This season of Advent is looking much different. We saw the trajectory towards Christmas and got excited as we gathered in person a little more each week. But the spike in COVID 19 cases has many churches moving back to purely online worship service. This has left congregations and individual families looking for different resources that can create connectivity despite social distancing.
To help, I offer some material that I initially wrote back in 2011 for our worship services. It was one of my favorite decoration years. I blew up four six-foot balloons to create purple paper mache ornaments that I suspended from the ceiling. I remember being COVERD in a sticky mess as I “glued” down sheet after sheet of purple tissue paper. They were beautiful baubles that suspended over the congregation. A large Christmas tree dominated the front (yes, even for the Advent season). I wrote the litany to mimic a family gathering around the tree, to place an ornament on the branches. Together, the church watched as the parents read a passage and then asked their children a question. After hearing some answers (I encouraged them to practice at home), the parents then took their children’s answers and wove them into a piece of litany that connected to a particular word we were focusing on that Sunday. We then passed out ornaments to the congregation (glass bulbs that I decorated with some extremely helpful friends, marked with the word of the week), along with devotionals, and encouraged people to mimic this practice at home. Years later I had congregants tell me that they still hung those four ornaments up each year with memories about hanging them what they represent.
I think that this exercise can translate well for leaders who are looking for online worship resources as well as individuals and families who want to have a little liturgy at home.
The Weeks: Each week is an individual unit. The final devotional of “Enter” does make reference to “week 1” and the final devotional of “Rejoice” is closely tied with Christmas as it was meant to occur on or around Christmas. However, they do not build or make connections with other units. So you can easily move the weeks around, or use a smaller number of them.
For the Ornaments: You can mimic what I did by investing in glass bulbs and making a set for each family in the church. Warning–this did take me quite a bit of time, so you may want to recruit some help. However, this might also be the year to encourage families to create their own in preparation for worship! You could offer the empty bulbs for each family to decorate with the weekly-word as they please, or you could encourage families to create their own. If you go this route, you could encourage families to post pictures of them on your social media page! Regardless of how they come to hold the ornaments, encourage them to be ready to hang their ornaments to hang somewhere in their home (maybe even a tee in the style of Charlie Brown) along with Sunday’s litany.
The Devotions: I have included the devotions for each week. I initially wrote them with a dear friend and prayer warrior, Cheri Dykstra. I have reworked them here, but need to thank her for the contribution she’s given as well. You can print them up out or send them out. There are only four per week, giving some flexibility, especially if you are also doing the litany in a family unit, creating a fifth. Most also contain different lengths of scripture reading to accommodate different situations. Some may want to delve into the passage with greater depth, some may be pressed for time or are dealing with multiple schedules and attention lengths. The fourth devotional story draws on a traditionally Christmas passage.
Weekly Litany Readings: Each week has three parts that you can incorporate into your litany (or do together as a family). An opening scripture, a question, and a response. We chose to tie this into the Advent Candle wreath and lit the appropriate candle during the scripture reading. You can use the question as you see fit. Perhaps you can have some pre-recorded video answers that you play. If you’re doing this as a family, use the time to have some discussion. Use your chat boxes to generate online discussion. Encourage families to take a few minutes to share their answers with one another. The response is meant to be a time that people can take their ornaments at home and place them somewhere on their tree–a physical action that everyone is doing together despite being separated by social distance. This action joins in with the words that are being shared.
Week 1: Come
Scripture: Psalm 150
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Question: What words would you use to describe God?
Putting the Ornament on the Tree: We’re going to hang an ornament on the tree that says “Come”. This Advent we want to remember to come to God in awe, just like the magi who travelled so far to see Jesus. God is (use the words that people offered as answers) and so we come together with joyful hearts!
Week 2: Enter
Scripture: Ephesians 3: 16-19
I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Question: How can we show love to one another.
Putting the Ornament on the Tree: We’re going to hang an ornament on the tree that says “Enter”. This Advent we want to remember how God entered our world in Jesus and how God continues to enter our world through the Holy Spirit. God dwells with us, around us, and in us and we see this most clearly when we (use examples that people have shared). God marks us and our world with love.
Week 3: Proclaim
Scripture: Isaiah 61: 1-4
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
Question: Where do you see God at work in our world?
Putting the Ornament on the Tree: We’re going to hang an ornament on the tree that says “Proclaim”. This Advent we want to remember all the ways God does good things in our world. And we should act just like the angles and the shepherds, who proclaimed to the world what they saw. So when we see (use examples that people have shared), we can’t help but tell others about it.
Week 4: Rejoice
Scripture: 1 Chronicles 16: 31-34
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
and let them say among the nations, “The Lord is king!”
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Question: What are the ways you show your happiness?
Putting the Ornament on the Tree: We’re going to hang an ornament on the tree that says “Rejoice”. This Advent we want to remember to rejoice in the Lord always. When Jesus came, the Shepherds rejoiced, and the church has not stopped rejoicing. We pass on these stories and the joy continues to spill forward. We (list some of the examples offered) to celebrate God and will keep celebrating until Jesus comes again.