With the coming of Advent on Dec. 2, the Church celebrates a new year, as we shift from year B to year C in the lectionary. Advent C postings will follow, as we are able. The beginning of the season (and for some churches, the close of the previous one, on Nov. 25) affords the opportunity to “dress the church” for Advent. Offered below are two services centered around “Hanging of the Greens,” one of which is gratefully borrowed, with reference, and the other accumulated from many places through the years. There also follows a Chrismon service, which may be adapted and added to any period during the season if Chrismons are used in worship. Please advise us of what your congregation does to welcome the season, and keep us advised of references you may add to the adapted materials below. –David Chafin, ed.
Hanging of the Greens (from years gone by on Advent 1C)
Choral Introit – “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming
Lighting of the Altar Candles
The significance of the candles
Call to Worship
L: As quietly as the winter steals upon us, the season of hope approaches.
P: We wait for our redeemer, for god’s promise to be fulfilled.
L: The day is coming quickly. The God of mercy draws near.
P: Therefore, we wait with hope, attentive to all the signs of his coming. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
Hymn of Praise: Lift Up Your Heads, O Mighty Gates
Invocation and Lord’s Prayer
THE ADVENT WREATH
The First Lesson: Jeremiah 33:14-16
The significance of the Advent Wreath
The Lighting of the Candle of Hope
The Litany of Hope
L: Christians around the world begin this day to await the advent of Christ. We join a joyous and hopeful throng in lighting the Advent candles, symbols of our faith and signs of God’s love.
P: We gather as a people of hope.
L: Christian people around the world stand together in breathless anticipation of a miracle that has been
repeated for hundreds of years, yet that astounds us anew each year.
P: Our hope springs anew, from an ancient vision.
L: As we light the first Advent candle, let it stand for hope based not on wishful thinking, but on deep conviction. We believe, we have seen, we have received the Prom ise and the Great Gift, and therefore, in the midst of darkness and imperfection, we hope.
P: We gather expectantly, joyfully, and with deep commitment, for we have heard that a special child is to come, that god is to be among us, and that soon we will see a new creation on earth. We are a people of hope.
The Hymn of Hope: One Candle is Lit, verse 1
Children’s Lesson: The Holly and the Ivy
Solo: The Holly and the Ivy
Congregation at Prayer
meditation: Creator of the Stars of Night verse 1
response: Creator of the Stars of Night, verse 2
The Second Lesson: Isaiah 61: 1-4, 10-11
Sermon: “Getting ‘Decked Out’ For Christmas
Hymn of Discipleship: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Communion: Come, O Long Expected Jesus
Dismissal When God is a Child, verse 1
Full Text for Service Above
Significance of the Altar Candles (as the candles are being lit)
The lighting of candles has been a part of religious worship for centuries. The Hebrews burned candles for eight days as a part of their Feast of Lights. Since Jesus has been referred to as “the light of the world” in the New Testament, the lighting of candles has become an important part of our Christian worship. Some early Christian leaders stated that the body of the candle represented the body of Christ, while the wick symbolized his soul, and the flame portrayed his divine nature. When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the temple, Simeon referred to the Christ child as a “light to lighten the Gentiles.” As we light these candles upon the altar we symbolize his coming in the world of darkness, sin and evil, war and strife, stress and turmoil, suffering and death. He came to bring hope and help to those who were held captive by oppression, and to guide them to personal peace and joy through the illumination of the love of God.
O God, in the weeks to come, our attention to this blessed and holy event, the birth of your Son, will be continually distracted. help us to distinguish between the secular and the sacred, and to remember the true meaning of our joy and excitement. Help us to refocus our minds and hearts on your loving and most precious gift to us, your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in whose name we pray as he taught us, saying, Our Father….
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 on each Sunday of the season. The flame of each new candle reminds the worshiper that something is happening, but something more is still to come. The Advent season will not be complete until all four candles are lighted, with the central Christ candle also burning brightly on Christmas Eve.
The tradition of the Advent wreath is traced back to an old Scandinavian custom that celebrated the coming of light after a season of darkness. In that day candles were placed on the edge of a horizontal wheel. As the wheel was spun around, the lighted candles would blend into a continuous circle of light. Today we use a circle of evergreen to remind us of the continuous power of God, which knows no beginning nor ending.
There is also symbolism in the colors of the candles in the Advent wreath. The three purple, or white, 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 candle is lighted on the third sunday of the Advent season. This candle symbolizes joy; its use goes back to the Latin church which asked the worshipers to fast during this period of time.
A progression is noted in the lighting of the candles of the Advent wreath. The first symbolizes expectation and hope. The second reminds us that we are involved in a season of preparation for peace in the coming of Christ. The third candle is proclamation, as we proclaim that Christ brought joy to the world when he appeared. The revelation of God’s love for all humankind is portrayed by the lighting of the fourth candle. The culmination of the season comes on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, as the Christ candle is lighted.
Let us join now in this season of expectation and hope as we light our first candle, the Hope Candle, and join in our Litany of Hope.
Today we celebrate with joy and Thanksgiving all that God has given to us… the love of family and friends; the beauty of creation and good food to sustain us. And we also come on this last Sunday before Advent celebrating with thankful hearts the Christ ‑‑ the King of all that was and is and will be.
So it is appropriate in our celebration this morning to reflect with hearts filled with hope and faith on the symbols that represent the Christ which will stand before us throughout this joyous season. Hear these words from the 22nd chapter of Revelation:
Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.
The tree as a religious symbol takes us back to the very beginning of history. The Tree of Life enjoyed great popularity as a symbol for many centuries. There was one in the Garden of Eden along with the Tree of Knowledge which caused the fall of Adam and Eve. In the Middle Ages, the Cross was regarded as the Tree of Life. We use evergreens at Christmas because of their representation of eternity ‑‑ always green even through the coldest winter months. The lights which we hang are constant reminders of the hope that is ours in Christ, the Light of the World. (light tree)
Anthem: O Christmas Tree
Chrismons are monograms or symbols telling about the life, work and meaning of the life of Christ. There were used by early Christians to show who they were and where they stood. They often adorned tombs, jewelry, utensils, doors and other places. In modern times, the symbols have been adopted and adapted by churches for the decorating of trees during Advent and Christmas to help us remember. The Chrismons are traditionally white, symbolizing our Lord’s purity and gold , symbolizing his majesty.
Matthew 16: 13‑16:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Phillippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is? And they said, Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Christ is the title for the Messiah whom God sent to redeem his people. The Greek monogram of the first letters of Christ ‑‑ Chi and Rho ‑‑ was one of the most widely used early Christian symbols. Those who recognize Jesus as their Lord and Savior still use the Greek Chi, the X to identify themselves as his followers.
John 20: 30‑31:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
As early as the second century, Christians were using the fish as a symbol for the Christ. Early Christians used the fish widely as an easily made and recognized secret sign. During the times of the persecution of the church, Christians could find each other by using this simple password. To the outsider the fish was a mere decoration; to the Christian, it was an affirmation of faith in the Christ. The Greek word for fish ‑‑ ichthus, is an anagram on the first letters of the Greek words: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.
An ancient symbol appropriate to the themes of Advent may be found in the two Greek letters, Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end of the Greek alphabet. Advent prepares us for the beginning and the end of the Christian epoch. In Revelation 22 we read: Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” This verse makes the word a title of Christ and a fitting symbol to represent his first and second comings.
Christ is the Word. “He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:2‑3). The orb, the round ball, represents the world, and Christ’s activity in creation and in the world around us.
These four symbols, the chi rho, the fish, the alpha and omega, and the orb, remind us of the one who is the Christ, who comes into the world in hope.
Let us sing together verse 2 of Love Divine all Loves Excelling.
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Rev. 1: 5a. One of the most common symbols of the trinity is three entwined circles representing God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While there is no direct reference to the trinity in Scripture, there are many references to the one who is and was and is to come.
The concept of wisdom personified is found in Proverbs 8 and this made possible the application to Christ, the wisdom from on high through whom all things were made. A burning lamp is a traditional symbol for wisdom and for the Christ hearkening back to Psalm 119: Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Although the Gospels do not say that the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ while he was in the water, the scene is frequently pictured that way. The Gospels do tell us that when Jesus had been baptized he went up out of the water, the heavens opened, and then he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove. The descending dove then represents most frequently the baptism of our Lord. Other doves are also seen frequently either resting or in flight and quite often represent the dove of peace, or the dove which reminds us of God’s covenant with the people of the earth that was made with Noah. All are symbols of hope and the love of God.
The eight‑point star was a pre‑Christian figure that was adopted by Christians as a “concealed Chrismon during the Roman persecutions. The crossing lines reveal Chi’s Rhos, and crosses to the initiate. Then this design is used, one remembers that it was not always easy to be a Christian. In today’s usage, the eight ‑pointed star generally refers to regeneration through Baptism in Christ.
Symbols of baptism, wisdom and the trinity ‑‑ may they all serve to remind us of the love of Christ which comes to each and every one of us.
Let us sing together vs. 3 of Love Divine all Loves Excelling.
The symbol of the cup is certainly no stranger to us. Out denomination adopted the chalice as its symbol, because of the centrality of communion in the our worship services and in our lives. But the cup also is a reminder of the cup of suffering, remembering Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane: My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Jesus’ suffering is also deeply symbolized for all of us in the cross ‑‑ So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.
There are many forms and representations of the cross. This one, the Greek cross that we hang on our tree this morning, has all arms of equal length.
One of the earliest symbols for the church was a ship: indeed many churches were built to represent ships, at least one that is turned upside down. the ceiling then becomes the hull of the ship; the pews the seats for those who rowed the great ships, the pulpit (which in early days was often raised) the wheelhouse or captains areas to oversee the rest. It takes all persons on the ship to make it go and it takes God’s grace and wisdom as well. Together we can sail into the world and serve the one who is the Christ.
Our last symbol is the cross over an orb ‑‑ the cross over the world, representing Christ over the world. Jesus said, “God into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.”
Even at Advent we are called to do the same, through our Advent decorations we are continually reminded of the events in the life of Christ, of Christ’s victory over death, and of Christ’s call to each and every one of us today and every day.
If you have not accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, there is no time like the present; or if you are seeking a church home, a community of faith to go through life with you, we invite you to come forward at this time, confessing Christ and uniting yourself with this part of Christ’s church, that we may grow and learn and live together in hope and in faith.
Hanging of the Greens: First Sunday of Advent
adaptation by Jeanyne Slettom
The Hanging of the Greens is a service for the first Sunday in Advent. It is based on the English tradtion of decorating the home with wreaths, garlands, a Christmas tree, and evergreens for Advent and Christmas. In a church setting, it readies the sanctuary (and church members) for the season. This service assumes a Protestant setting. It is adapted from an unknown source to reflect a process-relational theology. Suggested hymns may be replaced by your favorites or appropriate anthems from a choir.
Hymn “Once in Royal David’s City”
Call to Worship – (Responsive)
How shall we prepare this house for the birth of Jesus?
With branches of cedar, the tree of excellence and strength.
How shall we prepare this house for the eternal Christ?
With garlands of pine and fir, whose leaves are ever living, ever green.
How shall we prepare this house for the prophet of Galilee?
With wreaths of holly and ivy, telling of his passion, death and resurrection.
How shall we prepare our hearts for this revelation of God?
By hearing again the words of the prophets and the promises of God.
For in the story of Jesus we see revealed the transforming power of God
We are reminded anew of God’s vision
of wholeness, justice, and peace for all of creation.
Thanks be to God.
Passing of the Peace
Pastor’s Time with Children
The legend of the poinsettia comes from Mexico. It tells of a girl named Maria and her little brother Pablo. They were very poor but always looked forward to the Christmas festival. Each year a large manger scene was set up in the village church, and the days before Christmas were filled with parades and parties. The two children loved Christmas but were always saddened because they had no money to buy presents. They especially wished that they could give something to the church for the Baby Jesus. But they had nothing.
One Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church to attend the service. On their way they picked some weeds growing along the roadside and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene. Of course other children teased them when they arrived with their gift, but they said nothing for they knew they had given what they could. Maria and Pablo began placing the green plants around the manger and miraculously, the green top leaves turned into bright red petals, and soon the manger was surrounded by beautiful star-like flowers and so we see them today. [Note:These paragraphs are posted on several internet sites.]
Organ solo/choir anthem/vocal solo “Los peces en el río” [Children arrange plants.]
The meaning of the service
Almost 2,000 years ago, the story goes, a clutch of sleepy shepherds were watching over their sheep on a star-brightened hillside in Palestine. It was a still, uneventful night. Suddenly the darkness was filled with a strange light. The stillness was broken by angel voices singing “Glory to God in the Highest, on earth peace, goodwill to all.” So begins Christmas, the most beautiful and meaningful celebration of the Christian calendar.
Christmas actually begins with Advent, the season through with we are moving. Both the seasons of Advent―the season of “going toward” the birth of Christ―and Christmas have a long history. These seasons and their customs have developed through many centuries and many countries. Old customs and observances are refined, renewed, replaced; new ones are added. Some of our customs have pagan origins but have been “converted” by redefining their meanings. What is significant for us is not what they may once have meant but rather what they mean for us today.
This morning our church building will begin to wear its Christmas apparel. For the first time our Christmas trees stand in the sanctuary. This day for the first time its lights will shine for us. As we make ready for the birth of the child by preparing this sanctuary, we make ready ourselves and the sanctuary of our own hearts. We are mindful that, although it is not Christmas yet, it will be here soon, very soon.
As we decorate the church, not only will we explain the history of the symbols of these special seasons, but we will rededicate these symbols―and ourselves―to the service of God. Let us prepare by listening an ancient hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”
Solo: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” [Verses 1,3, &4]
Significance of the colors [paraments]
The cycle around which our worship revolves is the church year. Today, the first Sunday in Advent, marks the beginning of a new church year. Paraments, which cover our communion table, pulpit, and lectern, are something like drapes and curtains in a home. With the changing colors of the church year, they attract attention, add variety, and point to the significance of the season or festival being celebrated. The traditional color for Advent is purple, a color that signifies the sacred, and spiritual fulfillment. Some traditions use blue, which represents anticipation and promise. As we prepare our communion table, pulpit, and lectern with the paraments, let us sing verses 1-3 of “We Hail You God’s Anointed.”
Hymn “We Hail You God’s Anointed” [Place paraments on the communion table, pulpit, and lectern.]
God Will Send a Light to the Nations [Advent wreath & candles]
Scripture Reading Isaiah 60:2-3 Reader:______________
The lighting of candles has been a part of religious worship for centuries. The Hebrews burned candles for eight days as part of their Feast of Lights. Light has been used by many religious groups to symbolize truth, while the darkness of night has been the universal symbol for evil. Since Jesus was called “the light of the world” in the New Testament, the lighting of candles has become an important part of our Christian worship. Some early Christian leaders stated that the wax of altar candles represented the body of Christ, while the wick symbolized his soul, and the flame portrayed his divine nature. Candles made from pure beeswax were used to signify Mary, since this wax comes from virgin bees. This has resulted in the practice of some churches to burn only beeswax candles upon the altar or communion table. When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the temple, Simeon referred to the Christ child as “a light to lighten the Gentiles.” From this statement, church leaders have used candles to symbolize the light of Christ shining throughout a broken world. As we light these candles upon the communion table, we symbolize God, Emmanuel, God with us, whose transforming power heals the world of sin and evil, war and strife, stress and turmoil, suffering and despair. Jesus embodies hope and help for those held captive by oppression. His ministry guides us to personal peace and joy through the illumination of his message of the love of God. As the candles on the communion table are lit, let us sing the first verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. [Communion table candles are lit.]
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 on each Sunday of the season. The four candles provide us with a visual way to count off four Sundays of this season. The flame of each new candle reminds us that something is happening, but something more is still to come. The Advent season is not complete until all four candles are lighted, with the central Christ candle also burning brightly on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The tradition of the Advent wreath is traced back to an old Scandinavian custom that celebrated the coming of light after a season of darkness. In that day, candles were place on the edge of a horizontal wheel. As the wheel was spun around, the lighted candles would blend into a continuous circle of light. Today we use a circle of evergreen to remind us of the continuous power of God, which knows no beginning nor ending.
There is also symbolism in the colors of the candles in the Advent wreath. The three purple candles symbolize the coming of Christ from the royal line of David. The pink candle is lighted on the third Sunday of the Advent season. This candle symbolizes joy; its use goes back to the Latin Church, which asked the worshipers to fast during this period of time. Will the children come forward and stand with me as we light the first candle.
The Gospel of John speaks of Christ as the true light coming into the world. In commemoration of that coming, we light candles for the four weeks leading to Christmas and reflect on the coming of Christ. It is significant that the church has always used that language—the coming of Christ—because it speaks to a deep truth. Christ is coming. Christ is always coming, always entering a troubled world, a wounded heart. And so we light the first candle, the candle of hope, and dare to express our longing for peace, for healing, and the well-being of all creation.
(One candle is lit.)
Loving God, as we enter this Advent season, we open all the dark places in our lives and memories
to the healing light of Christ. Show us the creative power of hope. Prepare our hearts to be transformed by you, that we may walk in the light of Christ.
As the children return to their places let us all sing verse six of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
God will send a righteous king [cedar]
Scripture Reading Jer. 23: 5 – 6 Reader:______________
In ancient times the cedar tree was revered as the tree of excellence and endurance. It also signified immortality and was used for purification. We place this cedar branch as a sign of Christ and of the kind of power he wielded: not the the power of might, but the power of transformation. As we contemplate his call to justice and peace, we seek to purify our hearts and “renew a right spirit within us.”
[Place cedar branch on the communion table.]
Hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” verse 7
The prophet declares a child will be born (evergreens)
Scripture Reading Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 Reader:______________
Have you ever wondered why we talk about the “hanging of the greens?” Or why an evergreen is called an evergreen? And why Christmas greens are traditionally used to emphasize the nativity? Green represents renewal, new life, freshness, and rebirth. Plants such as pine, fir, holly, ivy, and mistletoe are called evergreens because they do not die; through the seasons of the year, they remain ever-green. Ever-alive. It is no wonder then that we deck our sanctuary and halls with evergreens during this Advent season. Advent is the season of preparation for the ever-coming Christ, God’s gift to us of renewal and transformation.
Because the needles of the pine and fir trees appear not to die each season, the ancients saw them as signs of things that last forever. Isaiah tells us that there will be no end to the reign of the Messiah. Therefore, we hand this wreath of evergreens shaped in a circle, which in itself has no end, to signify that the kingdom of God, to which Christ so eloquently testified, is also without end, and is realized wherever truth, justice, and peace prevail.
Hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter”
The fourth servant song [holly]
Scripture Reading Isaiah 53:1-6 Reader:______________
For Christians, this passage from Isaiah reflects the sufferings of Jesus on the cross and God’s transformation of that event into the promise of life. In ancient times, holly and ivy were considered signs of Christ’s passion. Their prickly leaves suggested the crown of thorns, the red berries the blood of the Savior, and the bitter bark the drink offered to Jesus on the cross.
Hymn The Holly and the Ivy
[Place holly sprigs on the communion table.]
The mystery of the incarnation [Christmas tree]
Scripture Reading John 1:1-5, 9-14 Reader:______________
As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, the Light of the World, we light the Christmas tree. During this season of Advent, whenever you see a lighted Christmas tree, let it call to mind the One who brings light to our darkness, healing to our brokenness, and peace to all who receive him.
Hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” [Note: You may prefer the words, “O eternal love begotten”]
[Plug in tree lights. Children decorate tree.]
Blessing of the Christmas Tree – Unison
Loving God, we come with joy to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, whose path of justice and inclusivity lights a path for all who follow him. May this tree, arrayed in splendor, remind us of the life-giving cross of Christ, that we may always rejoice in the new life that shines in our hearts. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The original crib in which the Christ Child was laid was a manger in the stable, a sign of his humble birth. The popular Christmas crèche at churches and in homes creates a tableau of Jesus in the stable crib at Bethlehem, depicting scenes described by Luke and Matthew.
St. Francis of Assisi is often credited with the first manger scene about 800 years ago. For a people who could not read it was an effective visual aid in telling the story of the birth of Jesus. We have such a scene here. I invite the children to arrange the wise men, shepherds, animals, angels, Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.
[When the children are finished, they assemble to sing.]
Children: “Away in a Manger”
Prayer of Thanksgiving
We dedicate our lives and all that we have to the work of life, of love, of peace. Receive our gifts and lead us in wisdom and courage. Amen.
Commission and Blessing
Take time, in the busyness of this season, for quiet reflection—
For the light of God’s love is discernible everywhere.
We will let ourselves be surprised by wonder,
And set aside time to offer quiet thanks.
The good news of Advent is this:
Christ is coming. Christ is always coming.
We will welcome Christ into our hearts.
We will let ourselves be guided by his ministry.
We will go forth from this place in hope.
Hymn “Come, O Long-Expected Jesus”
Benediction Response “Amen”