Advent Candle Liturgies: Narrative

‘Tis the season for prophets. While this feels particularly true on the morning after the U.S. presidential election, in fact the season for prophets has been ongoing and building. We’ve been needing prophets to speak against and to actively counter the global rise of xenophobia. We’ve been hearing (and dominant culture is adept at ignoring) prophetic voices in #BlackLivesMatter, in #WaterIsLife, and in other movements for justice.

My colleague Dwayne Royster observes, “those who would be prophets in this generation [must be] not just those who want to give a word but those that will do a work, put their hands to the plow and not look back.”

The Narrative Lectionary for the upcoming Advent season gives us prophetic voices from the biblical text to bolster our own prophetic commitments for the living of these days. The following candle-lighting liturgies are offered for devotional & liturgical use this Advent; please attribute written/printed credit to this website if you adapt these liturgies for use in your faith community.

Advent 1 (November 27): Daniel 6:6-27

ONE: The first Advent candle.
ALL: We light a light against power that craves power.
ONE: We light a light to proclaim the goodness and dominion of God.
ALL: We light a light against our own vain egos and deep fears.
ONE: We light a light for the promise of deliverance.
ALL: The first Advent candle.
ONE: Take courage.

Advent 2 (December 4): Joel 2:12-13 & 28-29

ONE: The second Advent candle.
ALL: We light a light to await God’s coming.
ONE: We light a light with longing for God to set the world trembling.
ALL: We light a light to hold out hope for God’s mercy.
ONE: We light a light for the promise of new dreams and visions by God’s spirit.
ALL: The second Advent candle.
ONE: Prepare your hearts.

Advent 3 (December 11): Isaiah 61:1-11

ONE: The third Advent candle.
ALL: We light a light to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.
ONE: We light a light to dedicate our work in support of our words.
ALL: We light a light not just to proclaim but to comfort, not only to preach but to provide, not only to bless but to release.
ONE: We light a light to share the labor and the fellowship.
ALL: The third Advent candle.
ONE: Go where you are sent.

Advent 4 (December 18): Luke 1:26-45

ONE: The fourth Advent candle.
ALL: We light a light as we greet one another in God’s name. 
ONE: We light a light so we can recognize and welcome God’s messengers.
ALL: We light a light and we marvel to imagine God’s possibilities.
ONE: We light a light to say “yes” to God’s outrageous call.
ALL: The fourth Advent candle.
ONE: Do not be afraid.

Christmas Eve (December 24): Luke 2:1-14

ONE: At last, the Christ candle.
ALL: We light a light and sing “Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth.”
ONE: We light a light and retell the good news of great joy.
ALL: We light a light and we tremble in awe that God has come.
ONE: We light a light and cast out all fear.
ALL: The Christ candle!
ONE: Rejoice!

Mary-Child

If you’re using the Revised Common Lectionary for this Advent season, find Advent candle liturgies on the Isaiah texts here.

Advent Candle Liturgies: Isaiah

I’m ready for Advent — Christmas too, but Advent especially. I find that the season’s wild imagination and perilous possibilities confront my pessimism, my complacency, my worry, and they challenge: “Well then? If you perceive the world’s discontent, why not embrace a vision for and live boldly into God’s fulfillment?”

Listening for that vision, conveying its provocative call through Advent candle liturgies feels particularly cathartic for this election week in the US. Perhaps reading the liturgies will encourage you too. These are written as Calls to Worship before lighting Advent candles. Feel welcome to use and adapt these liturgies for your own context, with written attribution (in a bulletin, e.g.) to this website.

Advent 1 (November 27): Call to Worship on Isaiah 2:1-5

ONE: One day we will arrive. One day our hearts will catch sight of the mountain of the LORD.
ALL: LORD, we want to go there! O God, we long to be in your presence and walk in your ways.
ONE: Let’s go! All together, let’s make that journey to the mountain of God.
ALL: Sisters and brothers, friends and strangers, let us travel together. Surely we will get there.
ONE: Let the dream of that holy mountain give you courage and strength as we go.
ALL: What a vision: weapons of war turned into tools of harvest, and lessons of peace taught to all people.
ONE: Let us journey together in the light of the LORD!
[first Advent candle is lit]

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Advent 2 (December 4): Call to Worship on Isaiah 11:1-10

ONE: Friends, I dreamt that a new shoot was growing from the stump we thought was long dead.
ALL: We dreamt too — of cows and bears grazing next to one another in the field.
ONE: In my dream there was a toddler laughing in wonder and without fear at the world around her.
ALL: In our dreams, the wolf and the lamb found shelter together in a barn; the leopard and the goat curled up next to one another in the hay.
ONE: Did you dream too of generosity and compassion clothing all people like a soft robe?
ALL: Yes, and all people recognized the evils of poverty and worked together for restoration.
ONE: Let us not shy away from our dreams but seek God through them.
[first and second Advent candles are lit]

Advent 3 (December 11): Call to Worship on Isaiah 35:1-10

ONE: Be strong! Do not fear!
ALL: The wilderness will become a place of joy. The desert will become a field for harvest.
ONE: Be strong! Do not fear!
ALL: The drought will break with a spring of water. The weeds and wild shrubs will become a highway for all God’s children.
ONE: Do not let your head or your heart or your body hold you back!
ALL: The highway will not be a place of fear but of fellowship. All will sing and dance with joy, and none will be lost.
ONE: God is coming. Do not fear!
[first three Advent candles are lit]

Advent 4 (December 18): Call to Worship on Isaiah 7:10-16

ONE: Come. The days are long, the nights are longer. If you are tired, seek a sign of the LORD God.
ALL: Can a sign make it all better?
ONE: Come. Here are honey and bread for comfort.
ALL: Waiting for God’s fulfillment can be discouraging.
ONE: Come. Here is the promise of Immanuel, God With Us.
ALL: Pay attention to the signs.
ONE: God knows we need a sign. Be prepared and welcome the signs.
[all four Advent candles are lit]

Christmas (December 25): Call to Worship on Isaiah 9:2-7

ONE: A child has been born for us!
ALL: Now we walk in God’s light, because the heavens have opened and joy has come!
ONE: The Prince of Peace has come to us!
ALL: Now the wars cease and the warriors may go home.
ONE: From this time onward, justice is established!
ALL: Now our burdens are eased, now the harvest has ripened, now righteousness is established!
ONE: The zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this!
[all Advent candles and the Christmas candles are lit]

Holy Timing

My annual frustration with the Advent season (now three weeks behind us) is that “the time is not yet,” even though it’s evident all around us that the time of God’s redemption is needed now. And so I find soul-soothing relief in a longed-for thread of good news weaving through this coming Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary texts: “The time is now.”

THE TIME IS NOW

The LORD says, “For the sake of my people I will no longer keep silent, and for their healing I will not rest until they shine like the dawn.” (Isaiah 62)

THE TIME IS NOW.

Now you shall no longer be called Forsaken or Desolate, but you will be called My Delight Is In Her and She Who Is Loved. (Isaiah 62)

THE TIME IS NOW.

All people will feast in my house; I will give them drink from the river of delights. And I will continue in love — now and always. (Psalm 36)

THE TIME IS NOW.

When the jars of wine have run dry and the celebration begins to fade; (John 2)

THE TIME IS NOW.

When the hour is late and a miracle is needed; (John 2)

THE TIME IS NOW.

When pride overshadows the common good; when members vie for attention and argue over their claim to the Spirit; (1 Corinthians 12)

THE TIME IS NOW.

The time for speaking is now
when white silence is a threat
to Black and Brown lives. (Isaiah 62)

The time for affirmation is now
when the image of God in the LGBTQ community
has been forsaken by the church. (Isaiah 62)

The time for hospitality is now
when refugees are hungry. (Psalm 36)

The time for generosity is now
when those who were served last at the wedding
rightly insist that the wine which flowed abundantly for the first
be distributed in equal portions. (John 2)

The time for participation is now
when political seats provide a feather in the cap
and a dollar in the pocket rather than
a service for the good of all people. (1 Corinthians 12)

THE TIME IS NOW. Thank God, praise God, the time is now.

Advent Liturgies (Object Lessons)

Already posted: SIGNS, SAVIORS, SERPENTS, SONGS on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel readings; WAITING, PREPARING, SINGING, LABORING on the RCL’s Old Testament readings; WHERE JUSTICE GETS DONE on the Narrative Lectionary readings; and NATIVITY THROUGH ADVENT as a non-lectionary option.

Up now, the last of the original Advent liturgies that I’ll be posting for this season: OBJECT LESSONS, a non-lectionary set of liturgies (and related sermon series) aimed to make Advent tangible. I suggested OBJECT LESSONS as one of several Advent sermon series ideas during my Advent Preaching Hacks webinar, part of the Center for Progressive Renewal’s 2015 Advent webinar bundle. NOTE: When using object lessons in worship — not just for the “children’s moment” — it’s important to make the experience available to everyone. Don’t believe adults who tell you that they don’t need their own object to hold/use or that they’ll “just watch”; all of our spirits benefit from play!

Advent 1 (ORIGAMI) Isaiah 2:1-5
Also suggested: move the whole worship service to the chancel area. Crowd in the chairs for those who prefer seats and spread blankets/rugs for those who might enjoy sitting on the floor. Many church chancel spaces are elevated, thus bringing everyone up to the “mountain of the LORD’s house.”

Candle Lighting
In a world full of swords,
Make plowshares.
In a world full of spears,
Make pruning hooks.
In a world full of fear,
Make light and love.
[first candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We can imagine a different world, but God we are afraid that it is impossible to reach. We can imagine better ways of caring for neighbors and strangers, but God we are convinced that it cannot be done. Will we ever see a day without war? Will we ever see a season without fear? Will we ever reach your holy mountain? We are gathered at your feet, Most Holy God. Teach us, we pray.

Advent 2 (CLAY) Isaiah 64:1-9
Also suggested: structure this worship service so that it’s primarily an experience of silence. The Isaiah text invites a spirit of lament and confession; allow long periods of silence to make room for grief and meditation, and let the creative use of clay (or coloring for those who desire a not-so-messy tactile experience) serve as the good & redeeming news.

Candle Lighting
No ear has heard,
No eye has seen,
No hand has touched,
No heart has known, 
A god more awesome than this God,
A god more mighty, more merciful than our God.
[second candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We have sinned, and you are rightly angry. We have injured one another. We have wilted in faith. We have tried to hold onto you for our own gain, tried to see you in our own image. Despite our sins, we beg you: do not hide your face from us and do not abandon our hearts. Instead overwhelm us and awe us into humility. Grab hold of us and shape us like the clay we are. We are the work of your hand.

Advent 3 (POTLUCK) Isaiah 7:10-16
For the potluck, invite congregation leaders to bring simple snacks — enough to share — or invite the whole congregation to contribute to the feast. Consider worshipping at tables together rather than in pews. Also suggested: Bring chrismons to the worship service (tree ornaments if your church has them or printed copies of chrismon designs along with crayons/markers for coloring), making sure that there are enough chrismons for each participant. The Isaiah text lends itself to learning about signs of God and of Christian faith.

Candle Lighting
A sign:
As high as the stars, as deep as the seas.
A sign:
An adult, a child, a loved one, a stranger.
A sign:
Curds and honey, bread and cup.
A sign:
Light and goodness to bless all people.
[third candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
So often we believe that there is not enough: not enough signs to guide our faith, not enough love to turn the tides of war, not enough food to welcome all people to the table, not enough goodness to resist the powers of evil, not enough hope to comfort our weariness. You are enough, O Great God. You are more than enough.

Advent 4 (BUILDING BLOCKS) Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Also suggested: in addition to providing a wide variety of building toys (Legos, Lincoln Logs, etc.), bring seeds, pots & soil to worship so that congregants can “build” plants and sow seeds for new life.

Candle Lighting
What is God building?
Justice and joy.
What is God planting?
Comfort and community.
Give God your mourning,
And God will build gladness.
Give God your tired heart,
And God will plant praise.
[fourth candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
Have mercy on us, O God. We have become so accustomed to our ashes that we cannot receive your healing. We have become so accustomed to war-torn cities that we cannot imagine peaceful communities. We have become so accustomed to injustice that we cannot see salvation blooming around us. Have mercy on us, have mercy.

You are welcome to use and adapt these liturgies and sermon series ideas for your faith community. Please credit this source just as you would credit a printed source: with a citation printed in your worship bulletin or displayed on your projection screen identifying the author and website — Rachel Hackenberg and rachelhackenberg.com — as well as the date of this blogpost.

Advent Liturgies (Nativity)

Already posted: SIGNS, SAVIORS, SERPENTS, SONGS on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel readings; WAITING, PREPARING, SINGING, LABORING on the RCL’s Old Testament readings; and WHERE JUSTICE GETS DONE on the Narrative Lectionary readings.

Still to come: One more set of Advent liturgies on a non-lectionary theme (Object Lessons).

Up now: NATIVITY THROUGH ADVENT, a series of Advent liturgies centered on aspects of the nativity story. If you watched my webinar for the Center for Progressive Renewal, you heard me say that there are many approaches to preaching the nativity story through Advent: taking the story chronologically, focusing on individual characters, and examining the places/settings throughout the story, among many other options. While some of us may be liturgical purists who maintain strict boundaries between Advent and Christmas, working through & over the richness of the Christmas story during Advent can add depth to a holiday that otherwise is liturgically limited to December 24/25.

Among the “Nativity Through Advent” ideas, the theme of PLACE holds particular resonance for me, so the following liturgies assume a sermon series on places in the nativity story and in our faith.

Advent 1 (SANCTUARY) Luke 1:5-23

Candle Lighting
In the presence of God,
We are in awe.
Overwhelmed by God,
We are speechless.
Graced by God,
We are thankful.
[first candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We are humble before you, O God. We are in your place, in your time, in your presence, and we confess our awe before you. How can we stand before your power? How can we boast in the presence of your imagination? How can we claim wisdom before your foolishness? Everywhere we go, you stun and surprise us. All the world is your sanctuary, O God. Keep us ever mindful and meek.

Advent 2 (HOME) Luke 1:39-45

Candle Lighting
You are welcome here.
God is welcome here.
You are welcome here.
We are welcome here.
Come and be here.
Come and be you.
Holy God, come among us and be You.
[second candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We are not always welcoming, O God, and we do not always feel welcome. We have not celebrated one another as the good gifts we are. We have not cried together in the seasons when we have needed a good cry. We have not visited one another often enough to gasp in joy or sigh in pain. Forgive us, O God. Teach us again to create home for friends and strangers, loved ones and enemies.

Advent 3 (CITIES/BUSY PLACES) Luke 2:1-5

Candle Lighting
The ways are crowded,
God is not lost.
The days are busy,
God’s time stands still.
The journey is long,
God’s light guides our feet.
[third candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
Our ways are not our own, O God. We hurry and race, twist and turn, trying to keep up, trying to get ahead, trying to stand out in the crowd. We change our ways at a moment’s whim. We change our minds by fear or persuasion. We are told where to go, where not to go. We struggle to listen for you. We cannot sense your way. Where the ways are crowded and confused, guide us we pray. Where the noise fills our ears, bring a quiet piece to our hearts.

Advent 4 (FIELDS/WIDE OPEN SPACES) Luke 2:8-15

Candle Lighting
Field and forest,
Glory to God!
Sheep and sparrow,
Glory to God!
Rock and river,
Glory to God!
Let all creation
Give glory to God!
[fourth candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We are longing for wide open spaces to breathe and to be amazed, but so often we do not look up to see them. So often we do not look up to see you. We miss the beauty of a drop of dew, of a single snowflake. We fail to tune in to the bird’s song. We forget to breathe deeply. Startle us, we pray. Wake us up, and our praises will echo across the open fields to your glory.

IMG_0959You are welcome to use and adapt these liturgies and sermon series ideas for your faith community. Please credit this source just as you would credit a printed source: with a citation printed in your worship bulletin or displayed on your projection screen identifying the author and website — Rachel Hackenberg and rachelhackenberg.com — as well as the date of this blogpost.