's climate in our churches to remember that the idea of the Gospel is to spread it, and in our increasingly secular time, we are growing up more unchurched than churched people.  And yet - through our retail-based lives Christmas is still relevant.  So why don't we take it back?

The idea here is to be intentionally invitational ... And that will make a lot of people uncomfortable, but there's another term here we need to take back for all Christians, and that is evangelical.  It's the job for all of us who call ourselves Christian to be evangelists - it's not meant to be a political term.  I'll get off my soapbox on that one now.

But, what if we encouraged each member of our congregations to seek out one person or family that they know to come to church on Christmas Eve?  And not only that we encourage them to invite that family, and then sit with them.  It's so simple, and God will reward us even if we just try.  Just imagine that good that could happen.

As I've gone around a few turns in the road here, here's our Christmas Eve Evangelism plan in a few easy steps:

  1. Draw up the Christmas Eve Business cards.
  2. Early in the Advent season, encourage the church to pray for the unchurched in the local community and even to think of a few people they know.
  3. On December 16 (just early enough) hand the business cards out to the church, encouraging them to invite one unchurched individual or family to Christmas Eve worship with them.
  4. On Christmas Eve - be ready to welcome the guests with a little gift and plenty of info about the church.

It doesn't have to be hard ... Sometimes we just have to do something.  What is your local church doing to bring people to Christ during the Advent/Christmas season?

Christmas Miracle Offering

In case you hadn't heard, my church is taking on the challenge of the study A Different Kind of Christmas.  I'm looking forward to seeing our faith family rise to the occasion in worship this Advent, but not just in worship, but in how we live out the gospel this season through our giving.

In order to properly live out this study the worshipping body has to take on what's named as the "Christmas Miracle Offering".  This is a chosen cause by the church to support through giving the entire season of Advent, culminating on Christmas Eve, and celebrated the Sunday after Christmas.  It's a call to sit back and think on the charity of God in loving us and live out that charity in supporting our neighbors world-wide or locally.

I'm excited to say that our church has decided to support the Duncanville Outreach Ministry, a ministry that our church actually started sometime ago.  They provide a variety of services to our local community - a community we're right in the middle of.  Last year, they had to shut down early in the holiday season as they were lacking in funds and food supplies during the time of greatest need in the lives of the working poor families in our area.  Every Sunday of Advent, beginning with our communion rail offering on December 2, we'll be taking a love offering for the DOM for which the organization will have immediate funds.  At our annual contemporary worship concert we'll also be taking non-perishable food items as 'admission'.  All in effort to meet the needs of the local community.

On the flipside, it will also accomplish something that was talked about quite often at the COR Leadership Institute when discussing reaching the unchurched - it's a way for my local congregation to become indispensable in the community that we call home.  That's not a bad thing at all.

All this is to say, you don't have to be taking on this study to do something great for your neighbors this Christmas season.  It's time to rethink what the holidays are all about and give thanks to God by giving to others - and that doesn't just mean our own families.  Be a miracle for somebody!

In what ways are your faith families reaching out and giving in the name of Christ this holiday season?

Lighting the Advent Wreath: "A Different Kind of Christmas"

This Advent Season, our worship and education teams have chosen to take on the "A Different Kind of Christmas" study, based on the book Christmas is Not Your Birthday by Rev. Mike Slaughter.  We're all very excited because it will be an opportunity to bring the whole church family together under one message for the season in worship, small group study, youth and children's Sunday school curriculum ... It's going to be fun. 

And the message of the book is radical ... At least it will be to today's culture.  It's all tuned to make us an outwardly focused body, focused on charity, focused on the ministry of Christ. 

Ministry Matters has a great breakdown of the Sunday's of Advent/Christmas using the study, giving main ideas for each week to work through our worship services.  I went ahead and wrote out our Advent wreath liturgies to correspond with the purpose for each worship service, going through Christmas Eve. 

Here's what we've come up with for each Sunday (I purposefully changed gears for Christmas Eve to be a more 'traditional' call to worship).  Feel free to use anything and let me know how it goes!


Advent Wreath Liturgies for “A Different Kind of Christmas” Advent Series
December 2 – The Candle of Blessings
R1 - We are a people accustomed to waiting.  Waiting in line.  Waiting in traffic.  Waiting for that call.
R2 – But are we waiting for the right things this December?  Are we waiting for the Lord?
R1 - Advent is a season of waiting, but this year let it also be a season of giving.
R2 – Long ago, God saw his children had a great need for a savior, but even now there’s need for Christ to come down into our lives. 
R1 - But as we wait for Christ to be revealed to us again, let us not wait to do the good Christ has called us to do.
R2 - This day we light the Candle of Blessings, for as the Lord has blessed us with so many gifts, we are called to be blessings to others.  Let us pray: 
Lord God, reveal yourself to us again.  Help us this Advent season to focus on your son Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.  Help us not to serve ourselves this December, but to serve you as we serve others.  Amen.
December 9 – Candle of Miracles
R1 - More than 2,000 years ago the Glory of God was revealed to us through the birth of Christ Jesus.  A glorious miracle, sent down from heaven.
R2 - But many people refused to believe in this miracle, even though they had been waiting for it for so long.
R1 - That night, the Lord came to live with a humble and poor family – a family with room in their hearts and faithfulness to the Lord.  A family who was ready to receive a miracle.
R2 - This morning, we light the Candle of Miracles.  This light reminds us that not only do miracles happen around us every day, but that every day we are called show God’s miraculous love to others.  Let us pray:
Lord God, we need your help today.  Help us to make room for the miraculous in our lives that the light of Christ might shine through us again.  Amen.
December 16 – Candle of Hope
R1 - As a family here today, we come together in a celebration of hope.  But what do we hope for?
R2 - As we head towards Christmas we often hope that we can find the perfect gift to give, the perfect outfit to wear, the perfect tree to decorate.  But the first Christmas was far from perfect.
R1 - The Hope of the Nations came to us on a night of messy circumstances.  The Light of the World was born in a stable, laid to bed in a feeding trough and was attended to by field hands.  They were messy circumstances, and yet it was just right for Jesus Christ, a perfect child, surrounded by all of the love two parents could give. 
R2 - This morning we light the Candle of Hope, as we pray for Christ to come into our hearts again:
Lord God, help us not to be so focused on finding perfection in this season that we miss out on the hope that only you can bring to us.  Amen.
December 23 – Candle of Love
R1 - God’s chosen people often turned away from the Law and were less than faithful, yet, they were still God’s chosen people.
R2 - Long before Christ was born, God made a promise to King David that his throne would be established forever through God’s faithful love.
R1 - On the night Christ came to earth, that promise was fulfilled – out of the house of David the savior arose, a savior given to redeem the whole world.
R2 - God’s love for us truly does endure forever, and in remembrance of God’s mighty acts through Jesus Christ we light the Candle of Love.  Let us pray:
Lord God, help us always to remember that we are redeemed through our belief in your Son.  No matter how far we stray, you’re always right there waiting for us, loving us.  We rejoice in your steadfast love for all the people of the world, fulfilled in the birth of your Son, Jesus.  Amen.
December 24 – The Christ Candle
A mother and a father finally find rest in a barn…
The birthday boy is coming!
Angels sing and shepherds run …
The birthday boy is coming!
The stars shone bright and the Wise Men began their journey …
The birthday boy is coming!
This evening, we joyfully light the Christ Candle, remembering the night when God’s love came down at the birth of the King.  God loves us!
The birthday boy is here!

All content property of Jarrod Johnston, unless otherwise noted, copyright 2012
Local churches: feel absolutely free to use anything here!