Greatest Hit: Advent Worship Planning and Sermon Themes

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on Advent worship planning is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource as you look towards December.

Starting from scratch this Advent?

  • Mark Davis put together this presentation to help guide worship planners to develop themes for Advent.
    • Here’s a sneak peek of the process:sneakpeek

Need some theme suggestions that are little more concrete?

  • LeAnn Hodges connected Advent to adaptive leadership for a sermon series:
    • “Living in a Time of Adaptive Challenges”
      • Pay Attention
      • Wilderness (We Can’t Support Ourselves…)
      • Joy in the midst of Uncertainty
      • Let it be with me…
  • Fairfax Presbyterian Church (Fairfax, VA) presented Advent as an antidote to the exhaustive and escapist behaviors that so often accompany the holidays:
    • During Advent and Christmas we often turn to exhausting, escapist behavior; however, the season offers us an invitation to wait, to prepare, to hope… At Christmas we remember the birth of Jesus only insofar as it reminds us that he implanted a new vision on our hearts and has promised to return. This promise to return is what we base our hope upon.
      • …ever watching for Christ to break in
        • Bonhoeffer said it is easy to look around and to see the ruins to which Christ must come again. Given a season of holidays in which the lonely are lonelier and the broken have wounds open again, we are tempted to ignore the season completely or to turn to exhausting, escapist behavior…to escape the depression of unfulfilled watching. Advent challenges us to keep watching and keep hoping because Jesus coming again is not a fantasy but a reality ever-available to our imaginations as we live in the already and not-yet.
      • Opening ourselves to the transforming moments of conversion
        • Turn around. Repent. Perceive a new way. These are the invitations of the second week of Advent. We need to be converted over and over again in our lives because we keep losing the vision of God’s kingdom and determination to live toward it. “Conversions proceed layer by layer, relationship by relationship, a little here and a little there, until the whole personality is re-created by God.
      • Letting go
        • We are in the last week of pregnancy in the Advent season. Our desire and anticipation are at a high. The time for Christ is come feels urgent to us in our watching. But, as with all new parents, we have no idea how drastically this new life will change us. We have not concept of how little control we actually have in the human journey. If we did, we might not be as eager. But the journey of the pregnancy has given us new eyes to see, a new practice of conversion. Perhaps we are ready. The invitation of this week is to let go of control, to learn not to do all the things we think we must do to save ourselves (like the illustration of floating), but to trust that God is still coming to create, redeem and sustain our living.

No time? Here are some liturgies that are ready to go:

How about adding some music?

  • To accompany candle lighting, some congregations write a song based on the year’s theme; others add new verses to familiar seasonal songs. If the muse has abandoned your resident aspiring songwriter, try these hymns from the Glory to God hymnal:
    • #467: “Give Us Light”
    • #103: “Come Now, Prince of Peace”
    • #85: “Light One Candle to Watch for the Messiah”
  • If you are trying to looking to get away from the Christmas favorite that over-saturate the airways between October and New Year’s, incorporating jazz standards to express the moods of Advent can be an unexpected variation of your theme.
  • For alternative arrangements to carols, check out the You Call that Church Music? archives.
  • If you are struggling with arguments for and against singing Christmas carols during Advent (“But the children will never learn these songs if we don’t take time to teach them!” and many others), check out this NEXT Blog post by MaryAnn McKibben Dana that works through some excellent points.

Other resources