What follows is our Advent to Epiphany of Our Lord hymn setting of the liturgy. You are welcome to sing through this liturgy during the week as a devotional practice. In worship, we sing the number of verses as indicated below. God bless your worship in song!
Prayer of Preparation/Lighting the Advent Wreath
Add one verse each week as the number of lit candles increases.
Sing a different two verses each week.
Hymn of Praise
Sing verse one each week.
Sing verse 3 each week.
Sing verse 2 on Communion Sundays.
Sending/Extinguish the Advent Wreath
Sing the same verses as at the beginning of worship.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Last year, I learned that many of our people know the story of Christmas Eve, but they are a little fuzzier on all of the stories that surround this, one of the most important stories of our faith. We agreed to take a few years to fully immerse ourselves in the story, from the beginning to the end, and #jesusbirthatoz was born. In this book, you will find focus images, Bible stories, prayers, and questions for the ten weeks spanning Christ the King Sunday, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and Baptism of our Lord. It is our hope that, by reading this old, old story from beginning to end in order, we might be both renewed and deepened in our faith during this holy season. Resources will be available in various ways. You can pick up a daily flipbook, or a weekly devotion book, or a week by week leaflet. All of our resources will also be available online, so that you can access them any time and in any place. What follows are brief character sketches of who will we meet along the way. Christ is coming soon; Come, let us adore him!
Zechariah (Advent 1): Zechariah is an old man who has given up on having children. Then, an angel appears and tells him that he will be the father to John the Baptist. He finds this message hard to believe, so the angel gives him nine months to think about it. He says, “Because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” (Luke 1:20) https://familygodtime.wordpress.com/2018/11/29/jesus-birth-a-to-z-week-2-zechariah/
Mary (Advent 2): Mary is a young woman from the middle of nowhere. When the angel tells her that she will be the mother of the Son of God, she responds, first with questions, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34), and then with faith, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:37) This statement of faith and the belief that “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37) changes the entire course of the rest of her life.
Elizabeth (Advent 3): Elizabeth is Zechariah’s wife and Mary’s cousin. It is to Elizabeth’s house that Mary flees once she agrees to be Jesus’ mother, and at that house receives the warmest of welcomes. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” (Luke 1:42) Elizabeth cries. She celebrates the birth of a longed-for child in her baby, John, even as she welcomes the mother of the one who is to come.
Joseph (Advent 4): Joseph is the adopted father of Jesus. He is engaged to marry Mary, but they are not yet living together, when he finds out that she is pregnant. We learn that God chose Jesus’ step-father well when we learn that he is both righteous and merciful, planning to dismiss her quietly. When he dreams of an angel who explains “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 1:20) he believes the angel, takes Mary as his wife, and claims Jesus as his own.
Shepherds (Christmas): Shepherds are the last people you would expect to receive the first news of the birth of Jesus. They live out in the country, they are poor, and they are on the margins of society. And yet, God chooses the least, the last, and the lowly, to reveal God’s plan of love and forgiveness for all. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors,” sings the whole multitude of the heavenly host. (Luke 2:14). The shepherds believe, go and see for themselves, and just can’t stop telling everyone they meet about the miracle of Christmas.
Simeon and Anna (Christmas 2): Simeon and Anna are prophets who have waited their entire lives to meet Jesus face to face. When Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for the first time, they know that their life’s work is complete. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word,” Simeon sings, “for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” (Luke 2:29-31). Anna shared this good news with anyone who would listen, thankful for a long life well lived, a precious hope at last fulfilled.
Wise Men (Epiphany): The wise men remind us that Jesus was not just a miracle for the people of Israel, but for the entire world. They see the sign of the star and follow, past the edge of their known world, to meet Jesus face to face. “They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” (Matthew 2:11) because these people from a foreign land knew that he was king, God, and sacrifice. They bring this message to the nations, even as they return home by another road.
King Herod (Epiphany 2): King Herod is the one who is directly affected by the rumors of a new king who is not from his family. Willing to protect his throne at any cost, “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.” (Matthew 2:16) Just before the massacre, Joseph dreams of the danger, and he, Mary, and Jesus become refugees in Egypt until it is safe to return.
Jesus’ Baptism (Baptism of Our Lord): The Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany cycle ends with the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry and his baptism. We meet John and Jesus again, now fully grown and ready to fulfill what God had planned for them, even before they were in the womb. During Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit arrives, and God declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
Devotional Questions from the ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative:
What scares, confuses, or challenges me about this Bible reading? What do I have questions about? One thing that I have learned about myself over the years is that it is hard for me to change plans. I identify with Zechariah, because he had resigned himself to being childless, and denied the gift when it was given to him. This Bible reading challenges me to be open to changing my plans, and to spend more time listening when God is trying to speak to me.
What delights me about this Bible reading? What do I like about it? What is the good news here? One thing I love about this Bible reading is that God is acting to bring good things into Zechariah’s life, even over and above his protests. God desires our life, and our happiness, and all good things for us, even when we deny him. How am I denying the good in favor of the bad, just because it is a part of my plan?
What stories or memories does this Bible reading stir up in me? You might remember a time when you were completely surprised, or said “No” to something you wished for, or weren’t able to speak for a length of time, for example. Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that the biggest surprise in my life finding out that I was pregnant with twins. It was a blessing beyond expectation, and also one of the most difficult times in my life. I am beyond thankful that God gifted me with a community to surround me in love, even when I was speechless during this time, both in joy and in fear.
What is God up to in this Bible reading? What is God calling you to do or to be because of this? Maybe it’s because we are entering Advent, a season which has always been marked by quiet contemplation for me, but I hear God reminding me to be quiet, to listen, and to believe. Sometimes, in this over-busy, over-scheduled, over-expectation-full world, this is just exactly what we need to hear.
May God bless your work and your rest, your action and your contemplation, during this hoy season of waiting in hope!
Last January, I was with our Women in the Middle study group studying the story of Simeon and Anna from Luke 2. As we worked our way through the story, it began to occur to our women that, although this was a story that continued the story of Jesus’ birth, it was not at all a story with which they were familiar. In fact, many of them never remembered reading this story at all. It got them wondering why. Why do we know the story of the shepherds and the angels and the wise men, but almost nothing about Zechariah, or Simeon and Anna, or the boys in Bethlehem? The truth is, we do hear many of these stories, but only once every three years, and almost never in chronological order. As I explained this to our women, they came up with an amazingly simple idea. What if, during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and the beginning of Epiphany, we read through the entire story of the birth of Jesus from beginning to end? And what if we committed to doing it for several years, until Zechariah and Simeon and Anna and the boys in Bethlehem were as familiar a part of Jesus’ origin story as all the rest? This past fall, I brought this “crazy” idea to our Tri-Saints Worship and Music Committee, and they agreed to give it a try. And #jesusbirthatoz was born. As I started to really get into the story, I realized that the perfect introduction would be Mary’s Song in Luke 1. It’s not chronological (sorry!) but it fit in well to the themes of Christ the King Sunday while also providing a transition into Advent.
We will experience #jesusbirthatoz together in several ways. First, they will be our guiding texts for Sunday worship. Together, we will dive deeply into this story, both the familiar friends and the new (to us) acquaintances. After this introduction, we will be invited to delve deeply into the story over the course of the week with a daily flipbook devotion. You may get a paper copy at church week by week to decorate, color, and generally make your own. If paper is not your speed, you can find it one week at a time at Good God Ideas (https://goodgodideas.wordpress.com/category/jesusbirthatoz/), or daily on Instagram and Facebook. This resource is written for confirmation-level youth, but adults and children should also find daily inspiration and invitation into the story. Our monthly Dwelling in the Word Bible Studies will also follow the story, taking this more lengthy opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the more unfamiliar aspects of the story. I am so looking forward to introducing and reintroducing this, most sacred story to our community of faith! Join me, as together we journey through Jesus’ birth story from A to Z!