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God's Good Tidings - Isaiah 40

A service plan for the fourth Sunday of Advent or Christmas Eve planned around Isaiah 40:9. This service is part of "Prepare the Way," a series of Advent service plans.

Prepare the Way

A series of worship services for the season of Advent and Christmas.

Theme of the Service

The message of Isaiah is becoming more and more complete. The oppressed and forsaken Hebrews have heard the proclamation that comfort will be coming to them. They have been instructed in the preparations they must make. The good news now comes, "Here is your God!" This service of worship, regardless of whether it occurs on Christmas Eve or the Sunday before, is a good time to celebrate such good news from God. In word, song, prayer, and sacrament the joy of knowing that God is among us is expressed and professed to one another.


Prelude: "Danza Festivo", Sherman
"Angel Tidings", Dobrinski
"In the Bleak Midwinter", Buckwalter
(See "music notes" at the end of this service for information on where this music and other music in this service may be found.)

Processional Song: "Of the Father's Love Begotten" PH 309, PsH 342, RL 190/191, RN 252, TH 162, TWC 145
v.1 - choir
v.2, 3 - choir and congregation (unaccompanied)

Anthem: "Before the Marvel of This Night", Schalk

*Song: "Of the Father's Love Begotten" (v. 4, 5 )

*The Call to Worship and God's Greeting:
The angel of the Lord announced to Mary that she would bear the Son of the
Most High.
And she received the message in faith.
The prophets had foretold that he would be born in Bethlehem .
Yes, he was born in Bethlehem .
The angels came to the shepherds in the brightness of God's glory,
And they were directed to the Son of God lying in a manger.
The choir of angels filled the night sky with praise for God's gift.
And we bring him our praise together this day [night].
Grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy


The First Reading: Hebrews 11:1, 17-19, 13
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

*The Gospel Reading: Luke 1:26-38
The Gospel of Christ.
Thanks be to God!

*Song: "Silent Night, Holy Night" (sing v. 2 in unison) PH 60, PsH 344, RL 216, TH 210, TWC 164

The Lighting of the Candles

Offertory: " Pastorale on 'Silent Night' ", Held
or: "Silent Night", Dobrinski


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

Anthem: "Advent Joy", Hopson

Sermon: God's Good Tidings
(Preparing the Way - #4)
Text - Isaiah 40:9

Anthem: "The Glory of the Father", Hovland


The Invitation to the Table

*Song of Hope: "O Come, O Come, Immanuel" (v. 1, 4 ) PH 9, PsH 328, RL 184, SFL 123, TH 194, TWC 133

The Words of Institution

The Prayer of Approach

O Father of all grace and mercy, we have heard your good news that your Son has come to bring us hope and comfort. And we understand that his coming involved not only a birth, but suffering and death as well. And so we now meet him at his table to commemorate his great gift to us. We do so full of faith, knowing that in his resurrection we have life evermore. Meet us here, Lord Jesus, and fill us with your richness. Amen.

Our Participation in the Bread and Cup
(While the elements are distributed, we will join together in a congregational "carol sing". Please follow the lead of the choir and director.)

The Prayer of Thanksgiving


Anthem: "On Christmas Night All Christians Sing", Helvey

The Reading of Psalm 98:4-9
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Song of Joy: "Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come" PH 40, PsH 337, RL 198, SFL 137, TH 195, TWC 146

The Reading of Luke 2:8-20
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

The Song of the Angels:
"Angels We Have Heard on High" (v. 1, 2 ) PH 23, PsH 347, RL 206, SFL 133, TH 214, TWC 152
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (v. 1, 3) PH 31/32, PsH 345, RL 196, TH 203, TWC 171
"Angels We Have Heard on High" (v. 3)

The Reading from Revelation 5:6-14
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

*Song of Celebration: "Angels from the Realms of Glory" PH 22, PsH 354, RL 229, TH 218, TWC 174

*The Benediction:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Amen.

Postlude: "And the Glory of the Lord", Handel, arr. McChesney

* - you are invited to stand

Sermon Ideas:

Our society tends to be a very noisy place. There are announcements and shouts of all kinds. Some are of great importance, some frivolous, and some very dangerous. Even the Bible can be a noisy book for the word "shout" and its derivatives show up frequently.

Now Isaiah says that the messengers who come to the people of God have a special kind of shout and they must lift it up clearly and courageously. Our text for this service begs us to get behind the words to the spirit and the mood that is in the background. Imagine a Judean messenger shouting good tidings! What might the message be? How would he be shouting it? Can you think of other times when God's messengers shouted some very good news?

Then it is necessary to explore the concept of "good tidings". The message is "here is your God!" Take each word and explore its significance. Who is the God he's talking about? Why is he called "your" God? And what is the significance of proclaiming that he is "here"? And how do we know that he is here?

Christmas is surely about the incarnation, of God being "here". And so the message that Isaiah calls the messengers to shout is a preparation for the message of the angels, the apostles, and the church today.

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. The music of the prelude was written for bell choir. Danza Festivo is an Arnold Sherman arrangement of The Huron Carol published by Agape (1643 [1993] Jesous Ahatonhia)(D). Angel Tidings arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski is published by Agape (1215 [1985]) (M), and is based on Gloria. In the Bleak Midwinter, arranged by Karen Buckwalter, is a Flammer Publication (HP5317 [1991] Cranham) (M).An alternate organ prelude could include the same three hymn tunes:

Jesous Ahatonhia - Noels on Christmas Themes, Larry Visser ( Leupold WL600090 [1998]) (M)

Gloria - Interpretations Vol. 8, David Cherwien (AMSI SP - 105 [1991]) (E)

Cranham - In the Bleak Midwinter, Allen Orton Gibbs (CPH97-5959 [1987]) (E-M)

  1. The music of the processional was in three parts that were joined together with musical transitions. I chose to sing Of the Father's Love Begotten in the key of D-flat. The opening pitch for the choir on stanza 1 was given by the handbells ringing in open fifths [a D-flat and an A-flat]. These pitches were repeated midway through the stanza, and again for the congregation's singing of verse 2 and 3. The choir then sang Before the Marvel of This Night as printed in With One Voice #636, an Augsburg Fortress hymnal. Following an organ interlude the choir led the congregation in the final two stanzas of Of the Father's Love Begotten. Free accompaniments for this hymn can be found in Free Harmonizations of Twelve Hymn Tunes by David N. Johnson (Augsburg 11-9190 [1964]).
  2. A beautiful free accompaniment to Silent Night can be found in New Settings of Twenty Well-Known Hymns Tunes by Dale Wood (Augsburg 11-9292 [1968]). It is always helpful to alert the congregation to sing in unison if you plan on using a free accompaniment.
  3. The offertory was also based on Silent Night. If you have a bell choir consider using Silent Night by Cynthia Dobrinski (Agape 1586 [1992]) (M) which also includes a flute part. If you prefer an organ arrangement, consider Pastorale on "Silent Night" by Wilbur Held (Hope 325 [1992]).
  4. Advent Joy by Hal Hopson is a Choristers Guild publication (CGA 870 [2000]) (E) for unison voices. Choristers Guild provides many quality resources for children's choirs.
  5. The Glory of the Father by Egil Hovland is a Walton publication (W2973 [1974]) and is based on John 1. This unaccompanied anthem contains chant-like writing and is well worth the effort to learn (M).
  6. In selecting stanzas for O Come, O Come, Immanuel (Veni Immanuel) be sure to include stanza 4-a wonderful approach to the Table.
  7. The congregation sang first stanzas of Christmas carols during the passing of the communion elements. They sang from memory and unaccompanied. The choir was aware of the order of the carols that were sung and led the congregation well. Pitches were given by the director-but could have been given with handbells or even a pitchpipe for the leader. Group the carols in ways that provide good flow in style and key relationships.
  8. On Christmas Night All Christians Sing by Howard Helvey is an arrangement of The Sussex Carolpublished by Beckenhorst (BP1551 [1999]) (M-D). The accompaniment is written for piano (4 hands). This anthem is very energetic-a great piece!
  9. The grouping of Angels We Have Heard on High (Gloria) and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Mendelssohn) flows very well. Brief interludes can easily be shaped from concluding phrases of each of these carols. Consider having your choir sopranos sing the refrain of the alto line an octave higher as a descant.
  10. Be sure to include the 5 th stanza of Angels from the Realms of Glory (Regent Square) as part of the congregation's final singing. This doxology of praise is a fitting conclusion to the worship service. Alternate accompaniments can be found in Festive Hymn Settings for the Christmas Season Set 1 by Michael Burkhardt (Morningstar MSM-10-126 [1995]).
  11. The postlude And the Glory of the Lord is a bell arrangement by Kevin McChesney of Handel's chorus from Messiah (Agape 1607 [1992]) (M).

Liturgy Notes:

For a Candlelight Service:

This worship service can be very effective as a candlelight service with reduced lighting and the presence of candles creating an atmosphere of great anticipation. We have arranged for reduced lighting in the entire sanctuary, leaving only enough light so that worshipers are able to read the worship sheet and the hymnal. Lit candles are placed on the sill of each side window. We have rented three candle stands to be placed in the front of the Sanctuary, creating a large arch of candles. You may want to consider rearranging the pulpit furniture for this occasion. Candles in globe stands are placed on the pew ends on the center aisle, usually about every 3 rows. Votive candles can be used well in many ways, limited only by the creativity of the worship planners and safety issues.

For the Advent Candlelighting:

First Reader: As the Advent Season continues, and we come nearer the time of his birth, we continue our preparation of our hearts to welcome the Christ who comes as the Savior of the world. We remind ourselves again of the people of faith who welcomed him as the fulfillment of God's promise.

The First Reading: Hebrews 11:1, 17-19, 13
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

*The Gospel Reading: Luke 1:26-38
The Gospel of Christ.
Thanks be to God!

Second Reader: As so today we light all four of these candles to express our hope and anticipation of Jesus Christ the Messiah, God's Son, our Savior. As we do so we prepare to welcome him as our Savior and Lord. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. (Four candles are lit)

Song: "This Is Your God/Meekness and Majesty" RN158, SNC 109
For the Christmas Eve Candlelighting: See Dec. 25 service.