Hanging of the Christmas Green
A Service for the Beginning of Advent
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 traditional Protestant service of
worship. For a more liturgical form of this same service, see
Hanging of the Christmas Green - Liturgical
Background Slides for this Service
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
The Meaning of the Service
As we begin the Christian Year, we also celebrate 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
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
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
Congregational Song: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing!,
verses 1, 2, 3
The Sanctuary Evergreens (Reader
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
Instrumental, Solo, or Group Special Music: Go, Tell It On The Mountains
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
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
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, verses 1, 2
Action: As the song is sung the flowers are put
into place around the front of the church.
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
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!"]
[Optional Congregational Song: 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 Wreath (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 in an Advent Wreathon 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
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
[*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
Action: As the song is sung the Nativity light is
turned on. (See A Service of the Nativity for
The Gifts of Christmas (Reader #
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.
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.
The Bells of Christmas (Reader #
[optional, if a handbell choir is available]
Christmas joy naturally overflows into music. About the fourth century
A.D. bells first pealed forth in glad song at Christmas. Of all our
Christmas symbols, the bells have experienced the fewest changes. Church
bells, which have gladdened the hearts of people throughout the ages, are
said to have been originated by Bishop Paulinus of Nola in Campania,
Italy, who died in 431 A.D. From these two names has come the Latin word
for bell. Medieval peoples had a tender feeling for bells. They were
dedicated with prayers and regarded as almost living beings. Historical
bells that have rung out the glad news at Christmas are the Emperor Bell
in Moscow, the Great Bell of China at Peking, Big Ben of London, and the
Liberty Bell of Philadelphia. However, it is church bells in every
community around the world, that have found their way into each of our
Special Music with Handbells
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
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
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. As Christians
we seek to pass on our heritage to our children and to those who, by faith
in Christ, become part of the Family of God. It is through the work of the
Holy Spirit in your life and mine that the Gift goes on.
Special song: The Gift Goes On
[Optional. If Eucharist is observed, the preceding reading
can be used as an introduction or transition to Eucharist, omitting the
song, and concluding with:]
And we give thanks for that gift. Eucharist, sharing the
Communion meal together, is an act of joyful Thanksgiving. So, let
us come to the table this morning and celebrate this great gift in
remembrance through the bread and wine.
[Eucharistic liturgy as appropriate.]
O God, you have caused this world to shine with the illumination of the
true Light. You have given us your only-begotten Son to take our nature
upon Him to reveal to us your glory and grace. As you have given this gift
in love, may we receive it with joy. Grant that we, being regenerate and
made your children by adoption and grace may daily be renewed by your Holy
Spirit. Grant us, we pray, that as we have known the mystery of that Light
upon earth, so may we also reflect that light to a darkened world; through
the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the
unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
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.