Worship Resource: Advent Wreath Liturgy 2020 (inspired by UCC Book of Worship

Advent wreath readings 2020

Advent Wreath week 1: Hope

Introductory Sentences

Today is the beginning of Advent–the preparation time for celebrating Christ’s birth. We are here because God’s promises to our ancestors came true when Jesus was born. God’s promise is kept each Sunday when we worship and wherever we worship because Christ is in our midst. God will keep the promise to come again in glory. 

Scripture 

Isaiah 60:1-2

 Arise, shine; for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 

2 For darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the LORD will arise upon you,

and his glory will appear over you. 

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is hope. (Share one thing that gives you hope.) We believe in hope that is more than wishful thinking. We believe in hope that is grounded in the birth of Jesus. 

Light the first candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

God we thank you that Jesus brought hope into the world. Help us to be ready to welcome Jesus so that we may be a people of hope for the world. Amen.

Advent Wreath week 2: Peace

Introductory Sentences

We gather around the Advent wreath today knowing that we are not perfect–we all make mistakes and cause others harm. Jesus creates a more peaceful world by helping us repair the harm we’ve done. Jesus helps us accept ourselves and others so that we can be at peace.

Scripture

Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,

a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

7 His authority shall grow continually,

and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.

He will establish and uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time onward and forevermore.

The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is peace, for Christ is called the “Prince of Peace. We believe in the power of peace to heal the world.

Light the second candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

Eternal God, we thank you that through all the years you have given peace to your people. Help us to cultivate peacefulness in our lives. Show us how to be peacemakers with those around us because we believe in peace. Amen.

Advent Wreath week 3: Love

Introductory Sentences

St. John wrote, “God is love.” As we gather around the Advent wreath today we celebrate God’s love sustaining us moment to moment regardless of our actions or circumstances. God’s love is embodied in Jesus and in each one of us. Because of this we say, “We believe in love.”

Scripture

1John 4:7-8

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to porcelain the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is love. Such grat love helps us to love God and one another.

Light the third candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

O God, we thank you that Jesus showed your love for every person–old people and young, sick people and those who were strong, rich people and those who were poor. Your love in Jesus changed the world. For this reason we say, “We believe in love.” Amen!

Advent Wreath week 4: Joy

Introductory Sentences

Soon we shall celebrate the birth of Jesus. We worship God with joy in our hearts as we are reminded of the words the angel said on that first Christmas Day: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people.” With the angels long ago we say, “We believe in joy.”

Reading of Scripture

John 15:9-11

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is joy. Joy is ours not only at Christmas but always.

Light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

O Holy One, as Christmas draws near, we look for that familiar sense of excitement. Perhaps we glimpse it out of the corner of our mind’s eye: a wisp of memory, a childhood song. In this time of global pandemic and political transition we confess to you and to all the world that we believe in joy because you promise us that while “weeping may linger for the night, joy comes with the morning.” Thank you for the gift of Jesus–Morning Star, light of life, bringer of joy.

Christmas Eve

Introductory Sentences

Good evening! On this Christmas Eve we are gathered as God’s people to celebrate again what Christ’s coming means to the world. We join with Christians and all people of good will around the world who are celebrating tonight in saying, “We believe in hope. We believe in peace. We believe in love. We believe in joy.”

Reading of Scripture

Luke 2:10-14

0 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 

Lighting of the Candles

Tonight we relight the four Advent candles and recall what the good news means.

A leader lights a candle while saying each word: hope, peace, love, joy.

Jesus Christ is the greatest gift who makes all these other gifts possible. So we light the Christ candle now as we welcome the birth of Christ in our lives.

A leader lights the central Christ candle.

Prayer

We thank you God, for your gift of Jesus Christ to the entire world. We thank you that Christ’s coming makes hope, peace, love, and joy possible. Make us your hands and heart to our hurting world because we believe

In hope,

In peace,

In love,

In joy,

And in the matchless gift of Jesus.

Amen.

Worship Resources for Blue Christmas 2020

Words of Welcome                                                                                                                                                                    

The holidays bring with them a mix of emotions: nostalgia, anxiety, anticipation, hope, joy, grief and more. Some of these emotions are more welcome at this time of year than others. We might feel pressure to act happy because it’s Christmastime when inside we don’t feel that way. That’s not the true message of Christmas. God sent the Christ child for the very purpose of sharing our common lot with all of its circumstances and emotions pleasant and unpleasant. In becoming one of us, God accepts all of us. So bring yourself, just as you are to grieve, remember, celebrate, and cherish loved ones who have passed on and the God who embraces us all.

Opening Prayer                                                                                               

God of mercy, we pray for ourselves. We pray for our dear ones. We pray for those who have passed on. We pray for our neighbors and communities. We pray for all of us, who in one way or another have been affected by this year of global pandemic. Because of the pandemic, some of us haven’t had the chance to say good-bye in a way we had hoped. Our grief is complicated; our loss ambiguous. Wrap us in your boundless embrace. Heal our hearts made heavy with sorrow. Lift our spirits so that we might join the heavenly chorus singing, “Peace on earth and good will to all.” Amen. 

Advent Wreath 

 This Advent we light the first candle acknowledging our grief and inviting God’s consolation into our hearts.

Lights the first candle.

We light the second candle accepting our pain and inviting God’s comfort.

Lights the second candle.

We light the third candle noticing our fears and remembering that God’s perfect love casts out fear.

Lights the third candle.

We light the fourth candle honoring our struggle as a sign of the divine life that lives in and through us. 

Lights the fourth candle.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-24-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-24-19

This Advent season we’ve explored ways to cultivate hope, peace, joy, and love in our lives. The cultivation of these qualities creates an optimal environment for the Spirit of Christ to be born in our lives. That’s the idea, anyway. This, of course, isn’t a one time or even an annual process. The cultivation of hope, peace, joy, and love is a practice we as Christians are invited to continue every day because our circumstances are continually changing and every day is an opportunity to refresh these qualities in our lives.

Nevertheless, as I prepare for Christmas Eve services, I’m faced with the question, What is this “Christ-event”–as some theologians call it–anyway? What am I preparing for? 

Jesus the Christ was a real, historical person who was born some two millennia ago around 6 A.D., most scholars think. Only two of the four gospels contain birth narratives. Both birth narratives contain a mix of historical and mythological details told not primarily for the purpose of documenting historical “truth” in the modern sense but for the purpose of expressing theological truth rooted in human experience that we can access today, in this very moment, in fact.

For me, the theological truth of Jesus’ birth is that God is being born each and every moment in my experience. Each moment is a precious gift to be welcomed, nurtured, attented to, prized, and shared. 

Is every moment pleasant? No. Absolutely not. I remember early one morning after our second child, Olivia, was born. She woke up screaming to be fed. It was my turn to do the night feeding, so I got up, warmed up some breast milk from the fridge, picked up the screaming child from her crib, and sat down in the rocking chair to feed her. Not thirty seconds later, her older sister, Fiona, who was three at the time, was standing next to me in tears because Olivia had woken her up. Fiona wailed that she wanted me to rock her. Then Olivia started crying again. This routine had been going on for weeks. I was delirious with exhaustion. I distinctly remember having the thought, “This is going to kill me.” 

But it didn’t, of course. Somehow I managed to handle the situation by myself. My wife, Nicole, got her sleep. And now those screaming children are beautiful adults. 

Can you tend your life like you would a precious infant? Can you welcome the screaming with patience? Can you welcome the smiles with joy? Can you savor that newborn scent even if the air its carried on is bitter cold? 

I am so glad to share this one precious life with you. My wish for us this Christmas is greater strength and deeper tenderness to welcome all the moments of 2020, no matter what shape they take, no matter what opportunities they bring.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-18-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-18-19

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife . . . .” (Matthew 1:20)

When Joseph found out his fiance Mary was pregnant and he wasn’t the father, an angel says to him, “Do not be afraid.” It’s interesting that the emotion attributed to Joseph at this point is fear. I might have thought anger because from a human standpoint, the assumption would be that Mary had cheated on him. But anger isn’t named. The emotion that needs to be released in order for the holy wedding to take place is fear.

The thought of marriage scared the pants off me when Nicole and I were dated. My parents were in the process of an ugly divorce. Her parents had also had an acrimonious divorce. Our families’ recent track records were not good. Who could say we would do any better? In the end, with fear and trembling, I asked, and she said, “Yes.” Twenty-three years later we’re still together! For me, it has less to do with anything special about us. It has more to do with God’s grace and an amazing support system. And even after all these years, I am deeply aware of how fragile it all is.

The Apostle John writes that “perfect love casts out fear.” This suggests that love and fear go together. True love demands vulnerability, vulnerability brings risk, risk often gives rise to fear. “Will I be rejected?” “Will I be taken advantage of?” “Will my loved one leave or die?” Human love is imperfect, so fear goes with the territory. That’s why for me a key to making human love work is grounding myself everyday in God’s perfect love. If you’re not at least a little afraid, you may not be risking true love. If you find yourself afraid to, for example, share your feelings, be honest, meet a neighbor, share a gift, make a friend, commit to a relationship, instead of ignoring the fear, you might sit with it for a bit, invite divine love to shed some light on the situation, and then step forward with courage.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-9-19

Neighborhood Christmas Caroling in Granby!

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-9-19

Yesterday eight folks from First Congregational Church of Granby grabbed some sandwiches after worship, put on our winter boots, and stepped out into a cold, bright, sunshiny afternoon to sing Christmas carols in our neighborhood. It was fun!

Neighborhood caroling is a new activity we developed out of our Vitality Team. Team members are Ann Wilhelm, Heather Dobbert, Beth Lindsay, and Anne delCampo. Other supporters are Chris and Vicki Saunders, Aurelle Locke, and Kerri Crough. Our singers yesterday were Ann Wilhelm, Bob and Peg Giles, Chris and Vicki Saunders, Catherine Kibby, and Duncan Rowles. 

Just to review: the Vitality Team is a part of the Reaching New People plan that a group of us from FCC developed at the Reaching New People workshop with Rev. Paul Nickerson last September. Since that time, the folks who participated in that workshop have been meeting via conference call every other month to implement the plan we developed. The role of the Vitality Team is to continue implementing the plan and to create a culture of invitation in the congregation. Neighborhood caroling was a joyful event that got us out of our building and got us inviting our neighbors to church for holiday worship and activities.

We visited 20 houses because that’s how many goody bags we had. Aurelle and Vicki very lovingly prepared them. I was the doorbell ringer. Then we gathered together, sang a few carols, and handed whoever answered the door a goody bag filled with cookies and our advent brochure. Some people did not answer the door, so we sang carols and simply left the goody bag inside the storm door or hanging on the doorknob. Those of us who took this adventure have lots of stories to tell. I hope you will ask the singers how it went. 

At one house we went to, the homeowner stood in his doorway. He had tears in his eyes. We sang, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” I handed him a goody bag. As we were leaving, the homeowner said, “I’ve never experienced anything like this. Thank you so much.” I felt the joy in those tears. Many years ago, Christian author C. S. Lewis, wrote a book called Surprised by Joy. Joy is the surprise of connection. Joy is the theme of the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Joy may be closer than you think. It might be waiting for you next door in a compassionate connection with a neighbor. 

Silent Night–Sermon for Christmas Eve 2018

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Stamford

Sermon for Christmas Eve

24 December 2018

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Silent Night

This morning I woke up while it was still dark. No one was awake in my house except our pet rabbit, who lives in our bedroom. He was hopping around clanking his food dish to let me know he was ready for breakfast. I moved quickly and quietly so as not to wake my wife, then went downstairs to feed the dog. I noticed each creak of the floorboards as I tip-toed to the kitchen. I started the coffee. Then I tip-toed to our three season porch, where I turned on the space-heater and settled down for a half-hour of silent meditation. Even at that early hour, the noise inside my head was already starting up: self-centered thoughts, fantasies about places I might go and things I might do, arguments with family members, ideas for a Christmas eve sermon. My mind is a swirl of ego. But as I sit and simply notice my breath, it begins to quiet down. Without a sound light gradually filters through the windows and fills the porch. Outside snow silently falls to the grass in the backyard. It was a silent morning, holy morning.

Tonight is the 200th anniversary of the first performance of Silent Night at the chapel in the tiny village of Oberndorf, Austria just north of Salzburg on the border with Bavaria. Joseph Mohr was a newly ordained priest who needed a carol for his Christmas eve service, so he paid a visit to the church organist Franz Gruber. He brought with him a poem he had written a couple of years earlier, just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that had wracked Europe for the past 12 years. Gruber set the poem to music written specifically for guitar, since the chapel’s organ had recently been destroyed by flooding from the Salzach River.

The debut performance for that tiny audience on that quiet Christmas eve was well received. Within a few years the song spread throughout German-speaking Europe and then was translated into English. From England it spread to America and throughout the world. Today Silent Night has been translated into hundreds of languages. It is the most well-known Christmas carol of all.

But that’s not all. On November 11 of this year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. In the first year of that war to end all wars, something happened that had never before happened and never would again. After five months of fighting along the Western Front, the guns and mortars went silent. It had been raining for weeks flooding the trenches that the soldiers lived and died in. But on Christmas eve, the air turned cold, the ground froze, and snow silently began to fall. In the dark the western allies heard voices from across no-man’s land. “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. Alles schlaeft, einsam wacht.” It was the German soldiers singing across the fields to the British and French on the other side. So began the Christmas truce of WWI. It only lasted a day or so, but it demonstrated that even in the midst of war, enemies can lay their weapons down.

On this holy night, I invite us into the deep stillness where we meet the Christ child. The Apostle Paul wrote: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” The Christ child lived in the Apostle Paul. He lives in me. He lives in you. On this holy night I invite us into the silence where a true voice can be heard, the voice of the Son of God, the Prince of Peace.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12/25/18

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12/25/18

On the church’s liturgical calendar, the Season of Christmas lasts from Christmas Day until the celebration of Epiphany on January 6. Popular culture has found many ways to fill this space: after Christmas sales, top 10 lists, retrospectives on the previous year, forecasts for the next. For Christians it can be a time to bask in the afterglow and adjust to a new reality.

I remember after each of our children were born, the weeks after labor and delivery were a time of being together as a family, welcoming the newcomer, learning her particular quirks and needs, adjusting to the increased responsibility of a new child. It was a busy time, but also a quiet time, an inward-focused time.

I invite us in this Christmas season to gather ourselves, to take the backward step and inward turn. The office will be closed between Christmas and New Year’s. Take advantage of this moment to re-energize because 2019 is going to be a big year!