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The Breath of God - Isaiah 40

A service plan for the third Sunday of Advent planned around Isaiah 40:6-8. This service is part of "Prepare the Way," a series of Advent service plans.

Theme of the Service

As Isaiah prepares the people for the coming of the Lord, he attempts to teach them that solutions from within the human realm will not satisfy and will not meet the needs they are facing. And so he must face them squarely with the inadequacy of human solutions, thereby teaching them to look to God and his Word only. In this worship service the aim is that of teaching us to look away from ourselves and finding our hope only in the abiding Word of God. In liturgy, prayer and song we confess our helplessness apart from God's action.


Prelude: "How Bright Appears the Morning Star", Sedio ( PsH 357)
"Prelude on 'Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence' ", Travis ( PsH 341)
(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 and God's Greeting :
Make ready a pathway for our God.
Let us clear out the sin in our hearts.
Look up for the Lord's Messiah is nearer.
Let us prepare a place in our hearts.
Proclaim the Good News and raise a song,
for Christ is coming!
And so grace, mercy and peace to you
in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

*Song of Anticipation: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" PH 31/32, PsH 345, RL 196, TH 203, TWC 171


Our Spoken Prayer of Confession:

O promised Christ,
We are a world without your peace.
We are a sinful people,
full of good intentions,
but failing to carry them out.
Please forgive our failures.
Lord Christ, Word made flesh,
we wait for your grace,
that will bring us your pardon,
and give us your peace.
Even so come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Our Sung Prayer: "Come, Lord Jesus" SFL 138, SNC103

The Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 55:6,7

Response: "Gloria" PH 576, RN 64, SFL 134, SNC 115, TWC 825, WOV 640

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

The First Reading: Hebrews 11:1, 7, 13
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

*The Gospel Reading: Luke 4:16-19
The Gospel of Christ.
Thanks be to God!

The Lighting of the Candles

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

The Children's Moment
(This is a time to call the children to the front and identify for them the excitement we feel when some major event is about to occur. While we feel that way about the arrival of Christmas, it must also be the way we feel about the second advent of Christ.)


The Pastoral Prayer

The Offertory: "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light", Marpurg
or "Lord, We Hear Your Word with Gladness", Wood

The Offertory Prayer


*Song of Preparation: "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light" PH 26, PsH 343, TWC 158
or "Lord, We Hear Your Word with Gladness" SNC 89

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

Sermon: The Breath of God
(Preparing the Way - #3)
Text - Isaiah 40:6-8
(See "sermon ideas" at the end of the service for thoughts on building this sermon.)

Sung Prayer: "Breathe on Me, Breath of God" PH 316, PsH 420, TH 334, TWC 295


Parting Exhortation:
Our Lord Jesus has said:
Your shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments
hang all the law and the prophets.

We will seek to do as our Lord calls us.
May the breath of God empower us!

*The Benediction with Congregational "Amen":
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all.

Postlude: "Breathe on Me, Breath of God", Childs (PsH 420)

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Ideas:

The sermon should quickly review the material covered in the first two sermons on this passage so that the hearers can step into the progression of thought.

The text for today has a built-in contrast that shapes its message. Isaiah sharply contrasts grass with the breath of God.

The sermon should first focus on the idea of grass. His intent in speaking about grass is not to imagine growth and beauty, but to understand how fragile it is and how quickly it can wither and die. Grass doesn't last. People are grass, and the reference is to our mortality and quick demise. The citizens of Jerusalem had to get in touch with their "grassness" before they could expect help from God.

The breath of God is the second big idea of this text, a rich concept that appears throughout the Bible. Sometimes the breath of God means creativity, or giving truth, but it can also mean judgment and chastening. The latter is Isaiah's reference here.

Notice how he then makes an unannounced shift from "breath" to "word", though it's essentially the same idea to him. Why? What is the implication of that? The sermon should reach its peak by identifying the life-giving message of the word/breath of God in contrast to the grassness of human society.

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 organ prelude music is taken from Eight Hymn Introductions, Mark Sedio (Morningstar MSM-10-836 [1991] Wie Schön Leuchtet ) (M) and Prelude on "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence"(Morningstar MSM-10-821 [1991] Picardy ) (M).
  2. Many churches struggle with the appropriateness of using Christmas hymns during the Advent season. We have decided to include Christmas hymns in increasing numbers throughout the Advent series. We do so for pastoral reasons: when congregational members are bombarded with sacred song in secular settings throughout the week we feel there is great value in singing them together as a community of faith on the holy Sabbath Day. Verse three of the opening hymn, whose tune name isMendelssohn, particularly draws the worshiper into the theme of our hope in God's actions: ."Born that we no more may die, born to raise the lost on earth, born to give them second birth."
  3. The "Gloria" following the Assurance of Pardon is the refrain from the Taizé community. A "Gloria"has historically been part of the liturgy of the church. We anticipate using a different setting of theGloria each week of this series. If your congregation is not familiar with a particular setting, you may wish to repeat it through the series as a way for them to learn it well.
  4. The two choices for the offertory and the song of preparation reflect a different crafting of the worship service. Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light, from Twenty One Chorale Preludes, Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg (Augsburg 11-9506 [1967] Ermuntre Dich) (E) carries on the Advent theme. Lord, We Hear Your Word with Gladness from Woodworks Volume 2, by Dale Wood (Sacred Music Press KK400 [1989] Holy Manna) (E-M) transitions from the celebration of the lighting of the Advent candles to receiving the Word of the Lord in the sermon.
  5. The music of the postlude is quiet and reflective. It can be very meaningful for the congregation to leave in a meditative spirit. This arrangement of the hymntune Trentham was written by Edwin Childs and is found in 2 Communion Meditations (Grey GSTC 1001) (E-M).

Liturgy Notes:

The Lighting of the Candles

The Candlelighting service follows the same pattern established in previous weeks. Churches are encouraged to include a variety of members of the congregtion in the candlelightings. Families find it enjoyable to do together. Singles should be included. It is meaningful when participants are from different generations participate together-a nice expression of the unity of the church across generations.

First Reader: As the Advent Season continues 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, 7, 13
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

The Gospel Reading: Luke 4:16-19
The Gospel of Christ
Thanks be to God!

Second Reader: And so today we light these three candles to express our hope and anticipation of the coming 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 perfecter of our faith! (Three candles are lit)

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