{Many Questions and Few Answers Along the Never-Finished Journey of Faith}

Prayer for Christmas Eve’s Eve


This will be the final post this Advent season so I wanted to finally share a prayer for the day — Christmas Eve’s Eve.

O come, O come, Emmanuel…

We are a people who live in captivity. We find ourselves captive to sin, whether it’s in the form of bad choices or decisions we make or the power that keeps us from living into the full freedom of life with you. We are lost without you.

We are a people captive to burdens. Loneliness, despair, heartache, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness – these are just a few of the shackles we drag behind us daily. The weight of which grows heavier with each passing day.

We are captive to the ways of this world. We spend our time and energy seeking to consume and help others consume in the hope that somehow a gift — or two, or ten — wrapped in a package with a nice bow on it can somehow be our ultimate source of joy. We confess that we live by the ritual rhythms of the consumer calendar and we forget that as your people, we are called to a different sense of time and space and rhythm. Help us to slow down, consume less, and seek to love and give in more meaningful ways.

O come, O come, Emmanuel and free us from the burdens that hold us captive. Grant that we might live as a people free to joyfully follow you and love one another. May we sift through the empty promises and glitzy, tinsel laced facades of this season in order to truly find you – coming among us in poverty and obscurity as a light that shines in the darkest places in our world. Save us to be a people who live in hopeful and humble expectation for your coming. Grant that we may not be lured into notions of exceptionalism, superiority, or arrogance just because we dare to call ourselves Christian this season. Lead us down the humble road to Bethlehem that we might find you in a manger – cold, fragile, vulnerable, truly human, yet truly God in human flesh.

We pray all of this in the hope of your coming Messiah, Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

May your Advent be a time where you find hope in waiting. And may your waiting be met tomorrow and the next day in the coming of God’s own Messiah.

Where Does the Church Fit at Christmas?

St. Edmunds Church Dolton, Devon England

St. Edmunds Church
Dolton, Devon England

I know it sounds like a crazy question, but where does the Church fit into the Christmas season?

On the one hand, we can be the people who get all fired up and crazy whenever people take nativity scenes off of public squares or tell us, “Happy Holidays,” when we’re out shopping. We can commit ourselves to fighting an imaginary “war on Christmas” and seek to snuff out any hints religious diversity during the season (never mind the fact that we do so while also observing pagan rituals like putting trees up in our homes, offices, and churches). We can get our blood pressure up anytime we see someone write “Xmas” instead of Christmas and accuse them of somehow “leaving the Christ out of Christmas” (never mind the fact that X is the Greek reference to how you spell Christ). Yes, we can spend the whole season with a burr in our saddle over the encroaching threat we perceive happening to the spirit and meaning of the season.

On the other hand, we can be the kind of people who gripe about the over-commercialization of the season and how Christmas has successfully swallowed up any notion of Advent and even Thanksgiving. For all we know the mammoth consumer holiday might have Halloween in its sights next. We can complain about how consumerism and secularism has ruined what should be a perfectly solemn season. And we can dig our heels in whenever people tire of singing Advent hymns by the middle of December and start requesting the carols they’ve heard 24 hours a day since November 1st. We can throw Rudolph, the Elf on the Shelf, and even Santa under the bus as we try to usher in the season of Advent and Christmas as the season of peace on earth and goodwill toward others.

But what if there’s a different, less antagonistic place for the Church?

What if instead of complaining, we welcomed the idea of being pushed out of the center of the culture? What if instead of being antagonistic and vowing to wage war on anyone who dares to question the superiority of Christmas, we humbly and faithfully found our place on the margins of the season? You see, when you get pushed out of the center of Main Street in society, you’re able to find those who are also struggling to find their place in this season. While the world is marching toward yet another tinsel-stuffed, holly, jolly exercise in indulgence, the Church could be seeking out the people and circumstances that don’t quite fit into a Norman Rockwell scene. We can look in the dark places that might otherwise go unnoticed this season to find those who long for hope. And we can offer them a story and a witness to the sheer power of what “God with us” truly means.

I will be reminded over these next 7 days that the miracle of the real nativity did not happen on Main Street with fanfare, public displays of affection, or joyful adherence from the culture. It happened in the throes of terrible labor pains and a baby crying at the top of his lungs. It happened in the darkness of the night where some farm animals and peasants were the only witnesses. The religious people might have missed it but those we would call secular didn’t. How could they? Angels chose them to be the recipients of the heavenly news.

I suppose that’s the funny thing about this season — God chooses the most surprising people from the most unexpected places to be a part of the story. While the rest of us wage wars on secularism or religious diversity, God is busy in the dark places calling those who might otherwise go unnoticed to be a part of the miracle. And if we’re smart in the Church, we’ll find ways to be in those dark places too and we’ll quit our fighting with, well, everything. Lord knows we don’t want to miss out on God’s surprising work among us.

Christmas Eve Liturgy 2013

christmascandleWell it’s that time of year for pastors. Somewhere in the chaos of parties and special events you have to find time to plan multiple worship services. With Christmas Eve on a Monday this year it makes for a lot of printing to be done this week. For those who are still looking for liturgy for Christmas Eve, I wanted to share some liturgy we’ll be using in our Christmas Eve service this year at Mulberry. – See more at: http://mastersdust.com/2012/12/#sthash.F2IpAx39.dpuf

Opening Prayer

O God our Father, you have brought us again to the glad season when we celebrate the birth of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant that his Spirit may be born anew in our hearts this day and that we may joyfully welcome him to reign over us. Open our ears that we may hear again the angelic chorus of old. Open our lips that we, too, may sing with uplifted hearts. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward all; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lighting of the Christ Candle

Good news! Good news! Our hopes and fears and all of years have met in this place tonight. And we have beheld the glory of the coming of God’s Messiah. Sing for joy! Salvation has come!

Light the Christ Candle

We light the Christ candle as a sign to the world that today, in the City of David, a Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord. We no longer have to fear the darkness for our Light has come.

Glory to God in the highest heaven! And on earth, peace to all of God’s children! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.
Invitation to the Table

Christ our Lord invites all – all who wait for the coming of Emmanuel with hopeful expectation; all who repent of their sin; all who long for peace on earth. Let that peace begin with us as we confess our sins together.

Confession and Assurance of Pardon

When we allow darkness to overcome the light,

forgive us, Lord.

When we reduce Christmas to plastic and tinsel,

have mercy on us, Father.

When hardness of heart keeps us from seeing

and hearing and touching the needs of others,

 let your grace consume us, O God.

When the wars around us are of no concern,

forgive us, Lord, and move us to compassion

        for those who suffer.

When our caring is not extended to action,

move us to seek justice for our brothers and sisters.

We come to confess our sinfulness

      before you and before each other.

Remove all barriers that divide us,

      and let there be no obstacle to our love for you

      and for one another. Amen.

All pray in silence.

People of God, through the coming of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate, the Lord has comforted and redeemed us!

Recall the words of the angels: Good news…Great joy…All people…

In Christ we receive the salvation of our God. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Glory to God in the highest!



May the peace of Christ be with you all both this night and forevermore.

Alleluia! Amen.

Just a quick note: If you offer a morning or midday service, why not instead of singing “Silent Night” you sing “Joy to the World”? Context is important and it is a bit awkward to sing about what a holy night it is at 11 in the morning.

Also, here’s a poem we’ll read this year. I’m a big, big fan of incorporating poetry into corporate worship and this is a real gem from Madeleine L’Engle

“First Coming”

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.

In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

I hope this series of worship planning ideas have helped your planning this season. Most of all, I hope through the singing and praying and preaching and sharing of the bread and cup you have experienced and helped others experience the power and grace of Emmanuel, God with us.

Advent Week 4 Worship Planning

AdventIt’s hard to believe we’re almost to the end of Advent in our worship planning. Below are some ideas for Advent 4 (Dec. 22). As always, feel free to use and/or adapt these ideas as needed for your context. Also, if you have not done so already, introduce some Christmas carols on this Sunday. A great practice is to sing the 3rd verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as an introduction to the time of morning prayer.




Lighting of the Advent Wreath

Do not be afraid, salvation is at hand.

God is about to do a mighty thing.

Joseph’s dream of God’s promise

will soon be our reality.

God’s promised Messiah will be none other than Emmanuel,

God with us.

We light the fourth Advent candle

in hope of the coming of Emmanuel,

God in the flesh.

God’s healing of human brokenness

comes by way of God taking on human flesh.

Light the candle

Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.

Opening Prayer

Holy God, with expectant hearts we your people await Christ’s coming. As once he came in humility, so now may he come in glory, that he may make all things perfect in your everlasting kingdom. For he is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.


Go forth now having heard the good news of God in Jesus Christ. Go forth to serve God and each other. May the glory of Emmanuel, God with us, be made known in your life now and forever. Amen.

Now we are doing our annual Children’s Nativity as part of the worship service on this day so the liturgy is a bit slack. Below are some additional suggestions if your service is not as tight as ours on this day. Remember that our texts serve to bridge the gap between the hopeful waiting of Advent and the wonder of the Christmas miracle of Emmanual, God with us, coming among us.

  • Canticle of Light and Darkness (United Methodist Hymnal #205)
  • Canticle of Zechariah (United Methodist Hymnal #208)
  • A poem:

“First Coming”

by Madeliene L’Engle


He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Begin the celebration but do so slowly. The coming of the Christ-child is a miracle marked by wonder and amazement. Resist the urge as best you can to be too boisterous this week — save some anticipation and celebration for Christmas Eve. I hope your Advent continues to be a time of blessed waiting.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Nelson Mandela

nelson mandela

Merciful God,

Author of salvation, Giver of every gracious gift,

we give thanks for the life and witness of your servant, Nelson Mandela.

His quest for freedom was was a witness to your saving power in our world

— a power that can break the shackles of sin and oppression and hatred.

And his commitment to justice gave us a glimpse of what your kingdom should look like

— a place where swords of war can actually be traded for the plowshares of peace;

a place where bitter enemies can, by your grace, become friends.

Receive your servant, Mandiba, and grant him the eternal rest of your saints.

May he rest in your mercy and rise in your glory.

And may we, your Church, follow his witness of peace and justice marked by reconciliation.

For when we do, we know we are also following the ways of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns now and forevermore. Amen.

Advent Week 2 (for those who are in crunch time)

AdventWith the holiday last week I realized that I was cutting it close for liturgy to share for Week 2 of Advent. Thanks to all who have sent notes and comments about using the material for Week 1. Just a reminder: feel free to adapt these suggestions as needed to make them as contextual as they need to be. Good and faithful worship planning will always take context very seriously.

So on to Week 2…

Lighting of the Advent Wreath

In those days a fiery preacher from the desert came to tell the people:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”

He is the one the prophet Isaiah spoke about when he said:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.”

We light the second Advent candle in preparation for the coming of the Messiah,

in anticipation of the fullness of God’s justice and righteousness,

and remembering the call of John the Baptist

to make paths straight,

repent of our sin,

and live holy lives devoted to God.

Light the candle

Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.


Opening Prayer

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Let us pray.

Merciful God,

you sent your messenger the prophets

to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation.

Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,

that we may celebrate aright the commemoration of the nativity,

and may await with joy

the coming in glory of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

One God, for ever and ever. Amen. (United Methodist Hymnal #201)



Go forth from this place having seen and heard the promises of God –

the kingdom of God is near;

paths shall be made straight;

hope will come from his righteousness.

Go forth as instruments of peace and reconciliation

repenting of your sin and committed anew to sharing a life of holiness

with all people. Amen.

We have two baptisms during our service so this week is a little lighter in unique Advent material. Also, next week we have our major choir work for the season. So I’ll be sure to get Advent Week 4 and Christmas Eve out early.

Continued Advent blessings!


Why a Service of the Longest Night?

Candles Burning in Dark ChurchThe Christmas season is often marked by expressions of joy, excitement, and happiness. It’s a time for family to gather and for churches to worship pointing to the hope that is found in the coming of the Christ child. However, this time of joy and expectation can often overshadow the pain and hurt many experience during this season, when the world’s merriment puts their grief and sorrow in start relief.

One of the greatest acts of pastoral care in the Advent season is to offer a service known as a Service of the Longest Night. It’s a worship service scheduled around the winter solstice (the longest night of the calendar year) and it just happens to fall on or around December 21st every year. As Dan Benedict notes: “it is also the traditional feast day for Saint Thomas the Apostle. This linkage invites making some connections between Thomas’s struggle to believe the tale of Jesus’ resurrection, the long nights just before Christmas, and the struggle with darkness and grief faced by those living with loss.”

Author Taylor Caldwell writes, “I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”

This season is still the time God chooses to bring the world’s greatest hope into the very darkness of life that can seemingly weigh us down every day. There is, indeed, hope for those who live in darkness. But part of being encountered by that hope is telling the truth about those moments when we feel nothing but hopelessness. Maybe this year isn’t your year of feeling hopeless — maybe you’re ready for a holly jolly Christmas with all of the trimmings. But being Christian means thinking of others besides yourself. And being a Christian during Advent means being willing to stand in the darkness with others because that’s where Emmanuel promises to show up first. While Advent for many churches is little more than a pre-Christmas celebration with festive traditions and rituals, the Service of the Longest Night gives space for the real meaning of Advent — our saving hope promises to come as a light that our darkest moments cannot conquer.

Below is our order of worship for the Service of the Longest Night to be held on Sunday, Dec. 22nd at 5pm:


Words of Welcome

Call to Worship

            Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who labor

                  and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

            And so we invite each other to this time of peaceful worship.

            Flee for a while from your tasks;

            Hide yourself for a little space from

                  the turmoil of your thoughts.

            Come, cast aside your burdensome cares

                  and put aside your laborious pursuits.

            Give your time to God, and rest in God for a little while.

* Hymn No. 211

             “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”         (stanzas 1, 2, 6 and 7)


   A Liturgy of Remembering and Lighting of the Advent Wreath

            This first candle we light to remember

                  those whom we have loved and lost.

            We remember their name, their face, their voice,

                  the memory that binds them to us in this season.

            May God’s eternal love surround them.

            This second candle we light to redeem the pain of loss;

                  the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs,

                  the loss of health.

            We gather up the pain of the past and offer it to God,

                  asking that from God’s hands we receive the gift of peace.

            Refresh, restore, renew us O God,

                  and lead us into your future.

            This third candle we light to remember ourselves this Advent.

            We remember these past weeks and months;

                  the disbelief, the anger, the poignancy of reminiscing,

                  the hugs and handshakes of family and friends,

                  all those who stood with us.

            We give thanks for all the support we have known.

            Let us remember that dawn defeats darkness.

            This fourth candle we light to remember our faith

                  and the gift of hope which the Christmas story offers to us.

            We remember that God who shares our life promises us

                  a place and time of no more pain and suffering.

            Let us remember the one who shows the way,

                  who brings the truth and who bears the light.


   Act of Praise  

            “We Shall Walk Through the Valley”             arr. Burroughs


   Responsive Reading from the Old Testament                  Psalm 121

            I will lift up mine eyes to the hills.

            From where does my help come?

            My help comes from God who made heaven and earth.

            God will not suffer your foot to be moved.

            The one who keeps you will not slumber.

            Behold the one who keeps Israel shall not slumber or sleep.

            The Holy one is your keeper.

            The Holy one is your shade on your right hand.

            The sun shall not hurt you by day nor the moon by night.

            Our God shall preserve you from evil

                  and shall preserve your soul.

            Our God shall preserve your going out and your coming in

                  from this time forth and even for evermore.


* Reading from the Gospel                                                John 1:1-5


   Meditation                                                             Rev. Ben Gosden


   Hymn No. 230

            “O Little Town of Bethlehem”                              (Stanzas 1 & 4)


   Invitation to the Table 

            Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,

                     who earnestly repent of their sin

                     and seek to live in peace with one another.

Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.


    Confession and Pardon

         Merciful God,

            we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.

            We have failed to be an obedient church.

            We have not done your will, we have broken your law,

            we have rebelled against your love, 

            we have not loved our neighbors,

            and we have not heard the cry of the needy.

            Forgive us, we pray. 

            Free us for joyful obedience,

            through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

            Hear the good news:

            Christ died for us while we were yet sinners;

                     that proves God’s love for us.

            In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

            In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

            Glory to God.  Amen.

   The Peace

            Let us offer one another signs of reconciliation and love.


   The Great Thanksgiving

            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.


            O God, you created the universe with a shout of joy,

                  a word of delight, and a big bang.

            You made gravity holes and antimatter,

                  swirling electrons and dancing quarks,

                  shooting stars and sapphire blue planets.

            You filled the ocean with clown fish and sharks,

                  with dolphins and killer whales.

            You filled the air with doves and hawks

                  songbirds and hummingbirds.

            You covered the land with shimmering aspen

                  and weathered pine.

            And You blessed all the children of the earth

                  every shape and size, every color and complexion,

                  every makeup and mood, every style and substance.

            When we walk through sorrow and chaos,

                  You are with us.

            When we live through moments of war and acts of terror,

                  You walk with us.

            When we face death and loss, loneliness and grief,

                  you stand with us and finally lead us home to you.

            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 the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

            Hosanna in the highest.


            In the right time, in the fullness of your time,

            In the nick of time, you sent your Son to bring us back to life.

            He opened a window into your new creation.

            He showed us a vision of your way:

                  where every child has enough to eat,

                  and can sleep safely all through the night,

                  where every graveyard is a front porch of heaven,

                  where the untouchable and unloveable

                        are given the seats of honor,                                      

                  where tears of mourning become tears of laughter,

                  where grievous wrongs and horrid suffering

                        are made right and fair,

                  where children hunt Easter eggs on playgrounds

                        made from battlefields,

                  and where everyone is welcomed and loved.


            And so,

                  on the night in which he gave himself up for us,

                  Jesus 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 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.”


            And so,

                  in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,

                  we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving

                  as a holy and living sacrifice,

                  in union with Christ’s offering for us,

                  as we proclaim the mystery of 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.


            Renew our communion with all your saints,

                  especially those who now live with you.

            Since you have refreshed our souls from the waters of life,

            Help us refresh and renew others.

            Since you have given us strength for the journey.

            Help us to strengthen others on their journey.


            Send your Spirit to renew our faith and transform our souls

            So that we may hear your music,

            Work for justice, delight in heavenly food,

            And strengthen one another in love and grace.

            Thanks to be God.  Amen.


   Giving the Bread and Cup


* Hymn No. 218

            “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”


* Benediction

Go forth into the world in the loving strength of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Go forth to serve God and your neighbor in all that you do.

And may the peace of Christ surround you and enfold you this night and forevermore. Amen.


**Great Thanksgiving: Copyright © 2001, 2002 Mark Wiley. Reprinted with permission.

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