Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.” But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.” – Luke 1:18-20 (The Message)
With Christmas Day 2016 falling on a Sunday, this year’s calendar sets up for the longest possible Advent (not a single entry left unread in my Christmas devotional book!).
In consequence, at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church we’ve set aside the traditional “Hope, Peace, Love, Joy” breakdown of December, and replaced it with a five-Sunday, six-part outline that takes us all the way to worship on Christmas Day:
- November 27 …… The Gift of Anticipation
- December 4 …….. The Gift of Patience
- December 11 ……. The Gift of Hope
- December 18 ……. The Gift of Revelation
- Christmas Eve …. The Gift of Joy (3 worship opportunities)
- Christmas Day…. The Gift of Proclamation
Six worship experiences with distinct themes, all designed to help us to negotiate this Advent Journey without losing sight of God’s fundamental purpose in sending Jesus.
To quote one of my favorite passages, “Jesus didn’t come to shop. Christ came – how did he put it? To preach good news to the poor… proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” (In My Heart I Carry A Star – Enough Already With the Christmas Wars).
So I’d like to offer this framework to regular readers and visitors alike. It’s still November, but there is a sense of anticipation in the air, an undercurrent of promise that was set up, beautifully, around each of our family tables at Thanksgiving. It’s especially appropriate this year, because there’s a buzz around our church too, a growing understanding that God is up to something unique and special around here.
Rebekah may still be stuck at home, recovering, but yesterday I was at worship, both 9:00 and 11:00. It was my turn to assist in the litany, so I’ll close today’s blog by sharing the prayers I prepared. The first came at the opening of worship, an prayer of praise and adoration, and the second came in response to receiving the offering, a prayer of dedication.
- Prayer of Praise and Adoration: Here we are Lord, a room full of disciples gathered for worship on another stunning, spectacular, splendid, sun-soaked fall morning. What a privilege this is! What a joy! What a beautiful celebration of your goodness and love! Not just another Sunday, but the first Sunday of Advent – the season of promise, preparation, anticipation, hope, and expectation. The prophets waited generations for the coming of the King, but we only have to be patient a few more weeks! Wake Forest Presbyterian Church stands before you, Lord, humbled by your love for us; and we stand encouraged by the fact that you consider us worthy to enter your house. Not because of anything we have achieved, or earned, but because we know Jesus, and your son has made the introductions! So we open this hour of worship with adoration, with wonder, with expectation, and with hearts full to overflowing. Continue to fill us, we pray, teach us your good word, and equip us to serve you in every conceivable way. We ask all this in confidence, knowing how much you love us – Amen!
- Payer of Dedication (immediately following the anthem): We bring our voices, Lord; we bring our joy; we bring our treasure, we bring ourselves. And we continue to raise our hands in a spirit of gratitude, Lord, as we did when we gathered around tables of plenty earlier this week – feasting with tens of millions of Americans, celebrating the blessing of living in this bountiful land. We call it “Thanksgiving” because we understand the importance of cultivating grateful hearts. We have so much, Lord, we want for so little, and we can hardly contain our wonder at your generous love. So we offer these tokens of our gratitude to you, giver of all good gifts. We pray that our generosity meets your standard, that these tithes reflect our serious attention to your vision for this church, and that our offerings show real commitment to your initiatives of grace. We are so grateful, and we are so blessed – Amen….
In anticipation, promise, and joy – DEREK