Our church sets aside some time in the service each week in December for the lighting of the Advent candle. They've been using readings that were years old and not particularly fabulous, so Nathan volunteered to come up with some new ones. Last week he was stumped, so it fell to me to write the reading and prayer concerning joy. This is what I came up with, compiled from a few prayer books and my own head:
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT: JOY
Leader: The prophet Isaiah foretold,
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)
As people awaited the coming of the Messiah, they looked forward to the hope, peace, and joy He would bring. The "good news of great joy" that the angels sang when Jesus was born in Bethlehem was for all people, and still brings us joy today. Our joy is in knowing what God has done and what He has promised to do; our joy is in knowing Jesus, the Messiah, and awaiting His promised return.
The Third Candle is Lit
Congregation: "Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and praise." (Psalm 95:1)
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to Your promises and ever close to Your Church: the earth rejoices in the hope of the Savior's coming and looks forward to the everlasting peace His return will bring. Fix our minds upon those things You have done and upon Your promises for the future, so that we may enter into the joy You have promised. Help us to live joyfully so that others may know the hope that comes from Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
I spent so much time making sure each word was meaningful, incorporating the previous Advent themes of hope and peace, drawing attention both to the prophecies of the past and to the future return of the Messiah, and trying my best to make sure the congregation would be edified and uplifted by these small considerations of the joy we have in Jesus Christ. After all that work, the readings and prayer were over in mere minutes on Sunday, and I doubt anyone noticed the small things I had pondered so carefully. I think this is true for the majority of church-goers and services; we all miss a lot of the carefully-thought-out details and the meaning therein.
We had our Lessons and Carols service Sunday night, and afterwards a nice man from the congregation approached Nathan and asked, "Did you choose that last hymn? I liked it and it seemed like it might have been your choice." Nathan replied, "Yes, I did," but in fact, he had spent days carefully planning the entire service, selecting hymns and carols; putting together and rehearsing a choral ensemble to sing; arranging the hymns and writing parts for trumpet, horns, and trombones; selecting soloists; and choosing readers for the lessons. He made the bulletin as well, formatted it, had me proofread it, and then ran off copies for the congregation, which he and I folded and stuffed together.
It's interesting how many things we take for granted, never stopping to consider who is behind it all or how many hours of work, planning, and careful thought go into our worship services. I have an insider's viewpoint, being married to a man who spends so much time attempting to facilitate meaningful worship for our church (and often being drawn into that process myself). It's a very big responsibility - kind of frightening. When I saw the Advent bit I had written in print, it seemed like heavy stuff to have had some small part in creating something that would be read and prayed by so many.
Any small role in shepherding a flock of Jesus's lambs is a serious thing.