Advent Wreath Lighting Liturgy 2011
We give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18b, adapt.)
Advent is the season in the Christian year when we hear and participate in the time of waiting for the birth of the Messiah. We look with thankfulness and hope for the second coming of Christ. We hear the voice of God in Scripture. We hear the voices of God's people around the earth as we pray together for the joy and peace of Christ's love to warm the hearts and lives of all humankind.
One of the primary symbols of the season has become the Advent Wreath. A quick search on the internet will find several articles on the history and tradition of the Advent Wreath. The wreath itself is a symbol of life without end. The lighting of a candle each week marks our journey through the four weeks of Advent. In 2011, Advent begins on November 27 and culminates with the lighting of the Christ candle on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
The Wreath and Litany
Advent Wreaths take many forms, depending on your worship space and creativity. In many settings, the wreath is a simple circle made from fresh evergreens. Often there is someone in a faith community who is interested in creating the wreath. Encourage artists within your community to be creative with the natural materials found in your geographical area, as well as other materials such as wood or clay. Always be aware of safety and ensure that the materials are not close to the flame of the candles. The United Methodist Book of Worship suggests that all four candles be purple, with a larger white candle in the center. Is there someone in your community who could make the candles? In some settings, artists choose to place white candles within purple candleholders. This is especially effective in settings where there is a possibility of the candle being blown out by a breeze during worship.
Consider a wide variety of ways the litany can be led within your worship. Perhaps a different lay person or family in your church could lead the devotion each week. Are there youth or children who could help by reading or lighting the candles? One person can lead the entire devotion or one person could read the Scripture, another read the devotion, and a third person lead the closing litany and song. In Advent 2011 the Revised Common Lectionary gospel lessons include Mark 13:24-37, Mark 1:1-8, John 1:6-8,19-28, and Luke 1:26-38. The Advent Wreath Lighting Devotions provided here use one of the other lections each week as the Scripture focus.
The Music for the Advent Wreath Lighting
The sung response to the liturgy is an adaption of the first seven measures of the song, "Yálla mágg na" (Global Praise 3 #150). Written by a convert to Christianity in Senegal, the melody is reminiscent of the call to prayer from a mosque. Consider using this in other ways in worship as well. For instance, the response could also be sung as a call to worship or call to prayer each week. Use it to call church meetings to order during Advent, with the children as they close Sunday school, or in mid-week Christian education experiences.
The song is written in a call-and-response pattern that makes it very easy to lead and to sing. The song leader or choir/praise team sings the first phrase, "Come now, Child of...." and invites the congregation to repeat the phrase. The song leader could also "draw" the shape of the music in the air to help the congregation see the melodic phrase. This pattern is sung twice. Then the song leader/choir/praise team sings an "Alleluia" that was written in the style of a call to prayer from a mosque. The congregation joins in at the end, singing a simple unison "Amen." Depending on your worship space, consider asking different soloists to stand around the worship space as they sing the "Alleluias" to have the sound move around the space.
The sung response should be accompanied very simply. There is a separate full vocal/piano version available for the church keyboardist as a PDF download (see below). The accompaniment can build over the four weeks of Advent by adding guitar, Orff instruments, or handbells. A flute, violin, recorder, or a light flute stop/patch on the keyboard could be used to double the melody. A simple low pedal point could be used to accompany the response as well. A singing bowl is a very effective accompaniment. Begin to ring the singing bowl during the last section of text spoken by the congregation to set the drone and pitch for the response.
A handbell or hand chime accompaniment is easily created by asking the bells to ring the chords as noted on the music in any octave. You can do this with just a few bells and a few ringers from your choir/praise team--no bell tables needed! If your ringers are nervous about memorizing the chord pattern of the two chords, you could create a simple chart of the chords that is small enough (e.g., 4" x 6") to be held by each ringer. Holding the chart, the bell ringers can be spaced around the worship space and ring confidently. Vary the accompaniment by beginning with whole-note chords. As you move through Advent, begin to add patterns or random ringing throughout. Add visual impact by stapling lengths of purple, pink, and blue ribbon or strips of shiny fabric through the handles of the handbells. Change the colors to white and gold for Christmas Eve. Don't have handbells? No problem! Use Orff instruments, or any combination of instruments that you have in the church using the same chord pattern concept.
- Rev. Debi Tyree