This 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.
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.
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 (http://www.linglestownlife.org/home) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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 – Overall
Graphic – Lyric Blank
Graphic – Bulletin Cover
Graphic – Facebook Cover