While I am one of those people who doesn’t like to see signs of Christmas in the stores before Halloween, I am certainly aware that as church leaders, we must begin preparing for Advent and Christmas well in advance. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve begun to see the signs: emails highlighting curriculum, devotionals, and worship materials for Advent and Christmas, the children are getting ready to prepare their Christmas program, and the Worship Committee is recruiting people to light the Advent candles. Advent is coming.
There is irony in that statement: “Advent Is Coming.” Because Advent means “coming” and the season of Advent is indeed about to begin. The first Sunday of Advent this year is November 29th, and there is much to prepare before that date arrives. There are so many good resources available for pastors during the Advent season, but each year, I seem to spend a lot of time searching for liturgy to be used in worship for lighting the Advent candles. I’ve stumbled across a good variety, but this year, I decided to write an Advent Candle Liturgy myself. I was inspired by World Vision’s Advent 2015 Prayer Guide, which is a timely resource calling us to prayer and action for those on the margins, including refugees. This is a powerful call to prayer and action, and I was moved to include similar themes in an Advent candle lighting liturgy.
Before I share the complete liturgy with you, I want to reflect on a few other salient points regarding lighting the Advent candles in worship.
- Choosing People to Light the Candles: I intentionally use the word “people” instead of “families.” This is an area where many churches need to be intentionally inclusive. Instead of assuming that families with children or youth will light the candles, include people over the four weeks of Advent, plus Christmas Eve, who highlight the diversity of your congregation. A single person, or two single people, can light the Advent candles. A couple without children can light the candles. A group of youth could lead the liturgy and light the candles without parents.
- I’d also encourage churches to track who lights the Advent candles on a spreadsheet kept on the server and/or in the main office. I’ve heard too many times in different churches that the same “families” get asked every couple years, while others have been around a long time and have never been asked. It is often a joy and privilege to light the Advent candles, so make sure you are spreading the joy.
- Including children and youth: I do think it’s important to consider the role of children and youth in this act of worship. Many children are very capable of lighting candles, even if they need assistance. And I think we need to include liturgy that is simple and easy-to-read for children to help lead. Often, simple edits can be made to include a younger reader as one of the leaders.
- Purple, Pink, and/or Blue: What color are the candles supposed to be? When do we light the pink candle, and what does it mean? I am not here to offer definitive answers to any of these questions. (Sorry.) I don’t get hung up on the colors. Some churches still use purple Advent candles, while others have switched to blue in more recent years. Some churches have one pink candle which is lit on the 3rd (or 4th?) Sunday of Advent. I’ve heard different reasons for the different colors and when they are lit. What matters to me is that we are consistent within our local congregation. Don’t get worked up on what colors you have.
- Including Music: I enjoy including music in the Advent Candle Liturgy. The Sing the Faith hymnal supplement (Geneva Press, 2003) used by many Presbyterian churches has a great Advent Candle lighting song- #2090, Advent Song. The Glory to God hymnal (Westminster John Knox Press, 2013) has one I don’t know yet- #85, Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah. With either of these, one verse can be sung each week before the Advent Candle Liturgy begins to signify in which week of Advent we are: “Light two candles to watch for Messiah…” Singing a verse can also allow time for the people lighting the candles and leading the liturgy to gather around the Advent wreath and/or candles.
- Building Anticipation for Christmas: One of the reasons for the season of Advent is that it creates room and space for us to prepare for the great gift of Christmas. We talk about watching and waiting, and we build in anticipation for the coming of Christ on Christmas Day. Our music and our liturgy ought to build throughout the four weeks as well, helping the people gathered for worship to prepare for the advent of Christ.
And with those thoughts, I offer an Advent Candle Liturgy, inspired by the World Vision Advent Prayer Guide and using scripture texts from Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary. You are welcome to use this for personal devotion or Sabbath, or in corporate worship. I would ask that you include credit to the author if you decide to use this liturgy with a group.
Advent Candle Liturgy 2015 by Rebecca Chancellor (This is a pdf file of the liturgy below.)
LITURGY FOR ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING by Rev. Rebecca Chancellor, 2015
All scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible.
FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT
Advent means coming. We remember Jesus coming to earth in the form of a tiny baby, as we also wait for Jesus to come again.
Advent is a time of expectation. We expect God to fulfill the promise Jeremiah proclaimed: “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” (Jeremiah 33:15b-16a)
We watch and wait for justice and righteousness, knowing that God will come to be with us and all people, in all the corners of the world.
We light the first candle with expectation that the Messiah is coming.
One candle is lit.
Let us pray: God of power and glory, you came to be with us as a helpless, fragile Middle Eastern baby. You came to live among us and to experience human life as one of us. You entered our world and experienced poverty, exile, loneliness, and pain. We give you thanks for your presence in our world today, especially among the people who are displaced, distressed, broken-hearted and lonely. Guide us to bring justice and righteousness to those who need it most, in our local community and around the earth. May we dare to expect you are present with us now and you are coming to restore all people to safety and righteousness. Amen.
SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT
Advent means coming. We remember Jesus coming into our world to be one of us, as we also live in the mystery that Jesus will come again.
Advent is a time for preparation. We prepare for Jesus to enter our lives and our hearts, remembering the Word of the Lord Malachi proclaimed to Israel: “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming.” (Malachi 3:1)
We remember, too, John the Son of Zechariah who cried out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 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.” (Luke 3:4b-6)
We prepare to follow Jesus to all places: to be among the poor, the lonely, the sick, the afraid, the dying, and the oppressed.
We light the first candle again with expectation that the Messiah is coming.
We light the second candle in preparation for the Messiah to come lead us.
Two candles are lit.
Let us pray: Almighty God, you are the God of all people in all times and all places. You dwell in the valleys and on the mountains. There is no place on earth you will not go. Help us to prepare to follow Jesus wherever he may lead us. Help us to get ready to receive your light—the light that shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome. As we prepare for your advent once again, lead us to those who need deliverance from violence, hate, division, and brokenness. Even in these days of preparation, may we be agents of your peace, love, hope and grace. Guide us, O God. Amen.
THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT
Advent means coming. We remember Jesus coming into our world as the Messiah, the anointed one, the one to save us. We recognize our need for Jesus to come and save us again.
Advent is a time for repentance. As we watch, wait, and prepare, we remember John the Baptist calling the people to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and proclaiming: “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)
We remember, too, the promises of God proclaimed by Zephaniah as the people waited for God’s deliverance, “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.” (Zephaniah 3:17-18a)
We repent before God and one another that we have been afraid to follow Jesus to the margins and hesitant to share our resources of food, clothes, money, and time.
We light the first and second candles again with expectation that the Messiah is coming and in preparation for the Messiah to come lead us.
We light the third candle with an offering of repentance and a renewed commitment to turn toward the Messiah, the one who saves us.
Three candles are lit.
Let us pray: God of love and mercy, you came to be with us and to show us how to love and serve you and our neighbors. You came to show us the way to abundant life and to save us from ourselves. You remind us that all God’s children are invited to the table, all are deserving of love and respect, and all people bring gifts to the community. Forgive us, O God. Help us to recognize our own sin and brokenness—our own poverty—that we might be positioned to be renewed by your love. May our hearts and minds be open to repentance that we might seek right relationship with you and all people. Push us to go beyond ourselves to humbly serve those in need of the gifts and resources we have to share. Amen.
FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT
Advent means coming. We remember Jesus coming into our world and changing it forever. We long for Jesus to come again that we might be transformed.
Advent is a time to rejoice. We remember with joy that God shows up in surprising ways and in unexpected places. We recall the words of the prophet Micah, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days… and he shall be the one of peace.” (Micah 5:2,5a)
We remember, too, the song of Mary, as she rejoiced with Elizabeth over the child who leapt in her womb, “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; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46b-49)
We rejoice with Bethlehem and Mary as we wait for Jesus to come and lift up the lowly. We rejoice in God’s power to use us to care for refugees, immigrants, widows, and orphans.
We light three candles again with expectation that the Messiah is coming, in preparation for the Messiah to lead us, and with repentant hearts turned toward the one who saves us.
Today, we light the fourth candle as we rejoice in God’s decision to be with us in the Messiah, the baby Jesus of Nazareth born in Bethlehem.
Four candles are lit.
Let us pray: God of transformation, you often surprise us and rattle our ways of thinking and being. You, Holy God, the one with the power to save, came to earth and entered our world as a tiny baby, born to an unwed mother, in a small town stable in the countryside. You did not come seeking glory and honor, but came to bring peace and justice. May we rejoice with you and with all our sisters and brothers around the world as you shatter our expectations by lifting up the lowly, blessing the poor and the weak, honoring those who thirst for justice, and claiming as your own those who make peace. Help us to magnify you with our hearts, our souls, and our minds. By your mercy, use us to do great things in our local community and around the world to bring joy and fulfillment, life and peace to all. Amen.
The four Advent candles are lit.
Advent means coming. Throughout this season, we have watched and waited with expectation, prepared for this day by repenting and turning toward God, and rejoicing in God’s surprising ways. Today, we remember and celebrate Jesus coming into our world, a great light shining on the people living in a land of deep darkness.
On this Christmas Eve, we proclaim the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. We remember Isaiah’s proclamation: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
We remember, too, the proclamation of the angel to the shepherds in the fields, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
With the heavenly host, we praise God, saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” We dare to proclaim God’s favor for all the people: insiders and outsiders, rich and poor, proud and lowly, us and them. In Jesus, we are made one and God has come to save us all. (Luke 2:14)
We light the Christ candle as a sign of Christ’s constant presence with us, a proclamation that the Prince of Peace has come.
The white candle in the center is lit.
Let us pray: Emmanuel, God-with-us, because you have come, our hope is renewed and peace reigns in our hearts. We are filled with joy as we remember you have come to save us and all people. We are drawn into your great love for us. And yet we do not forget that you have not come to make us comfortable; you have come to change us and transform us because your peaceable kingdom is not yet complete. You have come, asking us to follow you to the margins to love and serve others. We open ourselves to you, O God. May we receive the gifts you offer us and be transformed by your presence with us. Even when there is darkness around us, may we walk in the light of Christ. Amen.