(This is a bit late for the current Advent season, but here they are, anyway.) The following are readings that were created to accompany the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath during worship services during the season of Advent, concluding with a reading to be used in a Christmas Eve service. I drew on a variety of sources as I wrote them, now mostly forgotten, and they have undergone annual revision over the decade or more during which they were used at the church I once served as a staff pastor and worship leader. This work is released under the CC0 Creative Commons license (public domain). Feel free to use them as you please, and modify as you like. Attribution is not necessary, but appreciated. –Rev. Douglas Heacock, December 2021
First Sunday of Advent
The word “advent” means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” In the traditions of the Church, Advent is the first season of the church year, a season of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. On each of the four Sundays before Christmas, we focus our attention on a different aspect of the first advent of Christ, always in hope and expectation of the second advent, when Christ will come again, not in a humble manger, but on the clouds, in glory.
The evergreen ring of the Advent wreath symbolizes God’s eternity; the candlelight reminds us that God is our Everlasting Light. Today we light the Prophets’ Candle, which signifies the hope and promise of a Savior, whose birth was predicted by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Congregational response: We have hope in your coming, Lord Jesus.
God, our Father, today we begin a season of remembrance and preparation. Thank you for sending the Savior you promised so long ago. The promises of your Word are true, and we are grateful for that, as well. Our Savior has come to rescue us from darkness and sin and death. He has come as the light of the world, and he invites us to participate in his kingdom of love and light. Thank you, Lord, for your Word, and for your promise of hope and purpose and a future. We pray in the name of the One who loves us and has come for us, Jesus our Savior, AMEN.
Second Sunday of Advent
On this second Sunday of Advent, our thoughts turn toward Bethlehem, the city of David, where, after their long journey from Nazareth, Joseph and Mary found lodging the only place they could–in a stable. Their son was born there, and laid in a manger, a feeding trough; and as the angel had instructed them, they named him Jesus. Today we light the Bethlehem Candle, and remember that the love of God was poured out on the world, not in a palace, but in a stable; and we remember that Jesus was born not to a powerful royal family, but to a carpenter and his wife.
We remember the word of God that came through the prophet Micah, who wrote, “…you, Bethlehem…, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2, NLT).
Congregational response: We are grateful for your great love, O God.
God, our Father, it is a mystery to us how Jesus laid aside the glory that was his in heaven, in order to come into our world, to be with us. It is a mystery, but we are grateful, because he continues to show us who You are, and how much you love us. We rejoice in the birth of our Savior, and in his continued presence with us through your Holy Spirit. Thank you, Lord for this precious gift of your Son, the living Word of God. We pray in Jesus’ name–AMEN.
Third Sunday of Advent
It is now the third Sunday of Advent, and our attention is turned to the lowly sheep-herders who were among the first to learn of the birth of Jesus. They were members of one of the lowest classes of the society in which they lived. They were people on the margins, and yet God sent a company of angels to them first, to announce the good news that was meant for the whole world.
On this third Sunday of Advent, we light the Shepherds’ Candle. It is a rose-colored candle that symbolizes the good news and the great joy of the shepherds who heard it first. An angel appeared to them and said, “I bring you good news of great joy…today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you!” And then the sky exploded with angels, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Congregational response: We rejoice, O God, in the good news of Jesus.
God, our Father, we rejoice with the shepherds, and with the angels, and with all who have heard and responded to the Good News since that incredible night so long ago. Thank you for sending Jesus to be with us, to reveal your nature to us, and to deliver us into your presence and into your joy. We pray in his name–AMEN.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
It is now the final Sunday of Advent–our time of preparation for our celebration of the birth of Jesus is coming to a close. We are reminded of the host of angels who appeared to the shepherds in a display of worship and rejoicing that was both terrifying and thrilling to the keepers of the flocks. We remember how the apostle Peter spoke of the unfolding of the gospel of Christ throughout human history as “things into which angels long to look.”
So today we light the Angels’ Candle, to symbolize the promise in the angels’ song: “Peace on earth!” We rejoice that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can have peace with God today, and we rejoice that a time is coming when we will truly be at peace, when there will be no more tears, no more suffering, no more pain.
Congregational response: Come, Lord Jesus, and give us peace.
Our heavenly Father, we are grateful for the promise of peace–because of the state of the world in which we live, our hearts break with longing for this peace, Lord. But we know that there is a peace that eludes all understanding, and that this peace is ours when we are in relationship with you through Christ. We pray that you will surround us with your peace in these troubled times, and teach us how to rejoice in the hope that Jesus brings. In his name we pray–AMEN.
Christmas is almost here, and the Advent season and our time of preparation now comes to a close as our celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ begins. For the past month, we have lit the candles in this wreath as a way to be reminded of what God has done for us:
The Prophets’ Candle looks forward to the hope of a coming Savior, as foretold by the prophets of Israel.
The Bethlehem Candle speaks to us of the love of God poured out on the whole world through the birth of a baby boy in a stable in Bethlehem.
The rose-colored Shepherds’ Candle reminds us of the first announcement of the good news to lowly shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem, men whose social class may have been low, but whom God loved and blessed with the joy of the Good News.
The Angels’ Candle is a symbol of the peace that God gives to us in his Son, who is called the Prince of Peace; it echoes the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Today, at the end of our Advent preparations, we light the Christ candle at the center of the wreath, because Christ is the center of our faith, and the Light of the world.
Congregational response: We thank you, O God, for the hope, the love, the joy, and the peace that is offered to us in Jesus.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your only Son into our world, to walk through life on earth as we do, to show us clearly who you are, to rescue us from sin and death, to be everlasting light in our lives, and to provide a way for us to have peace and a real, eternal relationship with you. We are grateful, and as we celebrate his first coming, we look forward to the second coming of our Savior, when he will come in glory to take us into your presence. We worship you with thanksgiving and praise, Lord, in Jesus’ name–AMEN.