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Comfort My People - Isaiah 40

A service plan for the first Sunday of Advent planned around Isaiah 40:1-2. This service is part of "Prepare the Way," a series of Advent service plans.

Theme of the Service

The theme of the entire season of Advent is that of anticipation. We live into the experiences of God's Old Testament people and anticipate the hope he brings to us through the Messiah. We continue to anticipate his entrance into our lives and our world on a daily basis. And we anticipate the day at the conclusion of history when God enters our world through the second coming of Christ. However, we must make the necessary preparation or we may miss his entrance. The theme of personal preparation must always be present in the worship of Advent.

In this first Sunday of Advent, we follow the lead of Isaiah in noting that the purpose of God's entrance is to bring comfort to his beleagured people.


Prelude: "Comfort, Comfort Now My People", Haan ( PsH 194)
"O Come, O Come, Immanuel", Haan ( PsH 328)
(See "music notes" at the end of this service for information on where this music and other music in this service may be found.)

The Call to Worship
(The Worship Leader may want to introduce the call to worship by introducing the beginning of Advent, briefly explaining its meaning and importance, and pointing to colors and other visuals in the worship space that remind us of a new season. Then the worshipers stand for the opening litany.)

*Opening Litany:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
Come, O Lord, and send us your light.
O come, O come, Immanuel.
Come and bring the light of God.
Come and walk among us.
Be our Savior and our Friend.
O come, O come, Immanuel.
Come to bring us your peace.

*Song of Hope: "O Come, O Come, Immanuel" PsH 328, PH 9, RL 184, SFL 123, TH 194, TWC 133

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting:
Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

* Response: "O Come, O Come, Immanuel" PsH 328:6


Our Prayer of Confession:
Merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you
with our whole heart and mind and strength.
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
In your mercy forgive what we have been,
help us amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be,
so that we may delight in your will
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

Sung Prayer of Confession: "Lord, Have Mercy Upon Us", Willan PsH 258, PH 572, RL 564, RN 85, SFL 43, TWC 821

The Assurance of God's Pardon: Matthew 1:21


(See "Liturgy Notes" at the end of the service for a complete script of the candlelighting service.)

The Children's Moment
(A brief time with the children is a golden opportunity to introduce and explain the new season. Point to the colors and visuals in the sanctuary, explain the Advent Candles, and create the excitement of "waiting for God" that must mark this season.)

The First Reading : Hebrews 11:1, 4, 13
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

*The Gospel Reading : Luke 3:15-18
The Gospel of Christ.
Thanks be to God!
(We have chosen to practice the historic Christian pattern during Advent in which the worshipers stand to receive the reading of the Holy Gospel. While not part of our Reformed heritage, it aids us in identifying with the church of all ages.)

The Lighting of Candles

Song of Adoration: "This Is Your God / Meekness and Majesty" RN 158, SNC 190


The Offertory Prayer

The Offertory: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus", Johnson ( PsH 329)

The Pastoral Prayer


*Song of Preparation: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" (tune Stuttgart : PsH 329, RL 183, SFL 122)
( tune Hyfrydol : PH 2, TH 196, TWC 135)

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:1-11
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Sermon: Comfort My People!
(Preparing the Way - #1)
Text: Isaiah 40:1-2
(See "sermon ideas" at the end of the service for suggestions on building this sermon.)

*Song: "Comfort, Comfort Now My People" PsH 194, PH3, RL 169, SFL 121, TH 197, TWC 132

(At this point, it is necessary for the pastor to make a verbal bridge from the Word to the sacrament. He explains the significance of the Lord's Supper as our way of celebrating the comfort of God that has been provided through the finished work of Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection. Those who hear about the comfort now come to celebrate the gift of Christ at the table. Worshipers are encouraged to come with gratitude for this comfort.)


The Invitation to the Table

The Words of Institution

The Prayer of Consecration

Our Participation in the Bread
(While the worshipers receive the bread the congregation sings.)
"Like a River Glorious" PsH 560, TH 699, TWC 594
"Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes" (tune Richmond: PsH 335) (tune Bristol: RL 251)

Our Participation in the Cup
(While the worshipers receive the cup, they are encouraged to engage in a time of personal reflection while an instrumentalist plays some selections from the Messiah.)
"Comfort Ye", Handel
"Every Valley Shall Be Exalted", Handel

The Prayer of Thanksgiving


*The Benediction

*Song of Joy: "Unto God Our Savior" PsH 175

The Postlude: Concerto in F Major - 2nd Movement, Handel

* - you are invited to stand

Sermon Ideas:

In this first message of the series, it is necessary to explain the setting and context for Isaiah's words. The unfaithfulness of Israel, the evil of surrounding nations, and the reality of God's judgment, all must be set forth clearly so that the message of comfort will stand in all its brightness and beauty.

Three ideas of the first two verses must be explained.
1. Comfort - Did the word for Isaiah mean the same thing we search for today in our "comfortable lives"? And why is the word repeated? What must have been the reaction of his hearers when they first heard this word?

2. Hard Service - What is the hard service that he is referring to? And how has it been completed? What did that mean in the experience of Jerusalem, and what does it mean for us and our experiences?

3. Speak Tenderly - Who is speaking? To whom is he speaking? What is the significance of "tenderly"? And what is there in this book of Isaiah that is so "tender"?

After setting forth these three ideas to clarify the intent of the text, it would be helpful to "walk through" some of the message of this book and highlight some of the passages that capture best this "tender speaking" that brings God's people comfort.

You will find Calvin's Commentaries on Isaiah and Barnes' Notes on Isaiah very helpful. Marva Dawn's devotional book on Isaiah 40, To Walk and Not Faint ( Eerdmans, 1997) is also very insightful.

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (childrens' songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshipping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

Music Level Key: E = Easy, M = Medium, D = Difficult

1. Both pieces in the prelude are taken from Five Organ Preludes, arranged by Raymond H. Haan ( Flammer HF5094 [1977]) (E-M).

2. Some congregations have the practice of singing selected verses of a hymn; other congregations normally sing all the stanzas of every hymn. We have decided only to specify a particular stanza when we feel it is particularly appropriate to the service and its theme.

3. The song after the Candlelighting will be repeated each week during Advent. If the worshipers are not familiar with it, this serves as a teaching time. When repeated the song serves as a theme song for the season and reinforces the seasonal message.

4. The music for the offertory is taken from Twelve Hymn Settings for Organ, David N. Johnson (Schmitt 7634 [1976]) (E-M).

5. We have found it very effective to have worshipers sing their faith during the passing of the elements of the Lord's Supper. The hymns sung during communion in this service reflect our faith, God's peace, and our anticipation of Christ's return.

6. The instrumental music played during the passing of the cup was played by bassoon and organ. The sound of the bassoon conveys well the sense of longing in the context of playing a piece that conveys peace. Many smaller congregations might not have an abundance of musical resources. The pieces could be sung or played on another instrument.

7. The postlude music is taken from the Peters edition of Handel's Organ Concertos, catalogue number 3627-one of many different editions. While this is more difficult music to learn and play, the exuberant nature of the music conveys well the joy with which the service ends.

Liturgy Notes:

The Lighting of Candles

During Advent, we have included the lighting of the Advent Candles in each of the worship services. The candles are placed prominently in the front of the sanctuary. Individuals and families of church take part in the readings and lightings. Each week includes an Old Testament reading and a Gospel reading. We request the congregation to rise for the reading of the Gospel.

First Reader: As the Advent Season begins we prepare our hearts to welcome the Christ who comes as the Savior of the world. We remind ourselves of other people of faith who welcomed him as the fulfillment of God's promise.

The First Reading: Hebrews 11:1, 4, 13
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

*The Gospel Reading: Luke 3:15-18
The Gospel of Christ.
Thanks be to God!

Second Reader: And so today we light this candle to express our hope and anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ the Messiah, God's Son, our Savior. As we do so, let us prepare well that we may welcome him as our Savior and Lord. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (One candle is lit)

Song: "This Is Your God/Meekness and Majesty" RN158, SNC 109