Planning for Worship from December through February

Worship Planning for December through February


ADVENT SEASON
All creation groans together as we await redemption and restoration of all of life. Advent is a time to repent in preparation for a new age in which the leaves of the trees, as John the Seer depicts it in his vision of the new Jerusalem, will be “a healing for the nations” (Rev. 22:2).

Some ideas and themes that fit with this Advent season:
  • highlight the arrival of evergreens, a promise of God's continuing attention to the life of creation
  • here are examples of prayers to go with the decorating and lighting of evergreens
  • conversely, bring bare branches from the outside world into your sanctuary so you continue to mirror the world around you, and also embrace the hope of awaiting new life
  • as the season gets darker, we light more candles on the Advent wreath
  • year C Revised Common Lectionary emphases:

  • week 1: In a barren season, Jeremiah's promising image of "a righteous Branch" that springs up (also in Isaiah 11:1 of a shoot coming from the stump) is as striking in the natural world for us as the old meaning of a kingdom.  The words of Jesus from Luke reverse the gaze of this imagery, emphasizing that the natural signs of skies and seas and plants tell us something about God.
  • week 2: Ecologically, it is note-worthy that John the Baptist preaches from the wilderness.  The song of his birth (the Psalmody for the day) speaks of a God of our past who faithfully remains to bring salvation.  John's message of repentance is for us who need the light to "dawn" on us (Luke 1:78) so that our "love may overflow more and more with knowledge and insight" (Philippians 1:9).  Where are we stuck in darkness, needing more knowledge and love for  wilderness?
  • week 3: Isaiah 12 proclaims the joy of clean (and available) waters, and that "all the earth" joins in this praise.  Perhaps expanding our awareness of creation's bounty around us helps us to join in the call of Philippians 4:4 to "rejoice in the Lord always."  Imagery of deforestation and wildfires may be useful for John the Baptist's words on axes cutting down trees, and of fires that consume the landscape.
  • week 4: In the final frenzy of Christmas shopping and baking, how do we encounter Mary's words that "he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:53)?  How do images of giving birth, of mothers and tender care, counteract dominant cultural themes?

 
CHRISTMAS
Again, Christmas is a time in many congregations of special decorations that draw our attention to the beauty of creation.  With that, our celebration of Christmas is joined not only to the songs of angels, but with the hymns of all creation.

When your congregation is getting a Christmas tree, perhaps include a blessing of the growth of all trees or a prayer as you cut it for its life that joins and enhances your congregation's praise.  Some congregations have a service of the burning of Christmas trees on Epiphany. Instead, why not have a service of recycling and rebirth as the trees are prepared for composting? Or place a living Christmas tree in the church and then plant it on church property in the spring.

You may also have poinsettias adorning your sanctuary.  These, especially, are connected to the season's rhythms of light and darkness.  (Read some more about "photoperiodism" here.)

The Christmas story and its surrounding carols and hymns have lots to draw our attention to creation.  What would Luke 2 be without night skies and sheep and a barn and hay in the feed trough?  We sing of stars and ox and ass that are lowing.  In a dark night of mid-winter, we celebrate new birth and light that comes into the darkness.


EPIPHANY SEASON
Here we celebrate the manifestation and glory of God not only in the arrival of the Christ child but also in the light and glory of God present in the beautiful works of human creativity and in the magnificence of the whole Earth and indeed in the resplendent vastness of the entire cosmos.  Even in the midst of winter, this "green" season is a chance to see the abundance of life shared in Jesus, with waters and fish and light more.