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Hanging of the Christmas Green
A Service for the Beginning of Advent
(Liturgical Format)

Monte Nabors and Kelly Yates
with additions by Dennis Bratcher
Liturgical Format by Robin Stephenson-Bratcher

[This service was specifically written for a church in the United States, but could be adapted into other contexts. The sections assigned to each reader will have to be adjusted if parts of the service are omitted.  Several readers can be used as well.]

This service is written for a more liturgical Protestant service of worship.  For a more traditional evangelical Protestant form of this same service, see Hanging of the Christmas Green

Power Point Background Slides for this Service

(* = Congregation standing)

The Call to Celebration

Note: These readings assume the First Sunday of Advent; if the service is used at other times, appropriate Lectionary readings should be used. See Index of Revised Common Lectionary Readings.

(Optional) Psalm Reading:

Year A - Psalm 122

Year B - Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Year C - Psalm 25:1-10

(Responsive Reading based on John 1:5 and Eph. 3:21)

*Leader: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!

*People:  And also with you!

*Leader:  Christ has come! Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!

*People: This is the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ!

*Leader:   When we look at the world around us, we see the darkness of war, captivity, greed, and broken relationships.

*People: We long for Christ to come again and bring light to our world.

*Leader:  The Word of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ lives among us, bringing truth and light as a present reality.

*All: We worship as those who have a glimpse of that reality, and we long for its fullness. We are those who labor to make Christ's light more visible on earth. Let us praise God, that the light of Christ shines on in the darkness, which has never overcome it. To God be the glory in Jesus Christ and in the church forever and ever.  Amen.

*Opening Prayer

*Minister: Our Father, we long for the simple beauty of Christmas – for all the old familiar melodies, words, and symbols that remind us of that great miracle when He who had made all things came one night as a babe, to lie in the crook of a woman’s arm.  But in that longing, let us even more yearn for your renewed presence among us even as we celebrate and expect the Coming of your Son.

Before such mystery we kneel, as we follow the shepherds and Wise Men to bring You the gift of our love – a love we confess has not always been as warm or sincere or real as it should have been. Now, as we enter into this Advent Season, we pray that love would find its Beloved, and from You receive the grace to make it pure again, warm and real.

We bring You our gratitude for every token of Your love, for all the ways You have heaped blessings upon us during the years that have gone. And we do pray, Lord Jesus, that as we begin this four-week journey of expectation and hope, we may do it in a manner well pleasing to You. May all we do and say, every tribute of our hearts, bring honor to Your name, that we, Your people, may remember Your birth and feel Your presence among us even yet.

May the loving kindness of this Advent Season and the true Spirit of Christmas not only creep into our hearts this season, but there abide, so that not even the return to earthly cares and responsibilities, not all the festivities of our own devising may cause it to creep away weeping. May the joy and spirit of Christmas remain with us now and forever. In the name of Jesus, who came to save His people from their sins, even in that lovely name we pray. Amen. [Adapted from a prayer for Christmas by Peter Marshall]

The Meaning of the Service (Reader #1)

We begin the Christian Year by celebrating the Holy Season known as Advent. It is a time when we prepare ourselves for the coming of our Messiah. Advent means "Coming." We celebrate these days of Advent in expectation and preparation for Christ's arrival.

Through the centuries, Christians have observed a time of waiting and expectation before celebrating the birth of the Savior at Christmas. The Advent season is a time for reflection and preparation, but its mood is joyful. Advent has been enriched by Christian tradition to reflect its distinctive Christian meaning. It proclaims the revelation of God's love as expressed in Christ's birth in a humble stable, His sacrificial death on the cross, and His victorious resurrection! It points to the hope of Christ's coming again as the King of kings and Lord of Lords. Advent makes innkeepers out of all of us, asking each of us to make room for the arrival of Christ The King. Let us, today, prepare Him room in our hearts, our lives, and our homes!

Congregational Song: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Christmas In America (Reader #2)

[Note: This section can be omitted or adapted for international contexts.]

A star in the sky, carols in the evening air, a candle in the window, a wreath on the door, mistletoe hung high, poinsettias aflame with brilliant color, gifts beneath a lighted tree, friends around the holiday table, families reunited in love, church bells ringing ... This is Christmas in America!

Though similar to Christmas celebrations in other countries, America has its own traditions and flare.  Rich treasures of custom and tradition, woven into a pattern with our own country's threads, giving to us the colorful pageantry of our Christmas celebration.

Lessons of Christmas (Reader #1)

Let us listen to the lessons of the years and the centuries, not just to impressions of the moment. The images of the present in the biblical story are often discouraging - war, hate, famine, epidemics, a Caesar on his throne, a Paul in prison, Christians being persecuted. But now, after the centuries, the Caesar is gone; Paul is a symbol of Faith; and Jesus, the Truth and the Light, is reaching out to every nation!

Let us, through the great traditions of our Faith, join with the shepherds of Bethlehem, the wise men from the east, and the seekers throughout the ages, to welcome the One who came at Christmas. Let us at Christmastide bring our gifts to Him, and may the message of our songs be "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, Peace and goodwill to peoples everywhere."

Congregational Song: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing!

The Sanctuary Evergreens (Reader #1)

The most striking and the most universal feature of Christmas is the use of evergreens in churches and homes. Among ancient Romans evergreens were an emblem of peace, joy, and victory. The early Christians placed them in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered the home. Holly and ivy, along with pine, and fir are called evergreens because they never change color. They are ever - green, ever - alive, even in the midst of winter. They symbolize the unchanging nature of our God, and they remind us of the everlasting life that is ours through Christ Jesus.

Under Christian thought and sentiment, holly became widely used in church celebrations. Holly was considered as the burning bush, or a symbol of Mary whose being glows with the Holy Spirit. The red berries represented the blood drops from the cruel thorns in the crown of Jesus.

In Isaiah 60:13 we find these words: "The Glory of Lebanon shall come unto you, the fir tree, the pine tree and the box together, to beautify the place of your sanctuary."

Our forefathers called the procuring of these evergreens, "Bringing home Christmas!"

Alternate: If there is no sanctuary Christmas Tree, or time is limited, the song Go, Tell It On The Mountains and "The Christmas Tree" reading can be skipped, and the sanctuary green hung following this:

Today, the Christmas tree is the center of our festivities. Glittering with lights and ornaments, it is a part of the beauty and meaning of Christmas.

Instrumental, Solo, or Group Special Music: Go, Tell It On The Mountains
  
    Alternate, if not using "The Christmas Tree" reading:  O Christmas Tree

Action: While the song is being sung, the evergreens on the side walls and front are hung, and any other evergreens are put in place.

The Christmas Tree (Reader # 2)

Today, the Christmas tree is the center of our festivities. Glittering with lights and ornaments, it is a part of the beauty and meaning of Christmas. There are several legends and stories about the Christmas tree.

The first use of the Christmas tree was in the medieval German Paradise Plays, held outdoors and portraying the creation of humankind. The Tree of Life was a fir tree decorated with apples. Later other ornaments were hung upon them, such as paper flowers and gilded nuts. In England branches or whole trees were forced into bloom indoors for Christmas. From these beginnings the use of a tree at Christmas was established. Martin Luther was perhaps the first to use a lighted tree.

The story is told that on one Christmas Eve Martin Luther wandered outdoors and became enraptured with the beauty of the starry sky. Its brilliance and loveliness led him to reflect on the glory of the first Christmas Eve as seen in Bethlehem's radiant skies. Wishing to share with his wife and children the enchantment he had felt, he cut from the forest an evergreen, glistening with snow, and took it home. He placed upon it candles to represent the glorious heavens he had seen. The use of a candle-lighted tree spread to all Europe, then America came to regard it as the central ornament of Christmas.

Special Music: O Christmas Tree
     Alternate, if not used earlier:  Go, Tell It On The Mountains

Action: The tree is decorated as "O Christmas Tree" is sung. The piano and organist play after the special until the tree is decorated. After the decorations have been placed on the tree, the lights are turned on.

The Christmas Poinsettia (Reader # 1)

Most Christmas greenery reflects European traditions. But one colorful plant, which looks like a flaming star, the poinsettia, is a native to the American continent. It was named after Dr. Joel Robert Poinset, an ambassador to Mexico who first introduced it to the United States in 1828. The people of Mexico and Central America call the brilliant tropical plant the "Flower of the Holy Night." The Poinsettia is a many-pointed star that has become a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.

Special Music: I Wonder As I Wander

Action: As the song is sung the flowers are put into place around the front of the church.

The Written Word for Us Today

Note: These readings assume the First Sunday of Advent; if the service is used at other times, appropriate Lectionary readings should be used. See Index of Revised Common Lectionary Readings.

[Optional Song: Ancient Words]

All: You have been faithful to us through the years.  May your word teach us today how to continue to be faithful to you.  Amen.

Old Testament Reading

Year A - Isaiah 2:1-5

Year B - Isaiah 64:1-9

Year C - Jeremiah 33:14-16

Epistle Reading (may be omitted if Hebrews is used at the beginning of the service):

Year A - Romans 13:11-14

Year B - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Year C - 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

*Minister: Let us stand and respond to the Written Word, and remain standing for the reading of the Gospel.

Action: Everyone stands.

*Scripture Response (Sung, Hyfrydol tune)

*All: Alleluia!  Praise Christ Jesus for the Gospel’s welcome sound, which by faith in Jesus frees us in the Spirit to abound.  God’s dear children, we inherit God’s free gift which sets us free.  Alleluia!  By the Spirit let us live in liberty.

*Gospel Reading:

*Year A - Matthew 3:1-12

*Year B - Mark 13:24-37

*Year C - Luke 21:25-36

*Reader: This is the Word of the Lord.

*People’s Response: Thanks be to God.

Action: People are seated.

The Paraments and Advent Colors (Reader # 2)

Both visual and performing arts have always been important ways to communicate the Christian faith. The use of music has helped believers understand their Godly hope. Other forms of visual art have been used from the beginning to help express various aspects of Christian doctrine and life.

Colors, altar paraments or coverings, and banners are some of the most important visual ways Christians have used to express their faith in worship. The objective in covering the Communion Table with cloths of various colors was to help focus the attention of worshippers on the special nature of Christ as the Perfect Sacrifice. In the early days of Christian worship, Advent and Christmas were seen as a somber time, much like Lent is today. Purple table coverings were used to speak of Christ's Kingship, but the mood was somber.

As Christians began to share their celebration of Christmas with their non-Christian neighbors they began to focus on the joy of the Christmas event. As the emphasis of Christmas began to change to one of joyful celebration the color used also changed to express Christ the King in that more happy way. While purple is still used in some churches and at certain times, many Christian churches now use blue to speak of the Kingship of Christ when the occasion is joyful. At Advent we wait with anticipation and celebration for our coming Christ.  At Advent we wait with anticipation and celebration for our coming Christ… so our hearts sing out, "O Come Emmanuel!" [optional: . . . so we use a blue altar table covering (or banners) inscribed with the words, "O Come Emmanuel!"]

Congregational Song (standing): O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Action: If this service is on the first Sunday of Advent, the coverings used for Ordinary Time or Kingdomtide are removed and replaced with the coverings for Advent. If this service is after the first Sunday of Advent, the coverings will already be in place, so simply drawing attention to the coverings is appropriate. (See The Colors of Advent and The Meaning of Church Colors)

The Advent Candles (Reader # 1)

Advent is a time of expectation, and this is symbolized, not only by the four-week period of preparation, but also by the lighting of an Advent Candle on each Sunday of the season. The flame of each new candle reminds us, the worshipers, that something is happening, and something more is still to come.

Action: If the altar table coverings are newly placed, the Advent wreath and candles should now be placed on the table. If the paraments are already in place, or if it is past the first Sunday of Advent, the wreath and candles should already be on the table. It is helpful for the reader to stand by the wreath as the various features are pointed out. If families are used to light the Advent candles during this season, this reading can be divided up between family members with children participating.

The candles are arranged in a circle to remind us of the continuous power of God, which knows neither beginning nor ending. There is also symbolism in the colors of the candles. The three blue [purple] candles symbolize the coming of Christ from the royal line of David. He is coming as the King of Kings as well as the Prince of Peace. The pink [rose] candle is to be lighted on the third [fourth] Sunday of the Advent season. This candle represents joy. The large white candle in the center is known as the Christ candle, and points to Jesus as the Christ, the Light of the world.

A progression is noted in the lighting of the candles of the Advent wreath each Sunday. Each candle symbolizes various aspects of our waiting experience. For us this year we are focusing on four ideas of the Christmas event: Prophecy, Prepare, Rejoice, and Proclaim.* The culmination of the season comes as we light the Christ Candle on Christmas Sunday evening. We join in rejoicing that the promise of long ago has been fulfilled.

[*Different sequences of themes can be used in different years. see The Advent Wreath]

[Optional Special Music: Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne]

Action: If this is the First Sunday of Advent or during the week following, as the song is sung, light one of the blue [purple] candles. If it is the Second Sunday of Advent or later, light the appropriate number of candles for the week of Advent.

The Nativity (Reader # 2)

One of the most heart-warming expressions of Christmas is the Nativity. The Nativity speaks of the mystery of God's wisdom. Why God chose to send his son into our world as a baby of humble birth, born in common surroundings, we do not know. What we do know is that God reached out to all people including the poor and wealthy, the simple and the wise, the powerless and the powerful. All who found him knelt in humility before him. Knowing God is possible because he came to us, at our level. Whenever we see a Nativity we find ourselves with Mary and Joseph; with the Shepherds, and with the Wise Men; bowing before the manger, overwhelmed by God's expression of love in coming to us.

Today we display a Nativity in our sanctuary, and outside in the front of our church building.

[Conclusion can be adapted to local circumstances.]

Alternate, if using a sequence of services during the four Sundays in which pieces of the Nativity or Crèche are added to the manger scene each Sunday:  Our last Sunday of Advent we will explore the depth of the symbolism of our Nativity. Today however, we display only part of the Nativity… and each week more will be revealed as the story unfolds.  Christmas Eve will bring Jesus to the manger as we celebrate his birth and glory. [See Service of the Nativity]

Congregational Song: O Little Town of Bethlehem, verses 1, 3

Action: As the song is sung the Nativity light is turned on. (See A Service of the Nativity for Christmas)

The Gifts of Christmas (Reader # 1)

From the beginning of Christmas celebrations, gift giving has been a part of the season. The Wise Men gave out of their treasures, and the Shepherds gave of themselves. Both express the Gift of God in giving Christ as the Savior of the World.

Unique in our history of generous givers is the story of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycia in the fourth century A.D. He is reputed to have been wealthy, his emblem being three purses and three golden balls. This was the symbol of rich Italian families of his time. It survives today in the signs of some of our pawnshops. The good Bishop gave his money away secretly to those whom he found in need. He was deeply interested in young people, giving his wealth especially to maidens whose lack of a dowry was affecting their matrimonial future, and to needy boys. Gifts coming from unknown sources were commonly attributed to him and parents customarily gave him credit for their gifts to their children.

The discovery of his generosity is said to have been made by the father of three dowry-less daughters. The eldest two each received from the chimney on successive nights a substantial gift of gold with her name on it. The father resolved to watch and see who their generous benefactor could be. His vigil revealed the good Saint Nicholas as the donor of the gifts. His name survives today as the human embodiment of unselfish giving.

Hanging up our stockings in pleasant anticipation of Santa's gifts may have originated from the fact that the maidens of this Bishopric of Myra, needing and expecting a dowry from the good Saint Nicholas, suspended a stocking to catch the money purse the generous Bishop was sure to drop down the chimney.

Congregational Song: We Three Kings, verses 1, 2
   Alternate: Men's Trio

Action: While the song is sung, children bring gifts wrapped, and place them under the tree.

Christmas Caroling (Reader # 1)

The actual origin of caroling as a part of the Christmas celebration is really unknown. Several countries have claimed to be the birthplace of the custom. From the first, music of some kind was a part of the church festivals in honor of the birth of Jesus. We know that caroling existed in Germany in the 15th century because Martin Luther wrote that when Christmas was celebrated he went with others from house to house and village to village singing popular Christmas carols. We could safely assume that caroling was first done by the Choir of Angels who sang, "Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace and good will to all people."

Congregational Song led by Caroling Group: Angels We Have Heard on High

Action:  A group of carolers walks around the church greeting people as they lead the song.

The Christ Of Christmas (Reader #1)

The greatest Gift of Christmas is the Gift of God in Christ Jesus. All that we do at this Holy Season points to that expression of Holy Love. Christ came as a babe in Bethlehem, God's gift at Christmas. In that gift is life, hope, and a future, reconciliation between God and all of us too often wayward human beings.

Confession and Forgiveness

Minister: The day of the Lord is coming soon. The signs have been fulfilled.

People: But who can abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

Minister: Lest that Day surprise us unawares, let us confess our sins to God our Father, imploring his forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ, who will soon come as Judge and King.

Action:  Silence for meditation and self-examination..

Minister: Most merciful God,

People: We long for your coming, O God.  But we are often unprepared for you to come, because we have not always lived as your people. Many times in our lives, we have disobeyed your will. We have not always done what we should have done. Sometimes we have done what we should not have done.  Sometimes we have failed and sinned. We implore your forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ, and seek the power of your Holy Spirit to restore our faith.

Minister: He who is coming has come, born among us to live our life and die our death, and guarantee our resurrection. For his sake I proclaim to you forgiveness of sin and transformation through Jesus Christ. The gifts of the Lord are yours in great abundance.

People: Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Passing the Peace of Christ

Minister: Let the people show signs of grace and friendliness: Peace be with you.

People: And also with you

Our Tithes and Offerings

Response - ALL: [Doxology]

Eucharist

[Eucharistic liturgy as appropriate.]

Response

Response - ALL: Our ears have heard the words of your prophet, O God.  Our spirits have responded to the call--"PREPARE!"  And the roadwork has begun. A highway is being laid in our hearts! We accept these gifts of bread and wine as a sign of our commitment to being prepared for you today. Our hearts are ready for you!  Amen.

The Blessing

Minister: Now may the God who has called us to live in hope and expectation, go with you as you journey in Faith toward that new future created by God’s love that has dwelt, and continues to dwell among us and in us. Go, in His grace and in His peace.

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2013, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved
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