Here is a non-traditional Lessons and Carols liturgy, using both scripture readings and readings from other sources (which are listed at the end of the liturgy). Please use and adapt for your context.
Call to Worship
One: When the world was dark and the city was quiet, you came.
All: You crept in beside us.
And no one knew. Only the few who dared to believe that God might do something different.
All: Will you do the same this Christmas, Lord?
Will you come into the darkness of today’s world;
not the friendly darkness as when sleep rescues us from tiredness,
but the fearful darkness, in which people have stopped believing
that war will end or that food will come or that a government will change
or that the Church cares?
All: Will you come into that darkness and do something different to save your people from death and despair?
Will you come into the quietness of this place,
not the friendly quietness
as when lovers hold hands,
but the fearful silence when
the phone has not rung
the letter has not come,
the friendly voice no longer speaks,
the doctor’s face says it all?
Will you come into that darkness and do something different?
All: Will you come into the dark corners and the quiet places of our lives?
We ask this not because we are guilt-ridden or want to be,
but because the fullness our lives long for depends upon us being as open and vulnerable to you as you were to us,
when you came,
wearing no more than diapers,
and trusting human hands
to hold their maker.
Will you come into our lives, if we open them to you and do something different?
When the world was dark and the city was quiet you came.
All: You crept in beside us.
Do the same this Christmas, Lord.
All: Do the same this Christmas.
Song The First Noel (verses 1-4)
Reading Let’s Go to Bethlehem
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars
not hearing voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms.
This Advent let’s go to Bethlehem
and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,
let’s listen for the brush of angels’ wings.
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.
Song O Little Town of Bethlehem
Lighting of the Advent Wreath
Passing of the Peace
At this time, let us greet one another with the passing of the peace.
The peace of Jesus Christ, born unto us, be with you now and always.
And also with you.
Reading The Annunciation
Mary couldn’t say she wasn’t warned. The angel came with an Easter lily in his hand and stood so still he could have been one of the columns in the loggia where they met. Mary had trouble hearing what he said and afterward thought it might have been just a dream. Even so, it troubled her.
It was not until later that the real trouble came. The real trouble came when what the angel announced would happen happened, but in a way she couldn’t have dreamed: squatting there in the straw with her thighs wrenched apart, while out of her pain she dropped into the howling world something that looked like nothing so much as raw beefsteak: who was the one the angel had said was to be called Holy, the Son of the Most High: who was the Word itself fleshed with, of all flesh, hers.
Song The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came
Scripture Reading Luke 2:1-7
Reading Wouldn’t It Be Grand to Be an Angel?
Wouldn’t it be grand to be an angel
and have your address
“The Realms of the Glory of God”?
And swing on rainbows,
and gather stars in your pockets,
winging in and out of earth
in a flurry of moondust
with the messages of God?
Comforting the distressed, warning the righteous,
delivering the just, guarding little children?
Of course, we can comfort and warn
and deliver and guard.
Maybe, if we get that right,
we can swing on rainbows later.
Song 23 Angels We Have Heard on High
Scripture Reading Isaiah 9:2-7
Waiting. Waiting at the bus stop. Waiting in the checkout line. Waiting for a website to load.
There are waiting rooms, and we tell our children to wait just a minute. At the end of a life, we are just waiting for someone’s fight to end. Restaurants have waiters, and we always seem to be waiting on them. There are families who wait years to adopt. We wait for news: good and bad.
We’re always waiting.
We’re supposed to wait thirty minutes after eating before we swim. We wait through multiple previews for our movie to start. Waiting on the big game causes all sorts of excitement and waiting on the pizza delivery guy can be one grueling wait.
We spend much of our lives waiting.
The world is groaning with expectancy. Because really, we are all waiting for salvation. We label ourselves as believers, atheists, agnostics, and everything in between, but no matter the conviction or cause, we share a deep longing to be delivered.
But being delivered isn’t a fairytale. Nor is it a journey for the weak at heart or the weak-stomached. Anyone who has ever waited on a baby to be born knows this for sure.
The delivery room gets awfully messy. It’s sweaty and crowded and full of bodily fluids. Deliverance isn’t for lightweights.
Delivery is not serene. There’s no quiet, universal stillness, a sacred space where all is well. Delivery doesn’t look like a sleeping newborn with a smile. Peace doesn’t always feel like cotton candy and Louis Armstrong singing, “What a Wonderful World”. Delivery is voices of loved ones and strangers. Stand here. Do that. Breathe deep. Hold your breath. Push. Lots of instructions and you better have your game face on because this is not child’s play.
After delivery, there’s peace. Peace is an assurance that in the midst of hell breaking loose around, God still remains. In a time where racism and homophobia are rearing their ugly heads and raging out loud and American politics are a circus, the peace of God is where we find the courage to get up and try again tomorrow.
We were guaranteed struggles in this life by the Author of the whole thing. The world is groaning under the pressure of it all. But peace is on the other side.
Peace to you, today, friend. Wherever you are. Whatever your struggles. Deep as your pain may be. The peace of God doesn’t annihilate suffering, it simply walks with us through the midst of our experiences. Thinking about the thing that has brought me through life’s hard times: the peace of God. “My peace, I give to you,” is what He said.
Advent is a season to celebrate waiting. For me, Advent is a corporate acknowledgement that we cannot deliver ourselves. We recognize our lack. We honor our wait for deliverance from our grief and groaning, but we wait with hope because we already know Goodness is on the other side. And as we expectantly wait for deliverance, we also celebrate God remaining present with us through every facet of the human experience.
So we push through. We support one another, we cheer one another on in each victory and we love one another through the times of loss and discomfort and discouragement.
We wait. But we wait together.
Offering of Our Gifts
Offertory The Christians and the Pagans by Dar Williams
Song Go Tell It On the Mountain
The invitation to follow Jesus Christ is always an open one, as is the invitation to be a part of ___________________ church. If you’d like to know more about what it means to follow the living Lord Jesus Christ and what it means to take that journey with the particular group of believers, see ______________ after the service and we would love to tell you more.
Let’s Go to Bethlehem and Wouldn’t It be Great to be an Angel are from Ann Weem’s Kneeling in Bethlehem
Annunciation is from Fredrick Buechner’s Peculiar Treasures
The Call of Worship is from Cloth for the Cradle, Iona Community
On Discomfort was adapted by Rev. Anne Russ from In the Waiting Room: An Advent Lesson by Steve Austin