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



Where are You Living?

This week, I was listening to a sermon by Jacob Armstrong of Providence Church one morning, when I was struck by something he pointed out in Luke’s version of the Christmas story.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  Luke 2:8, NIV

Armstrong points out that the shepherds weren’t simply working in the fields, they were living there.  Another translation from the Greek has the shepherds “abiding” – which, to me implies a longer tenure than simply putting in their shift.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  The shepherds lived outside Bethlehem.  And I don’t think we can imagine their existence like some sort of picturesque rural idyll.  It was a hard life, constant work, and likely not a future that little kids dreamed of for their “one day.”  And yet, the good news of Jesus’ birth came to the shepherds right where they were living.  And it changed everything for them.

I believe that a question we can ask ourselves is, “Where am I living?”  The answer to that is not a physical address; it’s not the name of a neighborhood or a town.  It’s the place where our heads and our hearts have been hanging out for a significant season.

For some, you’ve been abiding in grief.  You have found yourself dreading this holiday season, because there will be an important seat that will be empty this year for the first time, or simply again.  It may seem like you’ve been living in this place for way too long, but you don’t see a time that you won’t be right where you are.

Still others feel like they’re living in a season of waiting.  Waiting for the right opportunity to come along.  Waiting for test results that we’re not sure we want to hear.  Waiting until we can retire.  Waiting for a sign that we’re on the right track.

For others, we can find ourselves living in a place of anger or resentment.  You may be angry at a person who has wronged you, a circumstance that has come upon you, or you may be angry at yourself for something that happened a long time ago.  When anger turns to resentment, it can easily end up what feels like will be a permanent address.

For some, isolation is the place they find themselves spending a great deal of time.  Strained, or even superficial, relationships, can lead to a profound sense of loneliness.  There are folks who can find themselves surrounded by crowds of people and still be filled with a deep longing for genuine connection.

I believe that one of the most profound messages of Christmas is that, wherever we find ourselves living in this season, the good news of Jesus’ birth can find us.  Long before the shepherds found Jesus on that first Christmas night, Jesus’ love found them in the form of an angel telling them not to be afraid.  The same thing can happen to us.  The hope of a savior – born to you and to me – can find us in the midst of grief, isolation, anger and uncertainty.

Love meets us in whatever neighborhood we find our head and heart abiding, and invites us to come and see Jesus.  Love shows up where we are, and invites us to experience something brand new.

Hear me clearly – the shepherds address didn’t change as a result of being found by Jesus, and finding Jesus on that night.  But their hearts did change.  Their posture changed – from looking down at the sheep, to looking up to the heavens, to falling down in worship and returning to the fields glorifying and praising God for what they had seen in the stable.

Here’s my prayer – and friends, perhaps more than ever, it is a prayer for me as much as anyone else.  Wherever you may find yourself “living” in these days, may the heavens open, and the message break through.  May you find your way to meet the One whose birth is good news of great joy.  And may you, may I, and may our world be forever changed because Jesus showed up in our neighborhood.shepherds

Welcome to Our World

Throughout my faith journey, music has been one of the ways that God has led me into deep places of connection with Jesus and abandonment in worship.

The choir of the church where I was baptized and confirmed offered Mozart’s Requiem, the entire mass, every year as part of our worship on Good Friday.  Though I didn’t understand the words, there was something so profound about the music – tied into the story in which we were walking, and I felt a deep sense of connection to Christ’s suffering.

Often times, when I am walking in the early morning, I will listen to worship music, and my soul will be transported into the throne room of grace, as I am overwhelmed by the goodness and majesty of God, and the love with which I am held.

And even with the tendency toward sentimentality that we can all fall prey to during the season of Advent and into Christmas (and though everybody has incredibly strong opinions on when it’s appropriate to sing what songs during this time of year), I have also found that my own experience of Advent and Christmas would be terribly lacking without music to provide the soundtrack for my journey to Bethlehem.

Whether it’s the minor key of O Come, O Come Emmanuel that echoes the longing of a people waiting in darkness for the light of messiah to come, or the invitation to worship offered by O Come, All Ye Faithful, or the exuberance of singing Joy, Unspeakable Joy as the promises of God are born as a Yes in Jesus, music has become more than a backdrop to my own times of worship during this season.  For me, one of those songs is “Welcome to Our World,” written and originally recorded by Chris Rice.welcome to our world

When Chris Rice wrote and recorded the song, “Welcome to Our World,” he didn’t originally intend for it to be a Christmas song.  In an interview with CCM magazine, quoted on, Rice says that the song, “deals with the reality that God invaded our planet and became one of us, which is just astounding to me.  I wrote about God coming to our world in a naive way, knowing that it’s not ours anyways, it’s [God’s]…I thought…about the face that [Jesus] took on what He did so that we would be able to find God and be found by God.”

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking, how we need to hear from God.

You’ve been promised, we’ve been waiting, Welcome, holy child.

The Advent season is a season of waiting.  It’s a season of longing, as we not only prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but join in creations looking forward to His return.  God’s people had been longing for the One who would come and set the world aright, according to the promises and prophets we have recorded in the Hebrew scriptures.

But we know that the longing of God’s people for the promised Messiah is not an unknown yearning for those of us who live on the other side of the incarnation.  We recognize that, even on this side of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, we still live in the now and not yet of God’s kingdom.  Yet, though we know that our longing will never be fully relieved until the day when Christ returns to wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death and pain and mourning and loss will be no more, we hold onto that promise, because we serve a promise-keeping God.

Hope that you don’t mind our manger – how I wish we would have known.

But long-awaited Holy Stranger, make yourself at home. Please make yourself at home.

John the Baptist invoked the spirit of the prophet Isaiah, as he became that voice of one calling in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord.  Rice’s second verse reminds me of an anxious grandmother, longing and planning for company to arrive, only to feel completely unprepared when the moment comes.

Though the people of God had been longing for the arrival of a messiah for centuries, when it happened, they seem to have been caught off-guard – leaving Jesus to be born in less than ideal circumstances in less than princely accommodations.  And yet, this has always seemed to bother us way more than it bothers God.

The reality is, our lives are a mess, and yet Christ chooses to be born there, if they are open to Him making our hearts His home.  No amount of camel-hair wearing warning can fully make our paths straight enough for the very king of the universe to travel to where we are.  And yet, Christ still comes, and we say, make yourself at home.

Bring your peace into our violence, bid our hungry souls be filled.

Word now breaking heaven’s silence, Welcome to our world.

Part of the waiting in 1st century Palestine and 21st century everywhere is the recognition that our world is not as it should be.  There is this overwhelming sense that we need a fresh word from God to break through what seems like a too-long silence.  Those words, bring your peace into our violence and bid our hungry souls be filled, encapsulate for me the fulness of the gospel that has broken into the world on Christmas night.  Christ comes, to be sure, to fill up the empty places and broken spaces in our souls.  And yet, He also comes to bring peace into violence, and shake the systems of oppression that keep people from experiencing the freedom for which all of humanity was created.  I believe that we miss who Jesus is if we ever forget either one of those pieces of his mission.

Fragile finger sent to heal us, Tender brow prepared for thorn.

Tiny heart whose blood will save us, Unto us is born.

Early on in Jesus’ life, when others were bowing down in worship, singing songs of praise and going to tell it on the mountain, we know that Mary was pondering and treasuring things up in her heart.  Even as the time came for the family’s visit to the Temple, Simeon, in the midst of his celebration, alludes to the future in store for Jesus, and because of that, our future as well.  And that truth was that the very piercing of Jesus’ hands, feet and side would one day pierce Mary’s soul.

We can never fully separate the Christmas story from the passion and Easter stories.  We can’t extricate the incarnation of God from the mission of God to redeem the world, and Jesus’ role in that unfolding rescue plan.  On Christmas, as the angels would soon sing, one is born who is the Savior, Christ the King – whose crown would be fashioned from thorns, and whose saving would come through his own sacrifice.

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.

Finally, the song closes with what has become my Advent (and year-round) prayer.  Jesus, invade our world, and invade my life again and anew.  Work in me, and in all of creation, to redeem and restore, to make new and to set apart for your purpose in this world that you so loved that you came to save.  Let every heart, including this one, hold onto your promise, and prepare the room for your coming.  Welcome to our world, Jesus.  Amen.

The Waiting

“The days are surely coming, says the LORD,

when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

Jeremiah 33:14

Let me be clear: The spiritual discipline of waiting is not my favorite.  From my earliest memories surrounding Christmas, my lack of interest in waiting displayed itself in always being the first to have unwrapped all of my gifts.  And even that didn’t always hold surprise, thanks to my well-honed skill of shaking and shifting packages with the intent of detecting the gift held inside.

Yet, here we are, entering Advent – a season of waiting.  The prophet Jeremiah gives voice to the waiting in this Sunday’s Old Testament reading from the lectionary.  The people of God were waiting for the Messiah – and the waiting wasn’t fun for them either.  Jeremiah doesn’t deny the pain of the present for God’s people.  He is, after all, known as the weeping prophet.  And still, in the midst of the dark days, in the midst of the hard waiting, Jeremiah holds out the hope that is found in the promise of God.

I can almost hear God whispering through the proclamation of the prophet, “Children, I know it is hard, this waiting.  But hold on to my promise.  The day is coming, I promise you this.  Justice and righteousness are on the way – new life, springing from what seemed like a long dead hope.  Jesus is almost here.  Just hold on.”

I know there are a lot of folk who feel like they are waiting on a Word from God that is taking way too long to be delivered.  Waiting for the call from an estranged love one.  Waiting for a plan from the doctors for treatment.  Waiting for what the future of our church may hold.  Waiting for justice and peace to replace hatred and oppression.  Waiting for someone…anyone…to tell them that they are loved and they are enough.  Waiting for the good news that their hope will not disappoint.

If I could have the audacity to speak a word from God to God’s people in this moment, it would be: Whatever promise you are waiting for God to fulfill, child, hold on.  I know the waiting is hard, and it seems like it’s taking forever.  But I promise you this – God has a 100% record of faithfulness in keeping promises – and the streak is not going to end with you.

Lauren Daigle, whose lyrics and voice and heart regularly come together to wreck me, sings these words:

You are not hidden

There’s never been a moment

You were forgotten

You are not hopeless

Though you have been broken

Your innocence stolen

I hear you whisper underneath your breath

I hear your SOS, your SOS

I will send out an army to find you

In the middle of the darkest night

It’s true, I will rescue you

There is no distance

That cannot be covered

Over and over

You’re not defenseless

I’ll be your shelter

I’ll be your armor

I hear you whisper underneath your breath

I hear your SOS, your SOS

I will send out an army to find you

In the middle of the darkest night

It’s true, I will rescue you

I will never stop marching to reach you

In the middle of the hardest fight

It’s true, I will rescue you

Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Paul Mabury / Lauren Daigle

Rescue lyrics © Essential Music Publishing, Capitol Christian Music Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


The promise to which we cling during this Advent season (and always), is that help is on the way.  And His name is Jesus.  The One whose birth we celebrate, whose presence is our sustaining, and whose return we long for, hears and knows and loves and rescues.  Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!