There are some readings that can be handed out to the families of your church without explanation. They know to read the script and light the candles. This is not that.
This Advent is not that. We have learned to do worship differently in the past two years. Our traditions have shifted and we have made room for new possibilities. It will soon be cold and some congregations will return to online platforms for their worship because it’s not possible to safely gather in their sanctuaries at this point in the pandemic. The risk is still there. It is still too great or it may be the designated worship space is being completely remodeled as it is at Old First United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, PA and there is no alternative space that would quite work.
Old First was the inspiration for digging up this liturgy from too many years ago when I first imagined how we might share simple stories about our faith. It has back in those days when we were all excited about testimony. Or at least we were in the United Church of Christ and I spent a whole lot of time trying to imagine how our traditional New England worship would allow for more truth telling. (They were so patient with me and I’m still proud of the risks we took together. I’m so grateful for the ways that they taught me to do church.) The liturgy that follows is adapted from one I wrote way back then but it needed to be spruced up a bit for the wonderful people of Old First who will be using this liturgy with their pandemic pods.
Their brilliant pastor and the elders formed groups to meet on Zoom early in the pandemic. It’s a urban congregation where people knew names and faces and a smattering of tiny details about each person but these groups have introduced a new level of intimacy and connection. They’ve stuck together through all of this and it’s changed their community in the best way possible. Old First won’t have traditional families lead these candle lightings, but these new pandemic families who will share some part of their story and connection as they light the Advent candles.
These scripts do not require a ton of extra explanation for the church people that have done Advent a few times, but they are not the kind of thing that can be read without advance preparation. And so, I offer the following instructions to share with your good people.
- Please read the whole liturgical moment for your designated Sunday and then decide how the reading might be shared, if it is desired to use more than one voice.
- Read slowly and with intention. Allow us to feel the expectation and wonder in each word.
- Pray together with those that you will share this candle lighting about what the vision will be that you’ll share. It does not need to be a long explanation. It may only be two or three sentences to explain something you experienced together. Try to make it personal to your shared experience.
- You may choose to script the vision you’ll share or invite someone within your group to speak that truth in their own words at the designated moment. Try to make it brief but powerful. Tell the truth with great love.
Surely, you will add to this list as certainly as you will make a series of technical choices that make sense for your community in sharing in this moment of worship. Hopefully, this gets you excited to do this thing that you’ve done so well throughout this pandemic. Dear pastor, you are a true wonder. Thank you for all you do in the world. I am blessed by it and so it is with gratitude I offer this liturgy for lighting the candles of the Advent Wreath.
First Sunday of Advent
Our expectation begins now. It starts here after so much has happened but we still expect more. We begin our journey, like Joseph and Mary, in darkness. We cannot see the way ahead. We cannot know what hope will come but we trust God to journey with us, beckoning along with the prophets, "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. It is coming." This is our hope today as we light the first candle of Advent. [First Candle is lit.] We light this candle to remember what was promised and every dream we dared to dream about what could be. We light this candle full of hope because we know the days are surely coming as we have seen signs of God's hope in… (name a vision of hope you’ve recently seen in your daily life, in your relationships, or in the news). With this hope, we know that the days are surely coming and so we pray together: O God, who gave us the Light, thank you for giving us hope in the form of a child at Bethlehem. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of this holy child, may we see signs of your hope in the darkness of despair. Amen.
Second Sunday of Advent
When so much feels uneven and unsteady, we push into the wild possibility that change will come. We imagine the peace how the world might shift in the hope John the Baptizer dares us to dream, "Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." It is in this wild possibility that we light the second candle of Advent. [Second Candle is lit.] We light this candle in search of your peace. We look forward to the days when all the rough places are smooth, but for now we seek your comfort… (name a time when you have recently been found comfort in words, in a kindness, or even in an idea). With this possibility, we believe our rough places will be made smooth and so we pray together: Prince of Peace, you came to us in the innocence of an infant. Comfort us when the world feels too rough. Give us the courage to find friends in unlikely places as we work together toward your peace. Amen.
Third Sunday of Advent
We come find warmth together in the light of God’s love. We have often felt so misunderstood and even unloved, but today we marvel in the love that begins in God. We celebrate the love we have known in the words of the Apostle Paul, "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." It is in this peace that our guarded hearts break open to welcome the light of this third candle of Advent. [Third Candle is lit.] We light this candle to celebrate your love that unites all people. In the warmth of this shimmering hope, we dream of that all people might experience this kind of love that surpasses all understanding. (Share a brief story about how you’ve experienced love together. Begin this story with the words, “I dream…”) With this love made real, we find new understanding of what love could change and so we pray together: Loving God, pour into our hearts this day the light of your love, warming us to one another, enlightening our understanding of others, and revealing the love that guards our hearts and minds. Amen.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
We might not feel quite ready, still we praise God. There is joy in the inexplicable and the extraordinary. We celebrate wonder of what could be just as Mary sang, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” It is with this joy that our souls unite to magnify the good news so full of blessing in the lighting of this fourth candle of Advent. [Fourth Candle is lit.] We light this candle to celebrate our joy for the world. Like Mary, we might hesitate and be cautious with our praise but when we remember how what God has done, we can only sing with joy. (Share a brief story about you’ve been surprised by joy.. Begin this story with the words, “I remember…”) With this deep joy, our hearts join together in prayer to God: Eternal God, who magnifies each of our souls, surprise us this joy in these last few days before Christmas. Warm our hearts to feel the joy of your presence in our lives and in your world. Amen.
In the silence of this night, we celebrate the tiny hope of birth in Jesus, our Christ. As we wonder what this birth means to us, we recall all that we have found on the way to Bethlehem. We remember every bit of hope, peace, love and joy we have shared in sacred story. These lights shine bright as the work of Christmas begins. (Reader pauses as each candle is lit in order.) The light of hope ... (Candle is lit.) The light of peace ... (Candle is lit.) The light of love ... (Candle is lit.) The light of joy… (Candle is lit.) Now, as the shepherds worship and the cattle low, we sing with the angels that God has come into the world. We join in that song, singing, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" It is in this glory and awe that we light the candle of our Savior. (Christ candle is lit.) We light the Christ candle to celebrate our Savior. We join the chorus of angels with our glad tidings and great joy. God has been made real again. God has come close. We add our praise, remembering... (name a time, at Christmas or some other time, when you’ve been able to see God in another person.) As God becomes known again in human flesh and ordinary wonder, we join our hearts to pray together: Holy God, we rejoice in your presence! The birth of this baby at Bethlehem gives us wonder and delight. The birth of your holy child is your answer to our unrest, our confusion and our sorrow. Tonight we live in Hope, we pray for Peace, we share your Love, as we are filled with your Joy. Thank you for sending your Child to be our Immanuel. Amen.
As you encourage your good people to find their words, there might be interest in these special workshop opportunities offered by Maren Tirabassi following the release of her book of poems last year entitled Christmas Eve at the Epsom Circle McDonald’s. (I have a copy. It’s really, really good.) This year, Maren is offering two workshops Zoom for the price of 10 books. Find out more here.
There is one more candle lighting buried in the archives of this blog. You can find it here. You might also be interested in this Pandemic Liturgy for Advent from last year. If you’re looking for more ideas for Advent, you can find some liturgies and group studies in my kitchen. I have a few more things cooked up for you as the season draws near including the my very occasional potluck newsletter that is just about ready to land in your mailbox. You can sign up here.
I am praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. I’m praying for you so much as this season of wonder and light comes again.