I wanted to provide an aid for congregations and pastors, particularly those in 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. But the way to do it is through the church calendar. By acknowledging the festivity of the season, but drawing the hearts of the people away from sale papers to the Scriptures, the pastor can accomplish his goal.
Here is a statement which 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 thing are done in my own home. I have sought to focus the hearts of our children on Christ in this way. And since I think the pastor is really 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 and references and resources at the conclusion. I begin with a statement I used on celebrating Advent.
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 following 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 KJV)
Each candle brings us closer to the time when we recall His birth as well as His 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” (25:13 KJV).
As we worship our Lord Jesus and recall His first coming, look forward to His Second Coming, 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, that you may know His presence and hear His voice in a fresh way.
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.
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 in our families be peacefully resolved. May there be peace in our cities and in the countries of our world. Help us to see the paths of peace in our lives, and then give to us 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.
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 the fulfillment of 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.
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 with others. 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, 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.
The Evening of December 24th
On the eve of our Christmas celebration, Jesus’ birthday, we light all of 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 Galatians:
“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law”—Galatians 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 new life in him. In celebration of the birthday of our King and our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
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Consider Listening to the new album by Michael Anthony Milton
A new album by Michael Anthony Milton, with special guest Michael Card: Through the Open Door will be released nationally on January 31st, 2011, but is on pre sale now directly through Music for Missions or through a special relationship with Amazon. Two thirds of the profits to go to scholarships for pastoral students at Reformed Theological Seminary.
Consider the New Book by Mike Milton for the Gift of Devotion and Theological Reflection
Get the new book on theology and life, which includes stories, ideas, and reflections by Mike Milton: Small Things, Big Things: Inspiring Stories of God’s Grace(P&R Publishing, December 2009).
References and Resources Used in Building this Liturgy
Calvin Institute of Christian Worship., and Faith Alive Christian Resources. The Worship Sourcebook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship : Faith Alive : Baker Books, 2004.
Episcopal Church USA. The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church : Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church. New York; Greenwich, Conn.: Church Hymnal Corp.; Seabury Press, 1979.
Lutheran Book of Prayer. Rev. ed. Saint Louis, Mo.: Concordia Pub. House, 2005.
Milton, Michael A. “Advent Readings and Lightings: Pastoral Preparations for the Coming Season.” In MikeMilton.org, 2010.
Weaver, J. Dudley. Presbyterian Worship : A Guide for Clergy. 1st ed. Louisville, Ky.: Geneva Press, 2002.
See also the post on Christmas Eve bulletin.
Remember that more pastoral resources and theological reflections, written, audio-visual, are located on this site at mikemilton.org/music; mikemilton.org/books; and mikemilton.org/ReformedResources