Praying Advent/Christmas Hymns (2022)

Christianity is a Singing Faith

I have a friend in ministry who told me that he would never accept a call from a church to be their pastor until he first had a chance to sit with them in a Sunday morning worship service and listen to them sing.  He was convinced that nothing reveals the heart of a church better than its singing.

“How a church sings will tell you whether their faith is formal or personal, more a theory than a love affair, something grudgingly borne by them or joyfully embraced,” he told me. “A church doesn’t have to sing ‘well’ by musical standards, the biblical requirement, after all, is a ‘joyful noise’” he explained with a smile (Psalm 95:1-2; 98:4; 100:1).  But following the lead of John Wesley, my friend told me that he would be worried about the spiritual condition of a church whose members sang “as if they were half-dead or half-asleep.” As “Sing spiritually,” John Wesley told the first Methodists,” have an eye to God in every word you sing.”

John and Carol Wimber, founders of the Vineyard Church Movement, said that one of the things that shaped their dynamic approach to worship was paying better attention to who they were singing to.  Carol Wimber says that she noticed that there were some moments in their meetings when she experienced God more deeply than at others.  She started noting when this happened, and she discovered that it happened most when they were singing.  But it didn’t happen with every song.

“We sang many songs, but mostly songs about worship or testimonies from one Christian to another. …We sang about God, but we never actually sang to God… we sang about worship, but we never actually worshipped… But occasionally we would sing a song personally and intimately to Jesus, with lyrics like “Jesus I love you”. Those types of songs both stirred and fed the hunger for God within me. …We began to see a difference between songs about Jesus and songs to Jesus.”

It was Dr. Nathan Pusey, President of Harvard University from 1953 through 1971, said that “what mankind needs most is a song to sing and a creed to believe.”  And when he heard this, E. Stanley Jones, the Methodist Missionary to India, noted, “These two things go together – you cannot sing unless you have a cosmic basis for your singing.”

This is what the Wilbers discovered. Testimony hymns, hymns that proclaim the mighty acts of God in Creation, Providence, and Redemption, have their counterpoint in Confessional hymns, hymns that thank God for what He has done and that praise God for who He is.  This is the rhythm of worship. God speaks and acts, we receive and rejoice. It’s a conversation.

This is why the Biblical religions, both Judaism and Christianity, are singing faiths. The things God does are answered the songs of praise and thanks God’s people sing.

When the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea, the first thing they did when they safely got to the other side was to sing a song of praise and thanks to the Lord (Exodus 15).

When the Lord heard Hannah’s prayer and gave her a son, as she presented him to the Lord, she sang a song of thanks and trust (I Samuel 2).

The longest book in the Bible is the collection of ancient Israel’s songs of prayer and praise (Psalms).

Jesus sang a hymn with His disciples on the night He was betrayed as they made their way from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:26; Matthew 26:30).

Paul and Silas sang hymns to God while chained to the wall of the Philippian jail (Acts 16:24-25).

Paul told both the Ephesian and Colossian Christians that singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody to the Lord from their hearts, always and for everything giving thanks, would be sure evidence of the fullness of the Holy Spirit in them (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16).

And in the book of Revelation, when the Savior steps onto the stage of heaven, all creation sings a new song (5:9-11).

Scott Dawson Gerritt, a Presbyterian minister, says that he reads lots of theology books.  He says that it’s his job.  “But every time I pick one up,” he writes, “I raise a silent challenge: “Make me sing.”  But Scott also says that he goes to lots of worship services. That’s his job too.  And as he does the challenge he makes to them is “Take me deeper.”  Scott writes – “The knowledge of God and the praise of God, theology and doxology, belong together. They are dance partners in the fulfillment of our chief end as human beings – to glorify and enjoy God forever. Theology that doesn’t make us sing has failed in its mission, no matter how correct it may be.”

The Biblical religions sing because the Biblical religions have something to sing about, and because we have Someone to sing to.

Christmas is a Singing Season

Despite my son’s vocation and success, I find musical theater to be an odd phenomenon.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it, I really do. “Les Misérables” moves me to tears every single time I see it. Some of my life’s best memories involve having seen “A Chorus Line,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Music Man,” and “A Band’s Visit” on Broadway. And one of my “best days ever” was the Broadway premier of the Tony-nominated musical about a porous yellow sponge who lives under the sea and His best friend ever, the big, goofy, pink starfish who lives next door. I’ve had some pretty big musical theater moments in my life, and still, I find musical theater odd.

I thought about this again just recently while watching the new Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, and Octavia Spencer Christmas musical “Spirited.”  Again, I enjoyed it, I even laughed out loud several times. I’d see it again. Still, I find musical theater odd. I don’t live in a world where people sing and dance their way through life. In my world people trudge and struggle. Nothing’s ever easy, and every day’s a fight. In my world I’m much more likely to hear voices raised in anger, or the sobs of people lost in their pain or loss than I am to hear them break out in a cheery song. I see lots more pushing and shoving than I do people pirouetting and sashaying down the street. I’m not saying that a musical theater world wouldn’t be better than this one that we do inhabit.  What I am saying is that this world is not that world, and then I read the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, and it occurs to me that it could!

The first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke, the “Christmas Gospel,” are the “musical theater” section of the Bible.  The narrative is punctuated with songs, songs that the church has been singing ever since – Zechariah’s “Benedictus” (“Blessed be” ~ 1:27-79) every morning, Mary’s “Magnificat” (“My soul magnifies” ~ 1:46-55) every evening, Simon’s “Nunc Dimittis” (“Now lettest” ~ 2:29-32) every night before bed, and the angels’ “Gloria” (“Glory be” ~ 2:14) at Christmastime and during Communion.

If the church sings because it has something to sing about (Creation, Providence, and Redemption) and Someone to sing to (God our Savior), then Christmas has to be one of the church’s primary singing seasons. So, every day for the next four weeks I am going to be using one of the church’s songs as prayer fodder for my personal preparation for Christmas.

Each morning from the first Sunday of Advent (November 27) through Christmas Sunday morning (December 25) I am going to pick a hymn (14 Advent Hymns followed by 16 Christmas Carols), link it to a Scripture, and then prayerfully ruminate on it. I’ll be posting the hymn, Scripture, and prayer each day in order to share the journey with you.

I don’t know that this spiritual exercise will cause me to sing and dance my way into Christmas this year, but I do expect it to prepare my head and heart for one of the critical moments in the saving work of God in Christ, His Incarnation – becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us full of grace and truth.

Somewhere I’ve read that Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the greatest theologians that the United States has ever produced, would always walk across the street from Union Theological Seminary in New York City where he taught to Riverside Church for their Christmas Eve Service.  But he always arrived late, “hoping to miss the preaching but not the singing” he said.

Well, I want to hear Christmas preached, but even more than that, I want to hear Christmas sung.  I once heard the Christian Educator John Westerhoff say that some of Christianity’s truths are better sung and danced than they are explained, and he had Christmas in mind when he said it. There are some profound and pivotal ideas at work in the Gospel’s Christmas message, ideas that need examining and explaining, but they are ideas that are best sung and danced first.

So, I invite you to join me this year in my Advent/Christmas musical.

It starts tomorrow.

ADVENT HYMNS

Praying Advent Hymns

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Advent – Day 1

“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice, rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!”

Ve­ni, ve­ni Eman­u­el (12th Cen­tu­ry)

Chalice Hymnal #119

LORD, I’m not very good at waiting. Stoplights. Sunrises. Dentist offices. Dinner. Election tallies. Test results. Christmas. I like instant gratification. I want it now, but I am a person, and this is a world of gradualisms. Growth is slow. Change plods. Promises unfold over time. We don’t get anywhere fast. Nothing is easy.

Scripture – Psalm 130:5-7

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning – Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption.”

Prayer

Israel, your first covenant people, our spiritual parents, waited. They’re the ones who taught us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Through long generations they navigated life by orienting themselves with promises of deliverance and a Deliverer who never made an appearance on the stage of history for many of them to see. So, they waited patiently in expectation, never letting go of your promise of their final consolation. And then a day dawned with angels singing, shepherds leaving their flocks in the field to go and see, and wise men following a star to kneel beside a baby’s cradle.

In this season of anticipation, in this middle muddled space between the “already” and the “not yet,” in a faith filled with promises still not fulfilled, teach us how to wait on you, LORD, but also teach us how to rejoice in you.

Praying Advent Hymns

Monday, November 28, 2022

Advent – Day 2

“In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone
Snow had fallen
Snow on snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter
Long, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.”

Christina Rosetti (1872)

Scripture – Habakkuk 3:17-18

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls – Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

Prayer

Trusting you is hardest, LORD, when we’ve exhausted every other possibility, when there is no plan B. It’s easy to confess faith in you on bright and shiny days when our bodies are strong and our relationships secure, when our finances are in order and the future is littered with promise and prospects. It isn’t hard to trust you, LORD, when we’ve got backup. But “in the bleak midwinter,” LORD, when all the props have been kicked out from underneath us and everything’s teetering, right on the verge of collapse, that’s when faith becomes a real test, LORD, and that’s just exactly how things feel right now.  

The world’s a frightening place these days, LORD, and our lives are filled with confusion, cares, and concern. We’ve made our annual observance of Christ’s coming so sweet and charming, so warm and cuddly, LORD, that it’s easy for us to miss how cold and cruel the days were when He was born. Christ came into a world where many lots of people had lost hope, and that sounds a lot like us right now. Christ came into the world knowing that He was their last and only chance. Come like that again into our world, LORD. Come to us.

Praying Advent Hymns

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Advent – Day 3

“Of the Father’s Love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore.”

“Corde Natus Ex Parentis” (413)

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius

Chalice Hymnal #104

Scripture – Titus 1:1-3

From Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I was chosen and sent to help the faith of God’s chosen people and to lead them to the truth taught by our religion,which is based on the hope for eternal life. God, who does not lie, promised us this life before the beginning of time,and at the right time he revealed it in his message. This was entrusted to me, and I proclaim it by order of God our Savior.”

Prayer

Help us catch a vision, LORD, of how the birth in Bethlehem that we will celebrate now in just a matter of weeks was not some spur of the moment decision, a whim, a lark, a wild idea, a random impulse, a quirky choice. “Of the Father’s Love begotten ere the worlds began to be…” Before there was anything else there was you. And there was love. And you had us in mind, in heart, and in view. Startle us with this truth, LORD.

From everlasting to everlasting, we sing and say, you are God, and right from the beginning of that everlasting your purpose was to create and redeem.  That’s what love does. It always moves out from itself. It always expands the circle. It always extends the dance. Begotten in love “ere the worlds began to be,” Christ became flesh and dwelt among us so that we would know that we are loved too. So, pull us into your heart of love, LORD, totally immerse us in your compassion and care in these weeks of preparation, and then, in the weeks that follow, send us from your heart of love, LORD, as instruments of your compassion and care for a world that doesn’t quite get it yet that it’s been chosen and beloved from before time began.

Praying Advent Hymns

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Advent – Day 4

“Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.”

Charles Wesley (1744)

Chalice Hymnal #125

Scripture – Luke 2:36-38

“And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Prayer

We’re looking for redemption too, LORD. We’re waiting for your hand to move.

It’s so much easier just to wallow in disappointment and grievance.  We’ve taken losses, LORD.  We’ve not always gotten what we expected. We’ve not always been treated as well as ought to have been, as we would have liked to have been. We’ve been passed-over and passed-by. We’re not where we thought we’d be. We don’t have what we thought we’d have. We’re not who we thought we’d be. And sometimes, if we can be perfectly honest with you, LORD, we’ve felt like quitting.

But here we are, LORD, in your presence once again. Still seeking your face. Still clinging to your promises.  Still believing that you’re not finished with us or this world yet. Still trusting that you still have plans, plans that include us, LORD, “plans for good and not for disaster, plans to give us a future and a hope.

So, release us from fear and regret, LORD. Become the great desire of our hearts, the source of our strength and consolation, and the reason for our hope and joy.

We’re here, LORD, and we’re watching.

Praying Advent Hymns

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Advent – Day 5

“Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With 
Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.”

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen(15th century)

Unknown Author

Chalice Hymnal #160

Scripture – Isaiah 11:1-3

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

Prayer

LORD, as we are making our plans for our families to get together soon for the holidays, remind us that Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior, had a family too. We are so focused on the last three days of the last three years of His public life that we sometimes forget about His thirty hidden years in Egypt and then Galilee where He was a brother, a son, a cousin, and a friend. Surely it was in that web of those ordinary human relationships where He loved and was loved that He grew in His deep understanding of your love and first discovered His mission as the embodiment of your love for everyone, everywhere, and always.

LORD, as we make our plans for our families to get together soon for the holidays, remind us that Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior, makes us members of a family that’s so much bigger than just those who can fit around the dinner table at home this Christmas. Help us to see how the Lord’s Table at Church, a table to which everyone is invited and at which everyone will be welcomed, is a family dinner table too, only a table that’s never short of room.

In the bread broken and the cup poured at that family table we remember with thanksgiving your saving work in Jesus Christ, and we enter into fellowship with everyone, everywhere, and always who has turned to Christ in faith to receive redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and the power to walk in newness of life.  Bind us to you and to one another, LORD, with the bonds of love at that table this Christmas, and remind us to set some extra places, we pray.

Praying Advent Hymns

Friday, December 2, 2022

Advent – Day 6

“All earth is waiting to see the Promised One,
and open furrows await the seed of God.
All the world, bound and struggling, seeks true liberty;
it cries out for justice and searches for the truth.

Thus says the Prophet to those of Israel:
A virgin mother will bear Emanuel,
One whose Name is, God With Us.
Our Savior shall be through whom
Hope will blossom once more in our hearts.

“Toda la tierra espera al Salvador” (1972)

Alberto Taulé (1932 – 2007)

Chalice Hymnal #139

Scripture – I Peter 1:23-25

“You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for –

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord abides forever.”

That word is the good news which was preached to you.”

Prayer

Soften our hearts, LORD. Break up the hard, dry, barren soil within. Make us receptive to the good seed of your word of promise sown, LORD, and then bring it to its full harvest of hope, not just so that we can know peace and joy within ourselves, but so that we can be channels of your peace and joy to a “bound and struggling” world.

The Christmas Gospel begins with the news of an “enrollment” from Caesar Augustus when “Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Give us a sense of the dread that these words would have carried for the first people who would have heard them, people who would have been struggling just to survive in places like Nazareth and Bethlehem in the days of Augustus and Quirinius. Life was hard for them, and the world was harsh. It is for us too, LORD. 

Sometimes it takes everything we’ve got just to get up and face the world again in the morning, LORD. There’s such ignorance, hatred, selfishness, cruelty, intransigence, inertia, deceit, and despair in the world these days. It feels like the darkness is engulfing us. But it has felt like this before, hasn’t it LORD? It did in the days of Augustus and Quirinius when a virgin conceived and “hope blossomed.” Plant that imperishable seed in the open furrows of our hearts in these days of preparation, and then bring forth the harvest of hope on Christmas when all who cry out for justice and search for truth catch a glimpse of its reality and certainty in the face of the baby who slumbers  in Bethlehem’s cradle.

Praying Advent Hymns

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Advent – Day 7

“Comfort, comfort ye My people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ’neath their sorrow’s load;
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.”

Jo­han­nes G. Ole­ar­i­us (1671)

Chalice Hymnal #122

Scripture – Isaiah 40:1-5

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

Prayer

I love to hear “the comfortable words” in church, LORD, after making my “humble confession” to you each week, Almighty God, “devoutly kneeling.”

“Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ saith unto all who truly turn to him –

‘Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.’  (St. Mathew xi. 28.)

‘So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’  (St. John iii. 16)

Hear also what Saint Paul saith.

‘This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’  (1 Timothy i. 15)

Hear also what Saint John saith.


‘If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the Propitiation for our sins.’  (1 St. John ii).”

We need comforting, LORD. We hurt. We’re afraid. We’re ashamed. We’re shattered. We’re confused. We’re hollow. We’re exhausted. We’re both victims and perpetrators of the chaos of these days. We’re wounded and wounding. We’re broken and breakers. We’re alienated and alienating. And what we need more than anything else right now, LORD, is some assurance that you love us despite ourselves, and that you are not giving up on us because of who we are and what we’ve done. In that moment, LORD, when we see ourselves most clearly, let us see you most clearly too.

Praying Advent Hymns

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Advent – Day 8

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.”

Cherubic Hymn, Offertory

The Divine Liturgy of St James (4th century)

Chalice Hymnal #124

Scripture – Psalm 46:10

“Be still then, and know that I am God.”

Prayer

We sing a lot about silence and stillness at Christmastime, LORD.

“Silent Night, Holy Night…”

“O Little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…”

“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given….”

“The little Lord Jesus, nor crying He makes…”

“The world in solemn stillness lay….”

“Still, still, still…”

“What child is this, who, laid to rest,

on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”

But there’s very little actual silence or stillness in our Christmases, LORD.

Guide us to the to Bethlehem of the heart this year, LORD, to the place where Christ is born in us. And there in its quietness, renew our strength.  Let the manger where Christ slumbered in perfect peace become the still point around which all of the demands, decisions, and desires of these days might be rightly ordered, so that we might be still and know that He is God with us, and in that discovery know perfect peace.

Praying Advent Hymns

Monday, December 5, 2022

Advent – Day 9

“Creator of the stars of night,
Your people’s everlasting light,
O Christ, Redeemer of us all,
We pray You, hear us when we call.

To thee the travail deep was known
That made the whole creation groan
Till thou, Redeemer, shouldest free
Thine own in glorious liberty.

When this old world drew on toward night.
You came, but not in splendor bright.
Not as a monarch, but the child
Of Mary, blameless mother mild.

At Your great name, O Jesus, now
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
All things on earth with one accord.
Like those in heaven, shall call You Lord.

Come in thy holy might, we pray;
Redeemer us for eternal day
From ev’ry pow’r of darkness, when
Thou judgest all the sons of men.”

“Conditor alme siderum” (7th century)

Chalice Hymnal #127

Scripture –

Isaiah 9:2/Matthew 4:16

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them has light shined.”

John 1:4-5

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that enlightens every person was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.”

Prayer

LORD, the day of your tender mercy has dawned “from on high.” This is not our doing. We sat in darkness.  We dwelt in the shadow of death. We ached for you. We groped for what we could not see, hoping to find.  But it was you who broke in upon us. It was you who sought us while we were in the far country. It was you who came looking for us when we had wandered far from the fold of God.  Today we thrive and rejoice in the light and warmth of your love, LORD.

But even as we bask in it today, LORD, we know that there are those who have turned away, who have shut their eyes to your light that shines.  Even though you are the true light that enlightens every person by coming into the world, and even though you are the light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome, still there are those who will not look, who cannot see, who prefer the darkness to the light.

Use us, LORD, as little reflections of your light, to shine your life and love into all the dark places where people we know and love live. Send us into that darkness, LORD, not like lasers that burn and blast, but rather like tealights that warm and glow.

Praying Advent Hymns

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Advent – Day 10

“Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates,
Behold the King of glory waits;
The King of kings is drawing near,
The Savior of the world is here;
Life and salvation doth He bring,
Wherefore rejoice and gladly sing:
We praise Thee, Father, now!
Creator, wise art Thou!”

Georg Weissel (1642)

Chalice Hymnal #129

Scripture s–

Psalm 24:7-10

“Lift up your heads, O gates! 

And be lifted up, O ancient doors!  

That the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?

The Lord, strong and mighty,
The Lord, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!

And be lifted up, O ancient doors!

That the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,

He is the King of glory!”

Revelation 3:20

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Prayer

There are so many things about you, LORD, that astonish and confound us. You are the sovereign Creator, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Your glory and majesty, your wisdom and might are more than we perceive and can possibly conceive.

You alone laid the foundation of the earth. You alone determined its measurements. You alone stretched the line upon it, sunk its bases, and laid its cornerstone. You alone shut in the sea with doors, saying, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther.’ You alone command the morning, causing the dawn to know its place. You alone have walked in the recesses of the deep and comprehended the expanse of the earth. (Job 38)

Who can know your mind, LORD?

Who can understand your decisions, LORD?

Who can explain your ways?

Who thinks that they can give you advice? (Romans 11)

And yet, LORD, you give us choice. You stand on the outside of our lives and ask to come in! You knock on the door and then you wait. You don’t overwhelm us with your majesty, or overpower us with your might. Instead, you come to us as little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger!  You make it so that we can miss you, LORD. You make it so that you can be overlooked.  You choose us, LORD, before the foundation of the earth you chose us, and then you wait and work to be chosen by us as well.

Keep us from getting distracted, LORD.

Praying Advent Hymns

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Advent – Day 11

Don’t let us miss you in the hurry and the busy of these days.

“Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heav’n, to earth come down,
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art.
Visit us with thy salvation;
enter ev’ry trembling heart.

Finish, then, thy new creation;
true and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee.
Changed from glory into glory,
till in heav’n we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love and praise.”

Charles Wesley (1747)

Chalice Hymnal #517

Scripture – John 14:23

“Jesus answered him, ‘If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’”

Prayer

LORD, as important as it was that you came to us a long, long time ago as Bethlehem’s baby and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, so that we might behold your glory and receive the gift of eternal life from your nail-pierced hand, it is just as important that you now come to us in the Spirit as the indwelling, empowering presence who makes us new creations and enables us to walk in newness of life. “We will celebrate nativity for it has a place in history,” but it was when we met you “face to face, and felt the wonder of your grace, that we knew that you were more than just a God who didn’t care, who lived a way out there.”

As the world makes its plans to celebrate outward Christmas, prepare us, LORD, for a celebration of inward Christmas.  While others may be satisfied with the pretty paper, the twinkling lights, the grand traditions and lovely decorations of material Christmas, LORD, let us not be content with anything less than you “being born in us” again this Christmas. “Fix in us Thy humble dwelling… visit us with Thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.”

This Christmas may we be “lost in wonder, love, and praise,” as our hearts become Christ’s home, we pray.

Praying Advent Hymns

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Advent – Day 12

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let Earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.”

Isaac Watts (1719)

Chalice Hymnal #143

Scripture – Romans 8:19-23

“The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Prayer

The world is broken too, LORD. The earth needs healing no less than we do. We see it now. The storms seem fiercer than ever before. The temperatures are hotter, then colder than we’ve known in the past. The floods are more frequent, the droughts last longer, the property damage is more severe, the viruses are more frequent and virulent, and the climate changes are more dramatic and destructive. The created order feels less friendly than we’ve known before so that now when we sing –

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.”

We have some frame of reference.

Take us back to the beginning of the story, back to Eden, to that ache we feel somewhere deep inside for the original harmony, for your “Shalom,” for the flourishing and well-being of everybody and everything fit together in a web of perfect beauty, abundance, and peace.

Take us forward to the end of the story, to the new heavens and the new earth, to that promise of the coming Kingdom where your will in heaven and on earth will be perfectly coordinated once again, when “no more will sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground,” when tears will be wiped away from our eyes and the lion will lay down with the lamb.

And take us inward, to the temple of our hearts where your indwelling, empowering Spirit dwells, and stir up hope and help. Let us catch a glimpse of the breathtaking scope of your saving intention. Let us feel the tug of the momentum of the healing of all creation that the coming of Christ initiates. And let us feel the dignity of our identity as your image bearers and the authority of our vocation as your co-laborers to bend the arc of history in the direction of the wholeness that is your will and way.

Praying Advent Hymns

Friday, December 9, 2022

Advent – Day 13

“Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.
Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height,
See that glory beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes—it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.”

John Bow­ring (1825)

Scripture – Psalm 130:5-7

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”

Prayer

What we want, LORD, is for everything to be fixed right now. We want you to snap your fingers, or blink your eyes, or nod your head, or do whatever it is you need to do to make everything better in an instant. We want magic, LORD, alchemy, turning of our tin into your gold. Your Word, after all, tells us that this is in fact what you are doing. 

Salvation is the good seed planted in the hidden depths of our hearts and in the broken-open-wide furrows of hurt, and hate, and hope of this world, and new life is stirring. We are born again. We are new creations. The old has passed away and behold the new has come. But we don’t always have the eyes to see this happening, LORD, or minds that are clear enough to comprehend its workings, or souls so centered that we can bear it patiently, or the strength to hold steady. So, make us watchmen, LORD, watchmen who scan the horizon for signs looking for the dawning of your promises and for some proof that your hands are moving.

Let us see for ourselves some evidence of hope, LORD, and then help us to somehow become the evidence of that hope for somebody else, somewhere else, sometime soon.

Let us see for ourselves some evidence of peace, LORD, and then help us to somehow become the evidence of that peace for somebody else, somewhere else, sometime soon.

Let us see for ourselves some evidence of joy, LORD, and then help us to somehow become the evidence of that joy for somebody else, somewhere else, sometime soon.

And let us see for ourselves some evidence of love, LORD, and then help us to somehow become the evidence of that love for somebody else, somewhere else, sometime soon.

Give our waiting and watching, LORD, something clear and sure to see that proves your presence, power, and provision, and then make us part of the clear and sure things that others can see  and know that you are really there and truly care.

Praying Advent Hymns

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Advent – Day 14

“Awake! awake, and greet the new morn,
for angels herald its dawning.
Sing out your joy, for soon he is born,
behold! the Child of our longing.
Come as a baby weak and poor,
to bring all hearts together,
he opens wide the heav’nly door
and lives now inside us forever.”

Marty Haugen (1983)

Chalice Hymnal #138

Scripture – I Thessalonians 5:6-10

“Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake…”

Prayer

One of our great temptations, LORD, is to sleepwalk through our lives, to slumber through the displays of your majesty and grace, to miss the moments of your visitation. Today we’re halfway to our annual celebration of the nativity, LORD. This is such familiar terrain for us.  We’ve been here so many times before. We know what to expect. And so, we can throw a switch in our souls and just coast into Christmas. We can go through the motions. We can mumble the carols. We can unthinkingly, unfeelingly follow the script. We can “slouch toward Bethlehem.”

Save us from being blasé about your love, LORD, and about what that love has done. Keep us from presuming upon your kindness, from being nonchalant about your coming into the world to save us. Startle us awake with a new realization of what this season heralds, LORD, with a fresh encounter with what it is that Christmas really means –

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  …No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (John 1:14, 18)

We’re halfway to Christmas today, LORD. Awaken us. Startle us. Stir us. Surprise us so that we might go to Bethlehem with open hearts and see with new eyes this thing that you have done for us.

CHRISTMAS HYMNS

Praying Christmas Hymns

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Advent – Day 15

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem
O come and behold Him, born the King of Angels                                                                      

O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him. Christ the Lord”

“Adeste Fideles” (1743)

John Francis Wade (1711–1786)

Chalice Hymnal #148

Scripture – Luke 2:1-7

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirin’ius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Prayer

We were born too late, LORD, to make the trip to Bethlehem in time and space to “come and behold Him, born the King of angels.” We can sing of it in carols, read about it in Scripture, reenact it in our pageants, and set it up in miniature on our mantles with our creches. But we can’t cross the centuries to sing with the angels, or kneel with the shepherds at the manger in Bethlehem, or bow with the magi and open our gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

We were born too late, LORD. Historical Bethlehem is well beyond our reach. We can’t get there from here. But Spiritual Bethlehem, the Bethlehem of the head, and of the heart, and of the hands and feet, that Bethlehem we can reach.

Bring us to the Bethlehem of the mind this Christmas, LORD. Usher us into the mystery of the Incarnation, draw us to the wonder of the eternal Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us so that we could behold your glory and grace. Captivate us with your truth, LORD. Confound us with the complexity “three persons” and “one substance, and then deliver us to the simplicity of Emmanuel, “God with us.” So fill our intellects and imaginations with what Bethlehem means, LORD, that it informs our thinking and being in every moment of our living and dying.

And then bring us to the Bethlehem of the heart this Christmas, LORD. Let the truth of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ slowly dissolve into a deep appreciation for the beauty of your way of being and doing for us and our salvation. Seize us this Christmas, LORD, with the power of a great affection. Move us to feel your love for us and for all anew, and then distill those powerful feelings into a renewal of trust and thanks.

And then finally, LORD, bring us to the Bethlehem of our hands and feet this Christmas. With our heads thoroughly captivated by the truth of Christmas and our hearts completely filled with the warmth of Christmas, finish our annual pilgrimage to Spiritual Bethlehem this year by guiding our feet in the way of reconciliation and peace, and opening our hands in sacrifice and service. Move Christmas outside ourselves this year, LORD, beyond the walls of our churches and the comfort of our homes to all of the dark and difficult places where people strive and struggle, wondering if anyone is really there or even cares? Christmas is the proof that you are and that you do, LORD, and it’s our hands and feet that make us living expressions of the Christmas Gospel for them. 

Here we are, LORD.

Send us.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Monday, December 12, 2022

Advent – Day 16

“God’s love made visible! Incomprehensible!
Christ is invincible! His love shall reign!                                                                                         

From love so bountiful, blessings uncountable
make death surmountable! His love shall reign!”

Iola Brubeck (1975)

Chalice Hymnal #171

Scripture – John 1:1-5; 14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. …And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

Prayer

Help us to connect the dots better this Christmas, LORD, between our need and your action. We tend to see things in bits and pieces. We put Christmas over in holiday department of our lives.  It’s a special day for us LORD, one filled with beautiful decorations and beloved traditions. We bring Christmas down out of the attic each year right after Thanksgiving, and then we put it all back by New Years.

Christmas is something we do, LORD. It has its own music, colors, script, and choreography, and we love it.  But you intend Christmas to be something more, don’t you LORD?  What you did at Christmas is not just something that deserves a special day of celebration, but lives that are completely transformed by the fact that your love became visible and tangible in Jesus Christ, and remains vital and empowering by His indwelling presence in our hearts.

As the music of the season gets louder in the coming days, as the pace of the dance speeds up, and the demands of the observance of this season increase, bring us to the still point around which all these festive activities and traditional experiences turn. Let us find our way into the inner meaning of Christmas this year, LORD, and not just its outward celebration. Help us to see your love clearly in Bethlehem’s manger and on Calvary’s cross, and then let us take hold of it in such a way that our lives are based on it and our deaths are approached trusting it.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Advent – Day 17

“O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.”

Phillips Brooks (1868)

Chalice Hymnal #144

Scripture – Matthew 2:1-6

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and we have come to worship him.’When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will govern my people Israel.’”

Prayer

Bethlehem is now a tourist attraction, LORD. People travel from all over the world to visit it. Mary and Joseph have churches and colleges named after them, and we have little statues of them decorating our mantles and inflatables of them on our front lawns this time of year. We sing about songs about the shepherds and paint pictures of them that hang in museums.

There’s nothing little or small about any of the details of the Christmas story for us anymore, LORD. We’ve puffed it all by our devotion, but they were all nobodies when it first happened, and Bethlehem was a nowhere place. Herod had to ask where the Messiah was to be born when the wisemen showed up looking for him. He had to get his experts to look it up. There was nothing special about Bethlehem on that first Christmas night, and Mary and Joseph couldn’t get a room there even though she was pregnant and at full term. And those shepherds, LORD, they probably stank to high heaven.

Take away the filters that warm and soften the hard and harsh details of that first Christmas for us, LORD. Get it off the pretty cards that we send to each other and put it back into history so that we can see it in all its griminess and severity because that’s where we live too. And push the Christmas cast off their pedestals for us, LORD, so that we can see them as the real people that they were, people with problems and promise, people just like us.

Use Christmas this year to teach us, LORD, that there are no “little people,” no unimportant places, and no insignificant moments. It’s because you don’t despise the day of small beginnings, but rather rejoice to see a work begun (Zechariah 4:10), that we can even begin to consider that your plans might include us, and risk the lowering off our guard just enough to let a little bit of your love and light in so that it can begin to do its astonishing work in us, and through us.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Advent – Day 18

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.

…The cattle are lowing, The Baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus, No crying He makes.”

Anonymous (19th century)

Chalice Hymnal #147

Scripture – Luke 2:15-16

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”

Prayer

Because you are God, we expect you to show up in big, bold, and unmistakable sorts of ways. But at Christmas you come to us in such a small and hidden way. Instead of grandeur, you came to us at Christmas in simplicity. Rather than high and lifted-up, you came to us at Christmas lowly, emptied of your majesty and might. Instead of parting the clouds and stepping into time and space with power and glory on full display, in Christ you “slip into town completely unnoticed, in the womb of a virgin, on the back of a donkey, to be born in a manger because there was no room at the inn.” 

This is not the “earthquake, wind, and fire” that we expected of you, LORD, but the “small, still voice,” and to be perfectly honest, we’re not all that good with the small and the still. We aren’t very good at paying attention, LORD, and even when we are, it’s not easy to see you in the shadows or to hear you in the whispers. So, use this Christmas to teach us where to look for you, LORD, and how to find you. Bring us to the manger in the still of the night, LORD, and open the eyes of our hearts to see you there in the newborn baby who slumbers in peace. In that moment, in that place, in that way, make yourself known to us. We’re paying attention.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Advent – Day 19

“Once in royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby in a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little Child.

Christ came down to earth from heaven, love incarnate for us all,
And His shelter was a stable, and His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, the scorned, the lowly, lived on earth our Savior holy.

And our eyes at last shall see Him, through His own redeeming love;
For that Child who seemed so helpless lives and reigns in heaven above;

And He leads His children on to the place where He is gone.”

Cecil F. Alexander (1848)

Chalice Hymnal #165

Scripture John 14:1-6

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.

Prayer

You came to us in Christ, LORD, so that we might get to you. Don’t permit us get so caught up in the sentimentality of the baby’s birth in Bethlehem that we miss its point. This is easy to do. The candlelight glow, beautiful music, beloved traditions, warm feelings, and sweet memories flood our souls in these festive days. We want them to last but we need them end so that the rest of the story can be told.

We want the little town of Bethlehem, but we need the place prepared for us.

We want the manger, but we need the Upper Room.

We want shepherds and the magi, but we need the Garden of Gethsemane.

We want the star, but we need the cross.

We want the singing angels, but we need the empty tomb.

We want Christmas, but we need the Kingdom come.

So, after we kneel for a while beside the crib, LORD, get us up and on our way so that the One for whom there was no room in the inn can make room for us in your house forever.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Friday, December 16, 2022

Advent – Day 20

“I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.”

Traditional Appalachian Carol

John Jacob Niles (1934)

Chalice Hymnal #161

Scripture – Luke 2:19

“But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Prayer

Grant us the gift of wonder, LORD. Bring us to that moment when the beauty, and the

power, and the profundity of something brings us to our knees in a place of astonished stillness.

We live in an age of easily accessed information, LORD. We are bombarded with data and ideas all day long.  We are never very far outside the loop with our smart phones in our hands, our fingers constantly scrolling, and our eyes endlessly scanning.  We’re always connected, LORD, but we’re rarely moved anymore. We consume enormous amounts of content, but it leaves us largely unchallenged and unchanged. We take note, and then we move on. We are sated and jaded, LORD. Nothing surprises us. Nothing stirs us. Nothing slows us down. Nothing makes us stop

So, stagger us LORD with the angelic announcement: “I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people;for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). May this be the truth that brings us up short, LORD. Let it stop us in our tracks. Use it set us to wandering and wondering, pondering in our hearts what it would mean if what the angel said was true: a savior — born — for us.

Clear some space in our schedules and our souls in the coming days, LORD, so that we can sit and let this truth soak deep into our heads and hearts.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Advent – Day 21

“What Child is this, who laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!”

William Dix (1865)

Chalice Hymnal #162

Scripture – Matthew 1:20-23

“An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Prayer

You are my Redeemer.

You are my Liberator.

You are my Salvation.

You are my Wisdom.

You are my Righteousness.

You are my Sanctification.

You are my Redemption.

You are my Purification.

You are my Sacrifice.

You are my Lamb.

You are my Great High Priest.

You are my Advocate.

You are my Mediator.

You are my Teacher.

You are my Shepherd.

You are my Example.

You are my Comfort.

You are my Consolation.

You are my Joy.

You are my Helper.

You are my Benefactor.

You are my King.

You are my Bridegroom.

You are the Physician of my maladies.

You are the Healer of my Passions.

You are the Destroyer of my sins.

You are the Birth-giver of my Soul.

You are the Ultimate End

Of all my desires and happiness.

You are the Rehabilitation of my Blessedness.

You are the Restoration of my life.

You are my Eternal Delight.

Cyril the Elder

Patriarch of Constantinople

(1748 – 1751; 1752 -1775)

Praying Christmas Hymns

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Advent – Day 22

“Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
You who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
Come and worship, Come and worship
Worship Christ, the newborn King.

Though an infant now we view him,
He shall fill his Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to him;
Every knee shall then bow down:
Come and worship, Come and worship
Worship Christ, the newborn King.”

James Montgomery (1816)

Chalice Hymnal #149

Scripture – 1 Peter 1:10-12

It was concerning this salvation that the prophets made careful search and investigation, and they prophesied about this gift which God would give you. They tried to find out when the time would be and how it would come. This was the time to which Christ’s Spirit in them was pointing, in predicting the sufferings that Christ would have to endure and the glory that would follow. God revealed to these prophets that their work was not for their own benefit, but for yours, as they spoke about those things which you have now heard from the messengers who announced the Good News by the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. These are things which even the angels would like to understand.

Prayer

Christmas is crowded with angels, LORD. 

We’re told to “hark” them, to listen to them sing, to join them in the song, to bring you “laud” with them, to “behold” with them, and to go with them to Bethlehem to adore the newborn king. Their “watch of wondering love” as they “bend on “hovering wing,” teaches us the steps of the dance of adoration. Angels are everywhere in the Christmas stories the Bible tells, but I’ve never seen an angel, LORD, or heard their voices sing. Still, I trust they are there, and that they see us.

Your word tells us that angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to serve for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation” (Hebrews 1:14), and hints that each of your “little ones” has one who “beholds your face” (Matthew 18:10). I believe they rejoice the day we first believe (Luke 15:7; 10) and will form the retinue to carry us home to you on our last day when we close our eyes in death (Luke 16:22; Matthew 13:39).

But more important to me than the reality of these messengers, LORD, is the truth of their message. Their whole existence points to you. Their whole purpose is to make you and your ways know to us. So, while the thought of angels is exciting to us, and the stories of their appearances in the Christmas stories dramatic, help us to push past their roles as  supporting cast and their place among the stage decorations of the nativity scene, to stand on tiptoe with them to peer into the Christmas crib and to see the salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, and to join them in the song of praise.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Monday, December 19, 2022

Advent – Day 23

“’Twas in the moon of wintertime,
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wand’ring hunters heard the hymn:

Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born! In excelsis gloria!

Within a lodge of broken bark,
The tender Babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapped His beauty round;
And as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high:

Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born! In excelsis gloria!

O children of the forest free,

The angel song is true;
The Holy Child of earth and heav’n
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy,
Who brings you beauty, peace, and joy:

Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born! In excelsis gloria!”

The first Christmas Carol composed in North America

Jean de Brebeuf (1643) – Jesuit Missionary to the Hurons in Canada

Chalice Hymnal #166

Scripture – Revelation 5:8-14

The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; and they sang a new song, saying –

‘Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God
from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on earth.’

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, “To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!”And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Prayer

It’s the first, and for many of us, the only Bible verse that we know by heart, LORD – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). We know these words by heart, LORD, now teach us the truth of them, the truth that you love us, but not only us; the truth that you intend to save us, but not only us; the truth that you’ve given yourself for us, but not for us only.

Enlarge our vision to catch a glimpse of the scope of your love, and stretch our hearts to take in the way that in Jesus Christ you are gathering your family from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Just as the Magi traveled from a place faraway to the baby in Bethlehem, drawn by the light of a star in the sky, so now draw everyone, everywhere into your family by the light of the Risen, Glorious Christ reflected in the lives of His people.

Your saving work in Jesus Christ broke down the walls that divided Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, Greeks and barbarians, men and women, rich and poor, young and old when the church was just beginning. Now that the church has been around for a while, recall us to that first work of reconciliation. Where the world is fracturing today, LORD, use us to pull together the pieces that are flying apart. And where people have been banished to the margins because they are different, empower us to be the demonstration of your love that was born in Bethlehem, crucified on Calvary, and raised on the third day to make all things new.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Advent – Day 24

“And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!”

Edmund Sears (1849)

Chalice Hymnal #153

Scripture – Hebrews 2:14-18

Since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death, and in this way set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death. For it is clear that it is not the angels that he helps. Instead, he helps the descendants of Abraham. This means that he had to become like his people in every way, in order to be their faithful and merciful High Priest in his service to God, so that the people’s sins would be forgiven. And now he can help those who are tempted, because he himself was tempted and suffered.

Prayer

You didn’t sit in heaven faraway, LORD, uninformed, unmoved, and uninvolved. Instead, You came to us in Christ. You became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld your glory and received your grace as a result. Help and hope are ours because you came.

Life’s “crushing load” was not just something you heard about, it was something you experienced firsthand. You knew loneliness and marginalization. You knew hunger and thirst. You knew the pain of loss and the wound of grief. You knew the exhaustion of labor and the heavy hand of oppression. You knew the sting of betrayal and the anguish of abandonment. You knew the schemes of the devil and the desires of the flesh. You knew the fear of death and brutality of crucifixion. There is no part of our human experience, LORD, to which you are a stranger.

Christmas means that you are “Emmanuel,” the “God who is with us.” So, come alongside us in our struggles and our suffering, LORD. Comfort us in our afflictions. Carry us in our weakness. Bind our wounds and fractures. Heal our bodies and our souls. And then, LORD, make us instruments of your comfort and consolation. Send us alongside those who are struggling and suffering, LORD, just as you came alongside us. Allow us to comfort the afflicted, LORD, just you comforted us in our afflictions. Help us to carry people in their weaknesses, LORD, just as you carried us in ours. Use us to bind people’s wounds and fractures, LORD, just as you bound ours. And make us part of the way that you bring bodies and souls to wholeness, LORD, just as you are making us whole too.

The real gifts of Christmas, LORD, are not the things that can be bought at a store, wrapped up in pretty paper, and put under a tree, but are the things you do in our hearts and are doing in our world to set right what’s gone astray. We rejoice that this is the kind of God we know you to be, LORD, in Jesus Christ.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Advent – Day 25

“Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings;
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that we no more may die
Born to raise us from the earth,
Born to give us second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the new-born king.’”

Charles Wesley (1739)

Chalice Hymnal #150

Scripture – Philippians 2:6-11

He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death – his death on the cross. For this reason, God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name. And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world belowwill fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Prayer

Though “in the form of God,” Christ did not cling to His divinity, but emptied Himself, became a servant, and was obedient “unto death” for us, LORD (Philippians 2:6-11).

“Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that we no more may die
Born to raise us from the earth,
Born to give us second birth.”

Christmas is our celebration that this happened, LORD, and it’s our contemplation of its results in our lives and the world. Now, use this Christmas truth to change the way we make our way through the world.

We’re told that –

Happy are the pushers:

for they get on in the world.

Happy are the hard-boiled:

for they never let life hurt them.

Happy are they who complain:

for they get their own way in the end.

Happy are the blasé:

for they never worry over their sins.

Happy are the slave drivers:

for they get results.

Happy are the knowledgeable men of the world:

for they know their way around.

Happy are the trouble-makers:

for people have to take notice of them.” (J.B. Phillips)

But you tell us that –

“Happy are those who realize their spiritual poverty:

they have already entered the kingdom of Reality.

Happy are they who bear their share of the world’s pain:

in the long run they will know more happiness than those who avoid it.

Happy are those who accept life and their own limitations:

they will find more in life than anybody.

Happy are those who are ready to make allowances and to forgive:

they will know the love of God.

Happy are those who are real in their thoughts and feelings:

in the end they will see the ultimate Reality, God.

Happy are those who help others to live together:

they will be known to be doing God’s work.” (J.B. Phillips)

Help us to empty ourselves of ourselves this Christmas, LORD, so that we might be more Christ-like as our Christmas gift to others, we pray.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Advent – Day 26

“Infant holy, Infant lowly, For His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swiftly winging angels singing, bells are ringing,
Tidings bringing: Christ the Babe is Lord of all,                                                                               

Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, Shepherds keeping
vigil till the morning new, Saw the glory,
Heard the story, – tidings of a Gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow praises voicing,
Greet the morrow: Christ the Babe was born for you,                                                           

Christ the Babe was born for you!”

“W Żłobie Leży” – A Traditional Polish Christmas Carol

Translated by Edith Margaret Gellibrand Reed (1925)

Scripture – Isaiah 53:1-3

Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Prayer

I think the odds are pretty good, LORD, that I would have missed you at your incarnation.  Lowliness and divinity are just not synonymous in my mind. When I think God, I think big. When I think God, I think majestic. When I think God, I think powerful. When I think about God arriving on the scene, I don’t think about a little baby in the corner of a dirty barn in the middle of a cold night with nobody else around. What I think about instead are fireworks, spotlights, an entourage, and full network coverage.

So use this Christmas to adjust our expectations and perceptions, LORD, not just of you and your ways of being and doing, but of ourselves as well, of who and how we are as reflection of Him. Make us comfortable with the slow and quiet workings of grace, and eager to serve you in hidden ways and places. In our annual recital of the events of the first Christmas, LORD, cause us to reflect on how you made your way into our world and then on how you made your way through it. Make this more than just a matter of curiosity and religious devotion, LORD. Use it to inform our minds, to form our hearts, and to transform our actions. Make us lowly as you were lowly in Christ. Make us patient as you were patient in Christ. And make us gentle as you were gentle in Christ.  Make us reflections of Him of whom the angels sing, the shepherds proclaim, and the Magi adore.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Friday, December 23, 2022

Advent – Day 27

“Her baby, newly breathing,
with wailing needful cry,
by Mary kissed and cradled,
is lulled in lullaby.
Long months of hope and waiting,
the thrill and fear of birth,
are crowned with exultation,
and God is on the earth.”

Brian Wren (1987)

Chalice Hymnal #158

Scripture – John 14:5-11

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.”

Prayer

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” we sing in church this time of year, LORD, and some of us will stand and say that we believe “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made.” We sing and say these words, LORD, but the staggering truth of them, that you, the unseen, eternal, and almighty God has come to us in Jesus Christ to reveal yourself to us, to redeem us from our bondage to sin and death, and to reconcile us to yourself barely registers. 

When you made yourself known to Abram and invited him into a special covenantal relationship with yourself, he took you at your word and made a costly sacrifice to signify and seal it. You’ve made a costly sacrifice for us to be a special covenantal relationship with yourself, LORD, and we just go through the motions of the sacred meal that signifies and seals it.

When Jacob wrestled with your presence all night long at Jabbok, he refused to let go until you blessed him. We can barely get out of bed for church on Sunday morning, LORD, and yet we still expect to be blessed.

When you showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, he took off his shoes because he knew that he was standing on holy ground. We are too, LORD, but are shoes are still on our feet.

When you ushered the children of Israel through the middle of the Red Sea, they broke out in song. You usher us through death and despair, LORD, but we aren’t singing.

You spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, and he girded up his loins and stood to face you. You speak to us all the time in the swirl of our circumstances, commitments, and concerns, LORD, but we aren’t listening.

You spoke to Isaiah when his world had collapsed about him, you showed him the deepest truth about himself, offered him a way to fix it, and then invited him to participate in your eternal purpose, and he opened his heart and hands to receive what you were offering. We live in a world no less shattered and shattering as Isaiah’s, the deepest truth about him is the deepest truth about us, and the offer to fix and send him is exactly what we need as well, but our heads and hearts are, if not closed, then at least wavering.

Our spiritual ancestors in the journey of Biblical faith were instrumentally and irrevocably confronted, challenged, and converted by their encounters with your presence, LORD. May we be too. May this Christmas be the moment when the full import and impact of your coming to us in Jesus Christ, born as a baby in Bethlehem, will push past our defenses and excuses and change us fundamentally and permanently, we pray.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Advent – Christmas Eve – Day 28

“Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child!
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!”

“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” (1818)

Scripture – Galatians 4:4-5

Franz Xaver Gruber (1787 – 1863)

Chalice Hymnal #145

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

Prayer

This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, LORD – Christmas Eve!

This is the evening for feeling all the feelings, LORD – all the love, all the peace, all the joy, all the hope – that the coming of Christ brings. The preparations are made. The floors have been swept and the pews polished. The choirs have rehearsed. The organist has practiced. The preacher has pondered and plotted the proclamation. The candles have been counted and strategically prepositioned, and the communion trays filled. It’s ready to go.

For 28 days now we have been getting ready inside ourselves for what we will celebrate outwardly tonight. May our patient, expectant preparation now bear the fruit of faithfulness. Not so much our faithfulness, LORD, for it is far from perfect, but yours, which never falters or wavers. The whole sweep of the story that the Scriptures tell is one of you making promises, LORD, and then keeping those promises, but never as fast as we would like or quite in the way that we expected. Your faithfulness has always and only come in the fullness of time, and you have shaped our souls by the patient ferment of waiting and watching, LORD.

So, be known to us this night in the singing of the hymns, the telling of the story, the preaching of the Gospel, the breaking of the bread, the gathering of the body, the hanging of the banners and the greens, and the glow of the candlelight.  Open the eyes of our hearts that we might behold your saving presence in our midst this night, and be renewed by the light and love that we behold so that in the days to come we might be reflections of that light and love in a world that’s lost in darkness and division. Be present not just in the worship of this night, LORD, but in the hearts of each worshipper, we pray.

Praying Christmas Hymns

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas Day – Day 29

“Good Christian friends, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice;
Now ye need not fear the grave;
Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all
To gain his everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save!
Christ was born to save!”

Latin (14th century)

Chalice Hymnal #164

Scripture – John 3:16-21

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.

Prayer

A Christmas Prayer 

Robert Louis Stevenson

Close the door of hate

Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, 

that we may share in the song of angels, 

the gladness of the shepherds, 

and the worship of the wise men.

and open the door of love 

all over the world. 

Let kindness come with every gift

and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil

by the blessing which Christ brings, 

and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. 

May the Christmas morning

make us happy to be Thy children, 

and the Christmas evening

bring us to our beds

with grateful thoughts,

forgiving and forgiven,

for Jesus’ sake.

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