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Worship Service: When God Breaks In: Conflict Breaks Out - Matthew 2, Revelation 12 (Sunday After Easter)

A service plan for Christmas bringing strong touch of realism into the celebration. Spiritual warfare goes along with Christmas. Evil is determined to destroy the work of Christ. The final service in an Advent series of anticipation focused on what happens when God breaks in to our lives.

When God Breaks In

This series explores how Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting for God's act of "breaking into" world history for his redemptive work.

Theme of the Service

For this Sunday after Christmas, we continue our focus on God's work of "breaking in" to history and our lives. Today the focus will be on the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem in Matthew 2, and the commentary on such events provided in Revelation 12. The arrival of Christ incarnate into this world brought salvation and hope, but it also brought conflict as the forces of evil intensified their efforts to overcome the work of Christ.

The theme of this service, therefore, brings a strong touch of realism into the celebration of Christmas. Spiritual warfare goes along with Christmas. Evil is determined to destroy the work of Christ.


Prelude: "Noel X," Daquin
or "Canonic Variations on 'Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,'" Haan

Introit: "Still, Still, Still," Eilers

The Call to Worship

*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 to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

*Song: "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" (st. 1-2) PH 37, PsH 353, RL 221, TH 216, TWC 169


Anthem: "Mary Had a Baby," Fenton

The Call to Confession

Our Prayer of Confession:
Our gracious Lord, on this final Lord's Day of the year,
our hearts contain such a mixture of emotions.
We have been privileged to celebrate your gracious entrance
into our world and our own lives.
You have given us such hope!
Yet, at the same time,
we are conscious of our unworthiness and sinfulness.
And so today, we ask once more for your cleansing hand to be upon us.
Wash away all our guilt.
Remove all that is impure.
Make us more like your Son, Jesus Christ.
It is in his name that we make our confession. Amen.

The Assurance of God's Pardon-2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Our Response of Thanks: "Magnify the Lord" PsH 622, RN 131, SFL 13

God's Call to Grateful Service-2 Corinthians 5:18-21

The Affirmation of Our Faith: The Apostles' Creed


The Pastoral Prayer

The Offertory: "The Coventry Carol," Dobrinski

The Offertory Prayer


The Children's Moment

The Reading of Scripture: Matthew 2:13-18; Revelation 12:1-9
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Anthem: "The Coventry Carol," Pitcher

Sermon: When God Breaks In Conflict Breaks Out (#6)

The Prayer of Application


*Song: "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light" PH 26, PsH 343, TWC 158

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

*Song: "Angels from the Realms of Glory" (st. 1, 4-5) PH 22, PsH 354. RL 229, TH 218, TWC 174

Postlude: "Angels from the Realms of Glory," Kerr

*you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

After five messages in which we've explored the fact that God's entrance into this world brings hope, salvation, and glory, this message goes in a very different direction. It must center on the realistic warning that there is another side to the story. Christ's entrance will also bring conflict and spiritual warfare. Christmas must have this realism about it. God never promised us that his plan in this world and in our lives would always involve smooth going! Many stories from Scripture and our own experience illustrate this.

Against that background, another look at the conflict that resulted in Bethlehem is in order. Herod was an evil man, and his evil reaches peak proportions when the Holy Spirit says he was "disturbed" (Matthew 2:3), began plotting (2:8), and finally became "furious" (2:16). From there it was only a short step to the irrational massacre of all male infants!

The passage from Revelation 12 gives the "story behind the story." A bigger war is going on. On the one hand it's the war between the woman, the child, and the dragon. Yet on a larger scale it's the war between the righteous line from which the Son (Messiah) was born, and the kingdom of evil which is under the rule of Satan.

This "story behind the story" helps us to interpret the events in Bethlehem. It also helps us to interpret stories of spiritual conflict throughout history. And we must note that there are certain phenomena in our world today that cannot be understood apart from knowing this "story behind the story."

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 (children's 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 Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

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

  1. The prelude suggestions, both of which are organ pieces, can be found in the following sources. Many of the variations in the "Noel" could be adapted for piano.
    - "Noel X" by Louis-Claude Daquin, edited by E. Power Biggs and published by Mercury Press MPI-60 [1958] (E-M)
    - "Canonic Variations on 'Infant Holy, Infant Lowly'" composed by Raymond H. Haan, published by Concordia 97-5723 [1982] (E-M)
  1. The Introit, an SSA arrangement of "Still, Still, Still" by Joyce Eilers, is published by Hal Leonard 08547300 [1975] (E-M).
  2. The anthem "Mary Had a Baby" arranged by Kenneth L. Fenton is taken directly from SNC 107. It can be sung SATB or you may extend the parts by having some women sing either the tenor or bass line an octave higher than written. You could also have either a male or female sing alternating stanzas with choral accompaniment-either humming or with a muted "ooh."
  3. Note that the Response of Thanks, "Magnify the Lord," ties the Advent services to this post-Christmas service.
  4. The offertory piece, "Coventry Carol," was arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski for 3-5 octaves of handbells and is published by Agape 1537 [1991] (M).
  5. The anthem "Coventry Carol" was arranged by Gladys Pitcher for SSA voices in Thirty Old and New Christmas Carols. This collection for women's voices is published by G. Schirmer HL50308820 [1961] (E).
  6. Alternative accompaniments for stanzas from "Angels from the Realms of Glory" can be found in Festival Hymn Settings for the Christmas Season, set 1, by Michael Burkhardt, published by Morningstar MSM-10-126 [1995].
  7. The postlude, a setting of "Angels From the Realms of Glory" by J. Wayne Kerr, can be found in Christ Is Born!, a collection of Christmas pieces for organ published by Augsburg 11-11037 [2000] (E-M).

Liturgy Notes:

  1. Whether you select a Scripture passage or a responsive reading for the call to worship, it would be very wise on this Sunday to establish two thoughts-a connection to Christmas, which is now past, and a look beyond to the bigger issues that are behind Christmas. Some worshipers will come on this Sunday expecting "more Christmas" and others will expect to move on to other things. Both of those expectations should be bridged.
  2. After we have received the assurance of God's pardon, three steps follow as our response: a song of thanksgiving, receiving God's call to live lives of reconciliation, and our common affirmation of faith with the worldwide church of Christ.
  3. The pastoral prayer should sensitively include some review of the experiences and events of the year, especially if your congregation does not worship on Old Year's Eve or New Year's Day. We must give thanks for God's gifts throughout the year, God's leading through all circumstances, God's strength and hope in times of difficulty, God's patient grace when we have stumbled and failed, and so on.
  4. The pastoral prayer is a good time to include the worshipers in repeated responses during the prayer. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. Sung responses can be included after each main section of the prayer, or verbal responses can be elicited by instructing worshipers to respond with "Hear our prayer" each time the leader says "Lord, in your mercy . . ."
  5. The Children's Moment has been inserted near the sermon so that it can be an opportunity to draw the children into the experiences in Bethlehem at the time of the massacre of the children. Though this event is too horrible to really imagine, especially for a child (so don't make your description too graphic!), it would be possible to help the children realize how this must have felt from the standpoint of the grieving families who no longer have a baby in their home. If your children leave the worship service at an earlier point to go to their own classes of worship, the Children's Moment should be moved to an earlier and more convenient place.