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The Straight Highway - Isaiah 40

A service plan for the second Sunday of Advent planned around Isaiah 40:3-5. This service is part of "Prepare the Way," a series of Advent service plans.

Theme of the Service

God's gracious action is his willingness to break into human history and our lives to bring comfort and hope. However, it is possible to impede his coming and create obstacles to his arrival. And so the prophet Isaiah not only announces that God will come, but he also calls God's people to prepare the way of his coming. The theme of this worship service therefore is that of providing encouragement to worshipers to examine themselves and their hearts so that the coming of God's Messiah will be without impediment or hindrance.


Prelude: "Prepare the Royal Highway ", Manz, Wood
(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

Opening Litany:

The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber,
because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
The night is nearly over;
The day is almost here.
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness,
and put on the armor of light.
(from Romans 13:11, 12) (NIV)

Introit: "Carols for Advent", Liebergen

*God's Greeting and Congregational "Amen":
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age,
according to the will of our God and Father,
to whom be glory forever and ever.

*Song of Anticipation: "Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes"
(tune Richmond: PsH 335) ( tune Bristol: RL 251)
and/or " Make Way " RN60, SNC 98


Our Prayer of Confession:

God of all grace, when the time was right you sent your Son to the world; and so we know of your love. You spent many years preparing for the right time; and so we know of your patience.
As we wait and prepare, forgive us for making this holy season of anticipation a whirlwind of lists and activities. We confess that at times it feels like a flood of joyless obligations and heartless generosity.
Forgive us when our waiting is so shallow, and our preparation so haphazard. Deliver us from the distractions that are ever before us.
For we know your kingdom is coming with the power and glory of the angelic carols, now and forever, heralded in the birth of the Christ. Amen.

The Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 55:6, 7

Response of Praise: "Gloria", refrain only PsH 347, PH 23, RL 206, TH 214, TWC 152


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

Anthem: "Prepare the Way, O Zion", Tucker

The Children's Moment
(This brief time with the children is an opportunity to explain that good gifts arranged for us are sometimes not received or enjoyed because we are not receptive. Israel made that mistake. We often do, too.)

The First Reading: Hebrews 11:1, 5, 6, 13
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

*The Gospel Reading: Matthew 3:13-17
The Gospel of Christ.
Thanks be to God!

The Lighting of Candles

Song: "This Is Your God/Meekness and Majesty" RL 158, SNC 109


The Offertory Prayer

The Offertory: "Songs of Thankfulness and Praise", Cherwien

The Pastoral Prayer


*Song of Preparation: "Hail to the Lord's Anointed"
(tune Es flog ein Kleins Waldvogelein : PsH 72) (tune Rockport: RL 232) (tune Aurelia: TH 311)

(The message of Psalm 72 can either be sung from PsH 72, or can be expressed in a responsorial from SNC 120, RN 101, or SFL 120)

Our Prayer for Illumination:

God of all grace and mercy, you have desired to reveal yourself to us through your Word. Through all the accounts of the prophets and the fulfillment of their words you have directed our attention to Jesus Christ. Now as we hear those words proclaimed this day, we ask that you illumine our minds and open our hearts that we may yearn for his coming in glory and may be willing to serve him with joy, for his name's sake. Amen.

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

Sermon: The Straight Highway
(Preparing the Way - #2)
Text - Isaiah 40:3-5
(See "sermon ideas" at the end of the service for thoughts on building this sermon.)

The Prayer of Application


*The Benediction with Congregational "Amen":
Now may the God of all hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Song of Commitment: "Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning"
PsH [1957edition], PH 67, RL 230, TH 206, TWC 182

Postlude: "Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning", Wold

* - you are invited to stand

Sermon Ideas:

It would be wise to begin this message by reviewing the introduction to Isaiah 40 and this series of messages from last week to recapture some of the momentum established at that time. Help the worshipers picture Israel as a nation in captivity waiting for liberation.

Several key ideas of today's text should shape this message:
1. Why does Isaiah utilize the language of the landscape to communicate his message? Why does the landscape matter, and how would they understand that?

2. What do we know about the moral and spiritual landscape of Isaiah's day, and how would that affect their ability to welcome the arrival of the Messiah? It will be necessary to clarify what "desert" or "wilderness" would have evoked in their minds.

3. What was the moral and spiritual landscape of Israel when Jesus was born? What had John the Baptist said about that?

4. What insight does this give us into the moral and spiritual landscape of our world and our community? How does the landscape of today compare with the landscape of Isaiah's day? of Jesus' day?

After clarifying these concepts, the listeners will be better able to understand why Isaiah calls for efforts that will revise the landscape, and can be brought to understand what we each must do within our own lives.

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 prelude piece by Paul Manz can be found in The Augsburg Organ Library - Advent ( Augsburg 11-11034 [2000]) (M) or in the collection Six Advent Improvisations (Morningstar MSM-10-002 [1990]). The arrangement by Dale Wood can be found in Woodworks Book 2 (Sacred Music Press KK400 [1989]) (E-M). The hymn tune on which these arrangements are based is "Bereden Vag For Herran", a 14th century Swedish folk tune.

2. Carols for Advent, Patrick Liebergen (Hope C5093 [2000]) is an easily learned choral anthem that works well with smaller choirs and welcomes the congregation to the theme of the worship service. The text of this anthem points to the need of preparing for Christ's arrival and also speaks the words of anticipation: "O come, O come, Immanuel."

3. The opening hymn further draws the worshipers in to the concept of preparedness: ". let every heart prepare a throne. " . If you choose to group both songs, the theme is further reinforced in Make Way. These two songs thematically fit well together and musically work well if "Make Way" is transposed down to F major or if a segue with a modulation is used between the two songs.

4. The "Gloria" following the Assurance of Pardon is the refrain of the much loved carol. A "Gloria" has historically been part of the liturgy of the church.

5. Prepare the Way, O Zion, Sondra K. Tucker (Hope C5094 [2000]) is another easily learned anthem that works well with smaller choirs or ensembles. The melody used is the same melody arranged by Manz and Wood in the prelude pieces.

6. The offertory music is taken from Interpretations - Volume 9, David Cherwien (AMSI SP-106 [1992]Salzburg) (E-M). The text of this hymn includes references to Christ's baptism-the gospel reading preceding the offertory.

7. The postlude music is taken from God with Us, Wayne Wold (Augsburg 11-10975 [1999]) (E-M).

Liturgy Notes:

The Lighting of the Candles

The Candlelighting service on the second Sunday of Advent will follow the pattern established last week. We encourage you to select the participants for the Advent Candle Service in a way that represents the diversity of the congregation. Some prefer to do it as families. Singles and Seniors should be included. Sometimes it's very meaningful to have members from different generations participate together.

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, 5, 6, 13
The Word of the Lord!
Thanks be to God!

The Gospel Reading: Matthew 3:13-17
The Gospel of Christ.
Thanks be to God!

Second Reader: And so today we light these two 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. (Two candles are lit)

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