Today’s post is by Gretchen Rode, Associate Pastor at House of Hope in New Hope, MN. This is the first of two posts on how congregations will be worshipping on the 4th Sunday of Advent/Christmas Eve.
This year, the 4th Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve. At House of Hope in New Hope, Minnesota, we know that a morning worship service is important so that those who come home for the holidays or routinely come on Sunday morning have a place to be during this usual time. We also want to honor that it is a busy day for us as pastors/church staff and that most of our people will already be in the Christmas Eve mood. With this in mind, we hope to have a light-hearted time of gathering to mark this last day of Advent and begin to move into Christmas together as a community.
So, to bridge between Advent and Christmas, we have created a service that starts in Advent and ends in Christmas. Our service begins in the darkness of Advent with the lighting of the Advent wreath, singing Advent hymns “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” and “Prepare the Royal Highway,” and reading the Gospel for the Day (Luke 1:26-38) which tells the story of the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary. The Gospel is a perfect bridge to our well-known Christmas story. We will sing “The Angel Gabriel” after the Gospel (skipping the sermon time) and transition to the Christmas portion of our service. This second half of the service will include a statement of faith crafted from Psalm 98*, Christmas hymns “Joy to the World” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and, in a nod to the traditions of the season, we will bless Christmas ornaments* and gifts* and sing “Deck the Halls.” We hope that this shortened service will send our people out into the day, centered on Christ and ready to celebrate together this blessed time of Christmas!
We will be using liturgy from Sundays and Seasons for quite a few parts of this service. We love the “Call to Worship from Psalm 98” and will be using it as our statement of faith: “Justice for everyone, everything fair! Sing to God something brand new! For God has done wonderful things!” For the blessing of Christmas ornaments, we will invite congregation members to bring an ornament from home (and we will have some on hand to give out as well). This blessing will be a slightly altered “Blessing of the Christmas Tree,”* adding to the last line “May we who stand in its light eagerly welcome the true Light that never fades, and as we carry these ornaments home may we remember that your light goes with us wherever we go. All glory be yours now and forever. Amen.” We envision that everyone will hold their ornament as they sit in the pew and saying this blessing together. If there are many children at this service, I might invite them up during this time to help lead the blessing from the front. We intend to incorporate the Blessing of the Gifts Rite during the Benediction as a sending.
We hope that each part of the service will help our congregation to celebrate this joyful day and to connect rites that are done at home with the welcoming of God into the world that we celebrate at Christmas time in the Church.
*Liturgy for the Statement of Faith from Psalm 98, the Blessing of the Christmas Tree, and the Blessing of Gifts come from Sundays and Seasons in the Seasonal Rites for Christmas for Year B, 2018.