Advent (from the Latin word adventus, meaning ‘coming’) is considered to be the beginning of the Church Year. For us in the Southern Hemisphere it is a time of waiting for many things: examinations, summer, holidays and Christmas all rolled into one. The season for most Christians is one of anticipation and hope although at its beginnings the emphasis was much more on penitence, fasting and sin.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia tells us that the celebration of Christmas (or the feast of the Nativity of our Lord) is not known before the end of the fourth century when, according to Louis Duchesne, author of Christian Worship: Its Origin and Evolution, it was celebrated throughout the Church by some on 25 December and others on 6 January. There seems to have been some sort of preparation prior to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. In a ruling in 380 it was said that no one should be allowed to absent themselves from church from the 17 December until the feast of Epiphany but it is not until the end of the sixth century that a prescribed period of time was set aside as preparation for Christmas. This was from the 11 November, the feast of St Martin of Tours until Christmas Day.
It is widely accepted that the date of Christmas Day is not thought to be Jesus’ actual date of birth but may have been chosen to coincide with ancient Roman solar festivals that were held on the 25 December. It is thought that early Christians adopted this day for the Christ-mass so that they would be less conspicuous in the observance of their holiday.
Setting the scene
As we are often not at school for the whole of the Advent season, we could look at the themes of Advent in one Liturgy. The usual themes are Hope, Peace, Joy and Love but you could use your imagination for instance: Expectation, Bethlehem, Angels and Shepherds.
In place of an Advent wreath, invite students to draw and colour a large Advent wreath, incorporating the Advent themes chosen (see paragraph above), to hang on the wall in the room you are using for the liturgy.
Make sure you have a device with speakers to play music. The song ‘Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord’ from Godspell is suggested to end the liturgy.
On the altar or table, place a lighted candle and the Bible—opened to Luke’s Gospel.
Items and Support needed:
1. Bible and lighted candle for centrepiece
2. Student-made Advent wreath
4. Device with speakers to play music
Introduction to the Advent liturgy: Why are we waiting?
Reader: In our Church, Advent is the time to slow down and wait with patience. Yet in today’s culture, Advent is the time to hurry and get ready for Christmas. While it is important for us to be ready with gifts, we also need to be ready in our hearts to receive the greatest gift, the Infant Jesus.
Reader: Lord we can’t wait for the summer holidays, a time of promise, a time of preparation, of hope, expectation and participation. May we never forget that this is also a time of waiting for Jesus, a time to wake up to ourselves as Christians. It is about believing that with God-with-us we can make a difference and reach out into the darkness of poverty, violence, greed, ecological imbalance and even into the darkness of war to help shape a different world. Come Spirit of Advent and awaken new hope within us.
Reader: A reading from the Gospel of Luke, (7: 18-23)
Messengers from John the Baptist
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
The Gospel of the Lord.
All: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.
Response to the Gospel – Christmas Meditation
(Each paragraph could be read by a different reader to include more participants.)
Reader: Nobody expected to be waiting for someone like that: a baby, a manger, a young man, a young woman. Nobody expected that his first visitors would be shepherds, little thought of in the eyes of the great. Yes, he will come, but not as we expect.
The Kings of the time had sons and daughters, but who remembers them now? Who would know of Herod, except that He had spoken of him? Who would have thought that more people in today’s world would know more of Nazareth, a poverty-stricken, sleepy town than of Antioch or Alexandria, the places big in the minds and on the tongues of the time, but not big in the heart of God?
Our notions of fame and success are turned upside down. Long after Herod’s castles have turned to ruin, the cave of Bethlehem stands strong and holy, a place of hope and expectation for generations; yet it remains unborn because one starry night the Son of God was born there. Only the heart that wants to love and love forever can recognise the beauty of God in the darkness of a cave. Only such hearts can see greatness and dignity in the shepherd. Only such hearts can see in this child the glory and life of God.
We didn’t expect to be waiting for someone who would walk our bloodstained earth and share the sweat of our toil and agony and sadness, as he still walks this day. Nor that he would laugh with the happy just because they were happy. Nor that he would be nailed to a wooden cross so that the life of man would mingle with the blood of man’s death and the love of God displayed in Jesus, would conquer.
Nor did we expect that he say things like ‘He who sees you sees me’ or ‘What you do for the least of my people you do for me’. It is strange and unexpected that God would reach out to touch mankind through the hands of an infant in a poor farmyard. And it is strange, though beautiful, that our song, ‘Glory to God and peace on earth’ is a call to be his peace, justice and his music on earth.
Can we honestly sing ‘Come, all ye faithful’ when what God means is ‘Come to my Bethlehem, and my Bethlehem is no longer a hillside cave but it is where you create friendship, justice and love among each other and bring Christ my son to birth?
Prayers of intercession
Reader: For the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, who is our dearest hope for all great futures.
All: May we wait in hope.
Reader: For a future when all share in Christ’s vision of peace, where war-torn nations become friends, where strangers reach out to help their neighbours, where kindness abounds.
All: May we wait in hope.
Reader: For a tomorrow filled with shining potential and realization of dreams coming true for all, where no limitations exist for the ability to get an education, adequate clothing, food and water, and where dignity is shared by everyone.
All: May we wait in hope.
Reader: Let us answer the call to be the faithful eyes, feet and hands of God as we help those who are in need, especially during this Advent season.
All: May we wait in hope.
Reader: As we wait in hope, peace, joy and love let us look to the Infant Jesus with loving hearts. May we share in the anticipation of this Advent season as we look to the birth of our king and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Blessing to Conclude liturgy
Reader: (Hold the lighted candle up towards the congregation.)
May the light that shines forth from this candle light our way as we journey towards Christmas.
May the light that shines forth from this candle lighten our lives as we wait in hope for the birth of the Christ-child.
We ask this through Christ who is the Light of the World.
To end liturgy play ‘Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord’ from Godspell. It is introduced by the blowing of the Shofar (Ram’s horn)
Photo: Waiting For The Word; CreativeCommons license