Emmanuel God with Us
Call to Worship (from Isaiah 2)
Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.
During this Advent season, let us learn of God’s ways and walk in God’s paths.
Let us seek the well-being of all creation.
*Hymn: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” CCS 27 OR “Look at this Man, Born of God” CCS 26
Narration: Decorating the Sanctuary
Why do we do this? What does it mean? During the Advent season we prepare for the One who has come, whom we expect to come, and who will come again. We prepare our hearts and make room for the Messiah. In the hanging of the greens we share with Christians throughout the ages the memory and anticipation of Christ’s coming. We decorate our church with the symbols of love, joy, hope, and peace. Why do we do this? To tell the story again and then proclaim: Jesus is born. God is with us!
Hymn: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” CCS 394 OR “People Look East” CCS 395
Narration: The Advent Wreath
(Place the wreath and the candles.)
This simple circle of evergreen branches testifies of the continuation of life and life without end. The four candles encircle the Christ candle to signify God’s Son as the light of the world. The four candles represent the four weeks in Advent. Each Sunday we will light a candle and on Christmas Eve the Christ candle will be lit. With increasing brightness from the candles, we experience the Light of the world and find hope in the coming of Jesus.
Hymn: “All the Earth is Hopeful” CCS 392 OR God Almighty, We Are Waiting” CCS 397
Narration: The Greens
(Place garlands and boughs as decoration.)
The Advent custom of decorating with evergreen branches comes to us from the peasants of the Middle Ages who believed that preparations should be made for the coming of Jesus. On the first Sunday of Advent, each family would gather evergreens and place them near the hearth in their home. We continue that tradition by hanging the greens in our congregational home, this sanctuary. The evergreen reminds us of God’s abiding love in Jesus Christ and of our eternal relationship with God.
Hymn: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” CCS 423 OR “Blessed Be the God of Israel” CCS 396
Narration: The Wreaths
Christmas greens point to deep, rich meanings of the season: laurel and bay symbolize victory and triumph; yew and cypress stand for eternal life; mistletoe symbolizes peace; and the prickly leaves of holly are symbols of the crown of thorns. The circle shape of the wreaths are a Christian symbol of the eternal God and eternal love, without beginning or end.
Hymn: “Comfort, Comfort Now My People” CCS 407
Narration: The Poinsettias
(Place poinsettias around the room for decoration)
The poinsettia, or “Flower of the Holy Night” as the plant is referred to in Mexico, is the most popular Advent flower. It was discovered growing wild in Mexico and was taken to North America where it was developed into the type of flower seen there today. The star-shaped center of the bloom reminds us of the star that shone on that first Christmas.
Hymn: “Silvery Star, Precious Star” CCS 419
Narration: The Créche
(Place the different parts of the manger scene during the reading and hymn.)
Possibly the best known Christmas decorating tradition is the scene of Bethlehem, where the birth took place. There was a stable filled with animals, shepherds, and angels. Mary and Joseph watched in wonder as visitors came searching for their child, baby Jesus. We set this scene before us during the Advent season as a reminder of God’s gift to us.
Hymn: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” CCS 434 OR “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” CCS 417
Narration: Emmanuel, God with Us
People say that a name is everything. Products are named to make everyone want to try them. Books are named to entice people to read them. A name with a good reputation communicates trustworthiness and quality. So what is God’s child to be named?
He could have been a Moses or a David or an Isaiah. But the name chosen was Emmanuel-God with us. It is a name that comforts in times of need and stress, strengthens in times of challenge and decision, and encourages in moments of weakness and doubt. God with us! Forever. Continually. What a great name for God’s son!
*Hymn: “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus” CCS 400
Prepare Our Church-Prepare Our Hearts
There are four Sundays in Advent. The following service outline would be ideal for an evening meeting before the first Sunday of Advent. Much of the activity prepares the sanctuary for subsequent Advent activities. This service may be an alternative to the first Sunday of Advent that appears in the main body of this resource book. The following service is timed at seventy minutes.
You may want to sing carols that are not in your hymn book. If you copy, project, or display words and music from carols and hymns not in your hymnal, apply for permission in plenty of time for their use.
In the weeks before Advent, choose leaders to organize others to prepare the following:
- Banners for the four Sundays of Advent.
- Advent wreath and five candles with candleholders. Some traditions use four pink candles and a purple center candle. Other traditions use other colors. Have a table and tablecloth prepared to hold the wreath and candles.
- Nativity scene. Choose an appropriate place to display it. Give people of various ages individual pieces as they assemble for worship. Have them bring the pieces to the designated place and assemble the scene during the service.
- Life-size manger. (Jesus is not yet in the manger.) Fill it with straw and set it up in front of the sanctuary.
- Christmas tree with lights and gift-idea decorations. Put paper decorations on the tree, with notes attached, describing a child by gender and age. Go through an agency to receive names. Include a suggested dollar amount and a date for returning a wrapped gift for that child. A member will collect all the presents and deliver them. Another option is to create decorations with clothing items: mittens, socks, and hats can be hung on the tree. You might choose to do a toy drive. During the worship service people could bring their tithes and offerings to the manger and take a decoration (with a child’s name) from the tree.
- Other decorations traditional for your congregation. If you choose, prepare special decorations to add to the Christmas tree.
Preparing Our Church—Preparing Our Hearts
Come and Praise God (15 mins.)
Welcome and Call to Worship: Psalm 134:1–2 (1 min.)
Praise in Song and Prayer (10 mins.)
Sing joyous carols and praise hymns that your congregation enjoys. Expand this section by adding more hymns, carols, and prayers if you are not using the Advent candle lighting section. Invite several children and adults to offer short prayers of thanks and joy.
*Hymn: “O Come, All Ye Faithful” (3 mins.) CCS 431 OR “Joy to the World” CCS 408
*Invocation (1 min.)
Tradition: Going to Church and Hearing the Christmas Stories (10 mins.)
Announce the Season of Advent: What’s Coming? (2 mins.)
Announce and invite people to all Advent and Christmas celebrations.
The Christmas Story: Luke 2 (3 mins.)
Worshipers bring nativity pieces to the front and create the Nativity scene. Play “Silent Night! Holy Night!” or “Away in a Manger” during this section.
Stories and Memories (5 mins.)
Ask the congregation to share what they love about Christmas.
Tradition: Decorating the Sanctuary (20 mins.)
History of the “Hanging of the Greens” (2 mins.)
Let the congregation know that the phrase “Hanging of the Greens” comes from Europe. For the northern Europeans and cultures that grew from them, green represented the color of eternal life. The greenery they decorated with came from trees that stayed green all winter. The color red represented the blood of Christ, which reminds people of the promise of eternal life. Decorations and colors may be chosen from other cultures or from your own tradition.
Hymn: “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” (3 mins.) CCS 433 OR You may prefer another traditional Christmas carol such as “Deck the Halls,” found in many books of carols.
Decorating: “Hanging of the Greens” (15 mins.)
Assemble the Advent wreath, place the candles, hang the banners, and add other decorations that you have chosen. Decorate the Christmas tree. If individuals know exactly what his/her part is and have all necessary tools and materials, this section can be accomplished in fifteen minutes. If you are not using the Advent candle lighting section, you may allow more time. Play recorded Christmas music while decorating.
Tradition: Lighting the Advent Candle (10 mins.)
The tradition of the Advent wreath and candles came from pre-Christian people in northern Europe. During their long winters, people gathered greenery, built fires, and prayed that spring and the light of the sun would return. Christians adapted this tradition to remind themselves of the light of Christ and the hope that Christ brings.
Tradition: Gift Giving (10 mins.)
Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1–5, 7–11 (2 mins.)
Bring Your Gifts to the Manger (8 mins.)
Invite the congregation to bring their gifts and tithes forward and lay them in the manger. Individuals or families may also take a decoration from the tree that describes a gift they can donate to the clothing or toy drive. Play “What Child Is This” or “We Three Kings” during this section.
Sent Forth to Celebrate (5 mins.)
Sending Forth (1 min.)
Remind the congregation to remember the reason for the season and not to get too caught up in materialism and consumerism. Ask them to make room in their hearts for the birth of the Lord Jesus and prepare to recommit themselves to being his disciples.
*Hymn: “Angels We Have Heard On High” (3 mins.) CCS 427 OR “Go Tell It On the Mountain” CCS 409
*Benediction (1 min.)
Play joyous Christmas music.