Advent 2020

This morning, I sat alone in my office and worshiped with a congregation whose faces I could not see. I sang along with the hymns, prayed along when the Advent wreath was lit, and rejoiced as some of our young people read the scripture from Luke’s gospel. I even sat through my own sermon twice, which is painful enough without the “extreme close-up” shot as I recorded my closing prayer.

It wasn’t the Advent I had been hoping for. After four years serving outside the local church, and even though I had the opportunity twice to preach on Christmas Eve in that season in various churches, this one was going to be special. I’m preaching through a series that brought me great joy as I wrote it. I was going to be able to be in two beautiful and radically different spaces. I was going to get to lead through this season with one of my best friends, as we serve together for another month before she steps fully into the next season of ministry to which she’s called. Most importantly, I was going to be praying, singing (or humming), and sharing God’s Word with a people whom God has entrusted to me for this time. I was going to share hope, peace, love and joy with “my people.”

As it has for so many of us in so many ways, COVID-19 changed that. I preached my sermon, not to a gathered community, but to an iPad screen in an empty sanctuary. Mine was the only voice I heard praying in the room. I didn’t see smiling faces handing out bulletins, checking off registered families, and taking temps. I didn’t get to say hello as I made my way through the worship space – to folks who I’ve known for years, folks whose names I’m getting to know, and folks who I still can’t recognize behind the masks.

When the leadership of my church made the painful decision to suspend in-person worship for this season, there were tears around the room, and my stomach was churning. Other churches in the area are not only continuing to worship in-person, and some of our own folks have decided to worship somewhere else, thinking that our decision is fearful at best, and unfaithful at worst. I honor both of those decisions, even if that honor is not always reciprocated. I’m concerned about what it means for our congregation to miss another six weeks of in-person worship, and what it means that we will likely continue with safety protocols in place when we return in January.

Spiritually, I know of some folks and families who aren’t connecting at all with the various ways we are still trying to engage – whether it’s small groups over ZOOM, streaming worship services, take home Advent Wreath kits or family devotional resources. Financially, the last six weeks of the year are typically a time when the church makes up any lost ground in giving, and my church has a history of giving over $25,000 in a Christmas offering alone that goes to support local and global mission opportunities. We were already quite tight going into this last month, and may have to face some even harder financial decisions after the first of the year. Personally, my heart hurts at the thought of missing out on the opportunity to reach someone who may have wandered into worship in the month of December, confronted with the good news of the gospel for the first time.

Today was hard, even with the beautiful service crafted by volunteers and made smooth by technical wizardry I’ll never understand. But it was also good. I got to interact with more worshipers during the service than I often do. Several people hosted “watch parties” on Facebook, expanding our reach to folks who would never connect with our congregation on site. Even as I sat in my office, cars would swing through the driveway in their cars – to drop off their offering, to pick an angel off the tree to buy a gift for someone in need, or to grab their Advent Wreath kit to celebrate at home. Someone came by and reset the Christmas tree that had fallen over outside in yesterday’s wind. After worship, I gathered with people committed to providing congregational care, checking in in ways that are doubly important in this time when we don’t see each other face to face.

I got to preach hope this morning. Reflecting on words shared from a prophet to a people in exile. Reflecting on the Israelites living through nearly four hundred years without a word from God. Reflecting on a young woman whose life was turned upside down by a visit from an angel. Reflecting on a world that is longing for hope. Hope invites us to exercise trust – that when God seems silent, when the world is hard, and when our lives seem in a shambles, Jesus still shows up – wherever there’s room.

Into Mary’s ordinary life, the angel broke, announcing something new, something that would change everything. Into our lives, and into the world, God longs to come, bringing new life, bringing hope. There’s so much to do, life is so busy. And so much struggle in the world, so much hurt and pain. Yet into the mess of the world, Jesus came, and into the mess of our lives, He still comes. So, let every heart, starting with mine, make room for the coming of Jesus this season.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

Repeat the Sounding Joy – Follow Up


As we find ourselves in a new year, I genuinely hope that you have been able to breathe and experience some rest and renewal after what I know was a full Advent and Christmas season. I pray that, if you used parts of the series, that you and your congregations were blessed and experienced the joy of the season through that worship.
One thing I find great value in is honest and constructive feedback. To that end, I’ve put together a short survey in which I ask a few questions about this series, as well as input about the possibility of future series. If you would be willing to take just a few minutes (survey monkey estimates 4 minutes will be enough) to give me some feedback, I’d really appreciate it. You can find the survey here:
I had the opportunity to worship with a number of congregations who were using the series during Advent. And apart from the weirdness of hearing words you have written in a variety of contexts (which is just my stuff), I was genuinely blessed by how those pastors took the foundation of the series and shaped the elements into worship experiences that blessed me, as well as fit their context in beautiful ways. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your encouragement, and for the gift you gave me of connecting over these last months.

In Christ,

Repeat the Sounding Joy – A Celebration of Christ – Christmas Eve Sermon

repeat_sounding_1_repeatThis morning, I had the amazing experience of worshiping in two congregations who are taking this Advent journey with many of you.  I enjoyed singing and praying with churches I have the privilege of walking with in this season of my ministry.   I listened to two gifted pastors take words that I poured myself into, and shape them to speak in their context and with their voices.  And I was ushered into moments of beautiful worship that touched my heart.

Tonight, I share with you one final message as part of this series. It has been such a joy to engage in the process of pulling this work together. I have appreciated (and been deeply humbled by) the kind words that I have received from many of you who have experienced this work as the gift I hoped it could be. I have sought to be faithful in praying for the congregations who I know have been connecting with God through Repeat the Sounding Joy. Finally, I have been reminded that we can connect with the deepest parts of our calling wherever we may be planted in a given season – if we simply look for the opportunity to do so. So I thank God for planting within me a deep love for words, and an ever-deepening love for the Word made flesh. I thank my two closest friends who encouraged me to remember what I love about pastoring a local church, and to do those types of things as I continue to serve as a district superintendent. I thank our son, Henry, for paying attention to things that too many of us miss. I thank George Frideric Handel and Isaac Watts for writing the tune and words that combine to make “Joy to the World.” And I thank you for taking this journey with me.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Repeat the Sounding Joy, Luke 2, 1-20, Christmas Eve

Sermons for Advent 3 and 4 – “His Blessings Flow” and “He Rules the World”



No long post tonight. Simply the downloadable pdf’s for the next two messages in the series. The final sermon focus, for Christmas Eve, will be posted by next Friday, December 6.

Blessings to you all, as you prepare to enter the season of Advent. May your congregations experience all of the hope, peace, love and joy that Jesus came to bring.

In Christ,


HIs Blessings Flow, Luke 1, 46-55, Advent 3

He Rules the World, Luke 1, 57-79, Advent 4

Our Songs Employ, Sermon for Week 2…AND MORE!


To say that I am shocked at the response I have received over this Advent series would be an understatement. In addition to those pastors and worship leaders who have contacted me directly, the worship resources for the entire series have been downloaded over 550 times!

For those of you who have been awaiting the additional sermon ideas and starters, I apologize that they have come much slower than I have hoped. At this point, I am hoping to post Week 3 early next week, Week 4 by the end of next week, and Christmas Eve by December 6. Hopefully, this will still give many of you time to make the message your own, as you listen to the Holy Spirit shaping the message your people need to hear as this season unfolds.

I am also humbled to be able to offer you another resource. Adam Estep, Minister of Community Life at Linglestown Life United Methodist Church ( has developed a resource that is perfect for small groups and/or personal devotions, engaging more deeply with the passages from both Isaiah and Luke. He has graciously offered these for your use. All four weeks of this resource are also posted below.

As you have the opportunity to celebrate Christ the King this weekend, and Thanksgiving next week, know that I am offering deep thanks this year for those of you who are engaging with Repeat the Sounding Joy this Advent season. Know that you are held in prayer, along with the congregations you are serving – that God would be glorified in your Advent journey, that your people would be filled with joy, and that your communities will experience the overflow of that joy as you love them through this season.

Our Songs Employ, Luke 1, 39-45, Advent 2

Joy TIO Week 1

Joy TIO Week 2

Joy TIO Week 3

Joy TIO Week 4

Prepare Him Room, Sermon for Week 1


Prepare Him Room:

Week 1 of Repeat the Sounding Joy

Primary Text: Luke 1:26-38

Three hundred years ago, the words of the hymn that we know as “Joy to the World,” were first published, as a paraphrase of Psalm 98 by English poet and pastor, Isaac Watts.  The hymn, as we sing it today, incorporates Watts’ words with a tune from Lowell Mason, an American banker whose love of music found outlet in penning musical arrangements for his part-time gig as Sunday School teacher and organist at a Presbyterian church in Savannah, Georgia. Since Mason loved the music of George Frederic Handel, it’s no surprise that there are pieces of the tune reminiscent of that composer’s Messiah.  Three different lives, interwoven across oceans and decades, come together to bring the world one of it’s most beloved Advent and Christmas hymns. We say Advent and Christmas because, though the song is often sung as a Christmas carol, a closer look at its words shows as much focus on Christ’s return as on his birth – a perfect connection to the season we enter today.

In a similar way, a prophecy from Isaiah, an announcement made to Mary, and an invitation that comes to us to “let every heart prepare him room,” weave together to offer a powerful message of hope for us and for our world today.

The prophet Isaiah, whose words we heard earlier, was no feel-good prophet. In fact, the words of hope found in 2:1-5, when we hear the promise that, one day, the nations of the earth will beat their swords into plowshares, is situated smack dab in the midst of some serious judgments leveled against Jerusalem and God’s people. But the painful realities of the present did not leave the people of God without hope, and Isaiah spoke hope into circumstances that would involve pain, exile and longing.  As the people of God heard Isaiah’s word, they may have wrestled with the accompanying judgement – looking forward for deliverance, but not sure what part they would have to play. Isaiah was inviting his listeners to hope – calling the people of God to prepare room in their hearts for the one who would come to, “teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”

Fast forward several centuries.  After decades of what would have felt to God’s people like silence, if not complete abandonment, an angel appears to an unmarried young woman in a part of Galilee known as a backwater country cousin of the big city.  Again, the message comes into a world that is filled with challenge – this time not through a prophet, but through an angelic visitor.  I sense in Mary’s troubled wondering that she wasn’t sure that this was good news at first. While she would have joined her people in longing for the coming of a messiah, to deliver God’s people from the judgement and pain all around them, being overcome by the Holy Spirit, and giving birth to the Son of the Most High, who would reestablish the throne of David probably wasn’t on her radar. But the angel was inviting Mary to prepare room in her heart, as well as her very body, for the one whose kingdom will never end.

Fast forward nearly twenty centuries. We gather again today, in this season of Advent, in the midst of a world that is not all that different from either Isaiah’s day or that in first century Palestine. It seems to many that our world has lost its mind, and I’m not just talking about politics. Systemic racism continues to keep us from recognizing and realizing the fullness of the promise of our country. Poverty keeps individuals and families locked in cycles of pain and hopelessness. Addiction tears lives and families apart, and there seems to be little answer for the epidemic that is plaguing rural villages and big cities alike.  War and posturing toward war threatens nations, costs billions of dollars and too many lives and casts refugees out in search of safe haven.

All around us, friends and family, strangers and neighbors, are living lives of quiet desperation in need of a Savior, in need of a word of hope, in need of something to break through with life.

Church, our world needs a fresh word from God.  The world needs a word of hope, a word of life.  The world needs to hear that the same God that created all that is, seen and unseen, is the same God who died on the cross for the redemption of that world.  The world needs to know that the promise of a creation restored and renewed is real, and it is coming.  The world needs to know that when it seems like it’s all going haywire, Jesus is still on the throne.

We are called to take up the mantle of the prophets and the apostles, to speak a word of hope when much around us seems hopeless.  We are called, as Dr. Julianni Claassens, a professor of Old Testament in South Africa, writes, “to paint a picture of the world as it ought to be, which seeks to transform the world as it currently is.”

Sisters and brothers, you and I are called not just to speak a word from God that the world desperately needs to hear.  I believe we are called to be a word from God that the world is able to see and experience and receive.

Think about the prayer that we lift up every time we celebrate the sacrament of communion, “Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, so that we may be for the world, the body of Christ, redeemed by His blood.”

We pray in communion, that in God’s mysterious way, bread and cup are transformed into Christ, the Word of God.  But we don’t stop there, as if the Word is for us alone.  We actually have the audacity to ask God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make us, you and me, dorky, broken, awkward and unfaithful, frightened, lonely, angry and ordinary, into the body of Christ, into the Word of God, for the world God loves.

And here’s the kicker.  The really good news.  When we yield ourselves to that prayer and that hope, when we say, take me Jesus, make me Jesus, use me Jesus, Jesus does just that.  He makes us new, and sends us out, and uses us to change the world, one heart at a time.

So, sisters and brothers, in the words of one of my heroes, Bob Goff, “Spread hope like it’s grass seed in a big wind.”

Embody the hope the world needs to hear, and see, and experience. And together, we will see God’s will be done, and the Kingdom come in our lives, in our churches, in our communities, and on the earth, as it is in heaven.

But that can only happen if we are willing to take the time to prepare room in our hearts for Jesus to come in. You see, Isaiah had to be open to the presence of God before he could ever speak a word on God’s behalf. Before Mary could ever bear the gift of Jesus to a waiting world, she needed to open herself to the message of the angel and say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” And before we can ever offer hope to a hurting world, we need to open ourselves to the presence of Jesus in our hearts and lives.  We need to remember that, when the world was crying out, groaning with the same birth pangs that would rack Mary’s body that first Christmas night, and when Jesus was delivered, so were we.  One of my favorite Christmas songs, recorded originally by Chris Rice, puts words to the hearts’ cry of God’s people in that day.  “So wrap our injured flesh around you.  Breathe our air and walk our sod.  Rob our sin and make us holy, perfect Son of God.  Welcome to our world.”

May it be so this season. Amen.

Repeat the Sounding Joy Complete Advent Worship Series


Change of plans, friends.  As this is indeed my first rodeo of this sort (sharing a worship series for others to possibly use), it is certainly a work in progress.  Having shared the resources for Weeks 1 and 2 of Advent, I realized how annoying and confusing it might be to ask folks to visit the site multiple times to get resources for various weeks.

So, here it is. The whole shebang, if you will. Below, you will find pdf documents containing the worship resources and table tents for the entire series (four weeks of Advent, plus Christmas Eve). In addition, you will find all of the graphics created by Phillip Allen thus far. If it is easier to receive these in a single zip file, please e-mail me, and I’ll be glad to send it to you that way.

What is yet to come are the sermon outlines/starters for each week of the series, which will be posted individually. In addition, there is the possibility of an alternative set of graphics, and I’ll certainly post those if they become available.

Again, this is my gift to any pastor and/or congregation who may choose to use them.  I offer them with two requests and one invitation. The first request is that you simply acknowledge the source material you use, whether in the order of worship or in your preaching.  The second request is that you let me know if your congregation(s) are planning to utilize “Repeat the Sounding Joy” this Advent, so that I can pray with and for your experience specifically. The invitation is, in honor of our son Henry, whose challenge inspired the series to be written, to make a contribution to a mission that connects with kids in the community where God has planted you.

Remember, friends, we have been invited into the magnificent story (thank you, James Bryan Smith) of God’s rescue and restoration of the whole of creation. That story unfolds in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate and whose return we long for in this season of Advent. It is that story that should fill us, as God’s people, with hope, peace, love and joy. My prayer is that your communities would experience the people of God wherever you are repeating the sounding joy of Jesus – not only in word and song, but in lives of service, sacrifice and love.

Blessed Advent, friends.


Worship Resources, Repeat the Sounding Joy, Full Series

Table Tents, Repeat the Sounding Joy, Entire Series

Graphics Resources



Repeat the Sounding Joy, Week 2, Sunday, December 8, 2019


In the second week of Advent, worship turns to love. What you’ll find below are the worship resources for Week 2 – Our Songs Employ. In addition, you’ll find links to graphics that can be used for projection, bulletin covers, and social media. A huge thank you to Phillip Allen (@pallen411) for developing the graphics for me. BTW, Phillip is also working on a second set of graphics with a slightly more modern them, including a cityscape, so that is yet to come. I plan to post the last two weeks of Advent, and Christmas Eve resources between now and August 26, so keep on the lookout. In addition, the sermons for each week will be posted separately, starting in mid-September.

Just a reminder that I would love for this to be an interactive community experience, where you are sharing the ideas God is bubbling up in you and your team as you plan Advent around these themes. Don’t hesitate to comment, share, do whatever folk do. And please, let me know if you and your church are planning to worship through this series – it will allow me to pray for you and your congregations through the season of Advent.


Worship Theme: Our Songs Employ (Love)

Scriptures:     Isaiah 11:1-10 – “The wolf will live with the lamb…and a little child will                                   lead them.”

Luke 1:39-45 – “In a loud voice, [Elizabeth] exclaimed, ‘Blessed are you                                   among women, and blessed is the child you will bear.’”

Hymn Focus:           Joy to the World! The Lord is come:

Let all their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

Worship Elements

Worship Introduction

This morning, as we continue traveling through the season of Advent, on our way to celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, we also continue in our worship celebrating the 300th anniversary of one of the most well-known Christmas carols, “Joy to the World.” We will join our hearts and voices, along with the prophet Isaiah, and Elizabeth to employ all of our songs in praise to God. And the fields, rocks, hills and plains – all of creation – will echo those songs of love for our savior, whose birth we commemorate, and whose returning we anticipate.


Advent Wreath Candle Lighting Liturgy

Reader 1 – Last week, we lit the candle of hope, as we sought to prepare room in our hearts and in God’s world for the coming of Christ. As we continue through the season of Advent, our wreath brightens as we light today the candle of love. (light 2nd candle)

Reader 2 – The prophet Isaiah foretold a kingdom of love, ushered in by the coming messiah, in which, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (11:6)

Reader 1 – Centuries later, a pregnant Mary would visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was even further along with the child who would grow to be John the Baptist. The moment Mary arrived, the child within Elizabeth leaped for joy – somehow knowing the promised reign of love was closer than ever. Today, as followers of Jesus, we are called to bear the light of love to a world which appears to be consumed by anger, hatred and division. May our presence in the world stir it to an awareness of and openness to Jesus’ reign, in which no one is unloved. Let us pray.

People – Kindle love in us, O God, that our whole lives might be employed to sing songs of Jesus’ reign and rule. In Christ’s name we pray.  Amen.

People (sing) –

Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns:

let all their songs employ;

while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

repeat the sounding joy,

repeat the sounding joy,

repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Call to Worship (using words from “Come, Christians, Join to Sing, UMH 158)

One: Come, Christians, join to sing, loud praise to Christ our King.

ALL: Let all, with heart and voice, before his throne rejoice.

One: Come, lift your hearts on high, let praises fill the sky.

ALL: Alleluia! Amen!

Collective Prayer

ALL: God of love, as the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt when in the presence of the Savior to come, let our hearts be filled as we encounter you in worship today.  May we be so filled with the love that comes from knowing Jesus, that our very lives might sing of your goodness and grace. May love be that for which we are known in the world. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Offertory Invitation

How great is the love that God has lavished upon us, that we should be called the sons and daughters of God! And that is what we are! (I John 3:1) In our living, and in our giving, we are called to reflect the generosity and love of the God who has called and claimed us as sons and daughters. When we give, and when we share the love in tangible ways, we help others see what Jesus is like.

Offertory Prayer

Receive these gifts, O God, given from hearts grateful for having experienced your love in life-changing ways. We pray that you would guide the use of these and all of our gifts, that seeds of love might be sown here, and over all the earth – that your kingdom may come in fulness, and that your will may be done here on earth as it is already in heaven. We offer these gifts and our lives in the name of Jesus, the Love who came down at Christmas. Amen.


Sisters and brothers, you have been formed in love by the Father.  You have been redeemed by love through the Son. You have been filled with love by the Holy Spirit. Go now in the power of that same love to change the world, one heart at a time.

Music Suggestions

I recommend, if possible, using “Joy to the World,” UMH 246, in its entirety, to close each service. I believe that there is power in bookending worship with a single, focus verse during the lighting of the Advent Wreath, and the song as a whole at the end. Not every pastor or congregation will find purpose and meaning in that – so use it as you see fit.

In addition, there are quite a few Advent and seasonal Christmas songs that would fit more than one week. Based on what you may have used for the first week, below are additional possibilities focused on the theme of love.

Key: UMH – The United Methodist Hymnal, TFWS – The Faith We Sing, W&S – Worship and Song


  • People, Look East, UMH 202
  • Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates, UMH 213
  • Love Came Down at Christmas, UMH 242
  • O Day of Peace That Dimly Shines, UMH 729
  • There’s a Song in the Air, UMH 249
  • Where Charity and Love Prevail, UMH 549
  • A Star Shone Bright, W&S 3051
  • Love Has Come, W&S 3059


  • Adore Him, Hillsong Worship
  • Noel – Chris Tomlin
  • Midnight Clear (Love Song) – Chris Tomlin
  • Newborn King – Bryan Brown, Jeff Pardo
  • Advent Hymn – Christy Nockels


Downloadable Resources:

PDF of Worship Resources, Week 2 – Repeat the Sounding Joy, Worship Resources, Sunday, December 8, 2019, Second Sunday of Advent

Table Tent, Week 2 – Repeat the Sounding Joy, Table Tent, December 8, 2019

Graphic – Overallrepeat_sounding_1_invite

Graphic – Lyric Blank


Graphic – Bulletin Cover


Graphic – Facebook Cover


Repeat the Sounding Joy, Week 1 December 1, 2019

Here it is, friends. Week 1 of Worship Resources for Repeat the Sounding Joy. The theme for this 1st Sunday of Advent is “Prepare Him Room,” as we hold out the hope of Jesus’ coming and return. Through the prophecy of Isaiah, and the angel’s announcement to Mary recorded in Luke 1:26-38, worshipers will connect with a hope that does not disappoint, no matter how bleak things may look. This hope is not naively ignoring the reality of pain and brokenness all around us. It is, instead, anchoring our lives in the hope that Jesus, the son of the Most High, has come to set the world aright. It is also hearing and responding to the call to reach out with that hope in tangible ways that make a difference in someone’s life, or in our world, right here and right now.

Everything to pull together your first week of Advent is included in the pdf, Repeat the Sounding Joy, Worship Resources, Sunday, December 1, 2019, First Sunday of Advent

Just a few thoughts:

  • We continue to work on the images, and hope to have those posted soon.
  • I’m going to post each week’s worship resources on a separate post for several reasons. As soon as I complete a particular week, I want to get that in your hands. Also, not having done this before, I don’t want to overload the site with huge attachments all at once. I will, however, compile everything into one large document by the time everything is posted, for those who would find that easier.
  • You’ll notice that a sermon is not included. The messages will be posted separately, by the middle of October at the latest.
  • The easiest way to keep up to date with what is being posted is to subscribe to updates for the blog. Be assured, this is not a cheap ploy to get you to subscribe to my blog – I just don’t know how else to do that. #workinprogress

This process has put me in touch with my love for worship and preaching, and for the local church. If anyone finds these resources helpful, know that you are free to use them, not only with my blessing, but with my prayers. I’d love to have you let me know who all is using them, so I can pray for you and your congregations by name.

In addition, please use the comments section to add your own thoughts and ideas.  As I shared previously, I would love for this to be a community of worship leaders, coming together and offering our common gifts toward a common goal – that this Advent, the people of God would repeat the sounding joy of Jesus’ birth in a fresh way!

In Christ with you,



Repeat the Sounding Joy:
An Advent Worship Series
Celebrating the 300th Anniversary of “Joy to the World”

Sunday, December 1, 2019 – 1st Sunday of Advent


Worship Theme: Prepare Him Room (Hope)

Scriptures: Isaiah 2:1-5 – “They will beat their swords into plowshares.”
Luke 1:26-38 – “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”

Hymn Focus:

Joy to the World! The Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King;
Let ev’ry heart prepare him room,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.

Worship Elements

Worship Introduction

This morning, we enter into the season of Advent – the beginning of the Christian church year. The season of Advent invites us into a time of waiting and of expectation. We come awaiting the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord, to be sure. But we also come anticipating Christ’s return, that great and glorious day when all of God’s promises will be fulfilled, and the reign of God will bring about the redemption and restoration for which our hearts, and all of creation, yearn.

This year also marks the 300th anniversary celebration of the beloved hymn, “Joy to the World.” Our worship throughout this season, will be woven together around themes that are found in the verses of this hymn. Turning our ears and our hearts to God’s Word found in Isaiah’s prophecy of a messiah to come, as well as the opening scenes in the gospel of Luke leading up to and including Jesus’ birth, we will be invited into God’s story. In addition, we will be called to share that story with a world that is hungry – hungry for the hope, love, peace and joy that we believe can be found in Christ alone.

This morning, we will hear the invitation to “let ev’ry heart prepare him room,” as we cling to the hope of this season and of our faith.

Advent Wreath Candle Lighting Liturgy

Reader 1 – On this first Sunday of Advent, we begin to light the candles in our Advent wreath. Each week, as we draw nearer to Christmas, our wreath grows brighter. This morning, we light the candle of hope. (light 1st candle)
Reader 2 – In the midst of dark times, the prophet Isaiah called the people of God to hope, as he wrote the following words: “Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Reader 1 – Centuries later, the angel would come to Mary with another message. Hope was on the way, in the form of the child she would conceive and bear to the world, Jesus. And today, we hold onto the hope of Jesus as we prepare to celebrate His birth, and as we long for His return. Though our world often seems filled with darkness and despair, we are called to bear the light of hope in ways that pierce the darkness with the light of Christ. Let us pray.
People – Kindle hope in us, O God, that we might prepare room in our hearts and in your world for Christ to come and come again. In Jesus’ name we ask, pray and trust. Amen.
People (sing) –
Joy to the world! The Lord is come:
let earth receive her King;
let ev’ry heart prepare him room,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.
Call to Worship

One: Into Mary’s ordinary life, the angel broke, announcing something new, something that would change everything.
ALL: Into our lives, and into the world, God longs to come, bringing new life, bringing hope.
One: But there’s so much to do, life is so busy.
ALL: And so much struggle in the world, so much hurt and pain.
One: Yet into the mess of the world, Jesus came, and into the mess of our lives, He still comes.
ALL: Let every heart, starting with mine, make room for the coming of Jesus this season.

Collective Prayer

ALL: Eternal and ever-present God, we thank you for meeting us in worship today. Break into our hearts as we sing and pray and listen. Give us a fresh vision of hope, for weary hearts and a hurting world. Then, help us to not only wait for the hope that you will bring, but to dedicate our lives to offering that hope in tangible ways to those whose hearts you allow us to touch. We ask it all in the name of Jesus, the hope of the world. Amen.

Offertory Invitation

Isaiah was invited to share a vision of hope that would the swords of division into the plowshares of provision. Mary was invited to bear to the world the hoped-for messiah, come to set people free. We are invited to bear hope to a hurting world by giving of ourselves, and of the gifts with which we’ve been blessed. When we live generously, offering our tithes, gifts and offerings, we join Mary in saying to God, “I am your servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Offertory Prayer

Lord, the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:12, “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” As we offer our gifts to you this day, we lift up this bold prayer. Bless these gifts. Multiply them. Send them to be used wherever in the world your Spirit is breaking through with hope of a world yet to be. And then, we humbly ask, use us in those same ways. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Prayer of Great Thanksgiving (adapted from the UM Book of Worship, Great Thanksgiving for Early in Advent)

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

You formed us in your image and breathed into us the breath of life. When our sin, and the brokenness of the world seemed to stamp out hope, your light continued to shine. You delivered us from captivity, made covenant to be our sovereign God, and spoke to us through your prophets, who offered a vision of that day when justice shall roll down like waters and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream, when nation shall not lift up sword against, nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven we praise your name and join their unending hymn:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Holy are you, and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ, whom you sent in the fullness of time to be a light to the nations. Your own Son came among us as a servant, to be Emmanuel, your presence with us, a fulfillment of the hope for which the world still longs. The One whom the angel announced would be great and be called Son of the Most High humbled himself in obedience to your will and freely accepted death on a cross.

By the baptism of his suffering, death, and resurrection, you gave birth to your Church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.

On the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said: “Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

On the day you raised him from the dead he was recognized by his disciples in the breaking of the bread, and in the power of your Holy Spirit your Church has continued in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.

And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we prepare our hearts to receive Christ anew, offering ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us. And we proclaim the hope and the mystery of our faith.

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood and empowered by the gifts of the Spirit.

By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, showing forth the fruit of the Spirit until Christ comes in final victory, and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty God, now and for ever.

May the God of hope, fill you with all joy and peace as your trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13, NIV) Church, go into the world, and poke holes in the darkness, offering hope wherever you go.

Music Suggestions

I recommend, if possible, using “Joy to the World,” UMH 246, in its entirety, to close each service. I believe that there is power in bookending worship with a single, focus verse during the lighting of the Advent Wreath, and the song as a whole at the end. Not every pastor or congregation will find purpose and meaning in that – so use it as you see fit.
Key: UMH – The United Methodist Hymnal, TFWS – The Faith We Sing, W&S – Worship and Song

• Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, UMH 196
• People, Look East, UMH 202
• Toda La Tierra, UMH 210
• O Come, O Come Emmanuel, UMH 211
• Bread of the World, UMH 624 (Communion)
• Jesus, Joy of Our Desiring, UMH 644
• O Day of God, Draw Nigh, UMH 730
• God Almighty, We are Waiting, W&S 3047
• View the Present through the Promise, W&S 3048

• Come as You Are (Communion) – Crowder
• Seasons – Hillsong Worship
• He Shall Reign Forevermore – Chris Tomlin
• Hearts Waiting (Joy to the World) – Matt Redman
• O Come Be Born Again – Jennifer Martin
• Build Your Kingdom Here – Rend Collective
• Hope and Glory – Tim Hughes
• Kingdom Come (Lift Up Your Heads) – KXC

Visual Ideas
Here is where I confess my giftless-ness in the area of visuals. Here are a few ideas, and feel free to share more as comments, to build the community.
• Use blue and purple fabric to drape the altar table and around the worship space, with simple white lights to bring contrast. Please consider safety if lights actually come in contact with fabric.
• Keep the Advent Wreath central and visible through the season. An overall focus is the growing light that comes as we draw closer to the celebration of Christ’s birth, and His return.
• If you have folks who create banners, each week could have one banner with the theme word, and another banner with the theme phrase from the song. For example, Week 1 would have the word hope on one banner, and the words, “Prepare Him Room” on the other, each simply text on a blue/purple background that accents the paraments and/or table decorations. Another idea would be to add hope, love, joy, and peace to a banner each week of advent, culminating with the word Christ in the center.

Next Steps/Take Home Ideas

Table Tent

Each week, I’d encourage additional engagement in the theme from worship by providing, in a bulletin, or handed out following worship, a table tent (simply ½ sheet of cardstock, folded in half).

On the table tent would be the theme for each week, along with the words of the key verse from Joy to the World. Individuals/families could sing that verse at each evening meal. In addition, I would include 2-3 reminder questions around the theme, along with a mealtime prayer to offer each night that week.

Families could also be invited to light their own Advent wreath at the center of a dinner table.

If you would like to see a sample of this week’s table tent, click here: Repeat the Sounding Joy, Table Tent, December 1, 2019

Repeat the Sounding Joy


Last December, as I worshiped with my family at one of our district churches, the congregation was engaging in an Advent worship experience surrounding the 200th anniversary of Silent Night.  When the opening screen came up for one of the hymns that day, our son, Henry, turned to me and said, “I guess next Advent, we’ll be talking about Joy to the World, since it will turn 300.” Sure enough, the words written by Isaac Watts to this beloved hymn/carol are dated 1719, and the seed was planted in my head and heart.

One of the things that I have missed most in this season of ministry as a district superintendent has been planning and leading worship.  I love everything about worship, working with teams to plan and enter into experiences where God is glorified and hearts are transformed when the messiness of humanity collides with a perfect, gracious God.  Earlier this year, two good friends gave me wise advice as I walk through this season to which I know God has called me.  They each said something like, “Think about what gives you passion and joy about pastoring a local congregation, and find ways to do those types of things where you are now.”

That’s why I find myself writing this afternoon. Seeking to hear God’s voice in my son noting that detail on the screen last December, and in the wisdom shared by friends who want me to thrive where God has planted me for this season, and hoping to bless the pastors and congregations of the Lewisburg District (and anyone else who might stumble upon this), I’ve been working on an Advent worship series celebrating the 300th anniversary of the lyrics that became Joy to the World. Any congregation who wishes to use any or all of the series are free to do so, without charge. I simply ask that you acknowledge authorship when appropriate.  And if you find the resources helpful and/or useful, let me know.  If you feel really moved, you could offer a gift to a local mission where you are who works with children, and offer it in honor of Henry, who planted the seed in the first place.

Repeat the Sounding Joy seeks to help congregations rediscover, experience and share the joy that come in the midst of both the celebration of Christ’s birth, and the awaiting of his return.  Each week will center on a passage from Luke’s gospel, leading up to and including the birth of Jesus, but will also incorporate the passages from Isaiah representing the Old Testament lectionary readings for Advent Year A. Each week during Advent’s theme also ties into one of the four verses (in order of the UM hymnal) for #246, “Joy to the World.” For each worship service, I hope to share the following elements:

  • Call to Worship
  • Collective Prayer
  • Offertory Invitation and Prayer
  • Sermon/Sermon Starters
  • Possible Next Steps for Individuals to carry the theme of worship into the week
  • Benediction
  • Prayer of Great Thanksgiving (for December 1/1st Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve/Day)
  • Visual Ideas for Altar/Sanctuary
  • Projection Backgrounds and Title Screens
  • Traditional and Contemporary Music Suggestions
  • Advent Wreath Candle Lighting Liturgy
  • Weekly Family Devotional Activity

While I hope to have most of the pieces complete and ready to share by the end of August, or middle of September at the latest, I also recognize that worship teams, choir directors, musicians and preachers may already be starting to look ahead. So, for now, I want to share the weekly themes to help you start thinking.  Also, this is definitely a work in progress, so don’t hesitate to e-mail me at with your own thoughts or insights as we move through the next few months.  It would be most incredible if this became a community of disciples seeking to worship even as we prepare to lead others in worship!

So, here goes! Bookmark this page, or subscribe to the updates, and join me in this journey.

Sunday, December 1 – 1st Week of Advent

“Prepare Him Room” – A Celebration of Hope

Luke 1:26-38, Isaiah 2:1-5


Sunday, December 8 – 2nd Week of Advent

“Our Songs Employ” – A Celebration of Love

Luke 1:39-45, Isaiah 11:1-10


Sunday, December 15 – 3rd Week of Advent

“His Blessings Flow” – A Celebration of Joy

Luke 1:(57-66)67-79, Isaiah 35:1-10


Sunday, December 22 – 4th Week of Advent

“He Rules the World” – A Celebration of Peace

Luke 1:(57-66)67-79, Isaiah 7:10-16


Tuesday, December 24 – Christmas Eve

“Repeat the Sounding Joy” – A Celebration of Christ

Luke 2:1-14(15-20), Isaiah 9:2-7