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Worship Service: When God Breaks In: We See Glory - Luke 2, John 1 (Christmas Eve, Day)

A service plan for Christmas focused not merely on Mary and Joseph, or even on the miracle of Christ's birth, but on the glory of God that is revealed. Part of 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

You may schedule this service for either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. In either case, you can expect all worshipers to come with great eagerness and excitement to this service. The time of fulfillment is here! The birth of Christ is to be celebrated. Joy and singing must fill the air.

However, our intent in this celebration is not merely to focus on Mary and Joseph, or even on the miracle of Christ's birth, but on the glory of God that is revealed. In the Christmas narrative from Luke 2, the idea of "glory" is prominent-this will be our focus.

In Christmas we see the glory of God and our intent is to celebrate God's glory!


Prelude: "Partita on 'Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come'" [see music notes]


We Celebrate Christ's Arrival
The First Reading: Isaiah 9:6-7
The Lighting of Four Candles and the Christ Candle
*The Gospel Reading: John 1:1-5, 14, 29
*Song: "Magnify the Lord" RN 131, SFL 13

*The Call to Worship: "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." (Luke 2:15)

*God's Greeting and Congregational Amen!

*Worshipers greet one another with the peace of Christ.


The Reading of Luke 2:1-7
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Anthem: "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy," Christopherson

Songs: "Away in a Manger" PH 25, PsH 349, RL 213, TH 204, TWC 147
"Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" PH 37, PsH 353, RL 221, TH 216, TWC 169

Anthem: "Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain," Jennings

Songs: "Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come" PH 40, PsH 337, RL 198, SFL 137, TH 195, TWC 146
"Go, Tell It on the Mountain" PH 29, PsH 356, RL 224, SFL 131, TH 224, TWC 151

The Offertory: [see<href="#music"> music notes]


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

Sermon: When God Breaks In We See Glory (#5)
Texts: Luke 2:9 and John 1:14

The Pastoral Prayer


Songs: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" PH 28, PsH 355, RL 218, TH 207, TWC 157
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" PsH 345, PH 31, RL 196, TH 203, TWC 171

Anthem: "Angel's Carol," Rutter

Songs: "Angels We Have Heard on High" PH 23, PsH 347, RL 206, SFL 133, TH 214, TWC 152
"Angels from the Realms of Glory" PH 22, PsH 354, RL 229, TH 218, TWC 174

*The Benediction

*Song: "The Hallelujah Chorus," Handel

(You are invited to join the choir in front to lead the congregation in singing, or to remain in the pew to sing.)

Postlude: "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella," Chapman

*you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. This sermon must clearly be the culmination of a series of sermons. Each has spoken about how God breaks into history and our lives to do his work. This event when Christ is born is the "ultimate break-in"! No wonder we talk about the "glory of Christmas."
  2. Some explanation of "glory" would be helpful. It is related to our word "doxology." It points to the reputation and honor of a deity, and the radiance that comes from his holiness. It has to do with both the presence and the perfections of God. Several "visits from God" will help us to understand "glory." In Exodus 40:34-35, when the construction of the tabernacle is completed, Moses says the glory of the Lord was there because the Lord was there! In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees and hears the Seraphim singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" in response to the glory of God. In Luke 9:29-31, Luke tells us the entire Mount of Transfiguration radiated with glory at the presence of God. And in Matthew 25:31 Jesus says he will come again "in glory."
  3. The story of Christmas illustrates that "glory" and "Christmas" go together because it's the celebration of God's presence in the incarnation of Christ. The scene is full of God's glory. The angels proclaim God's glory, and the shepherds give God glory ("glorify"; Luke 2:20). In his gospel, John, who was never personally at the manger, explains that when Jesus arrived we saw his glory, "the glory of the One and Only" (John 1:14).
  4. Yet the surprise of Christmas is that God's glory came in such a strange way. The setting of a manger, and shepherds, and Bethlehem, does not seem consistent with the glory of God. Nor is it consistent with the fallenness of our world today, not even with the kind of Christmas season our society tries to have. Therefore it will take careful and spiritual discipline for us to look and see glory in unlikely places today.
  5. No matter where glory is found, the necessary response is celebration. The angels celebrated; the shepherds did; and we must.

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. Consider designing a "make-your-own" partita from the following list of suggestions, all of which are based on "Joy to the World!" Look to vary the style, spirit, and registrations through your selections.
    Augsburg Organ Library-Christmas.Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-5935-X [2001] (Organ)
    Behnke, John A. Five Familiar Carols for Christmas. Hope 1749 [1994] (Organ)
    Burkhardt, Michael. Five Christmas Hymn Improvisations Set 3. Morningstar MSM-10-137 [1998] (Organ)
    Callahan, Charles A Christmas Suite. Morningstar MSM-10-109 [1990] (Organ)|
    Carter, John. Carols for Piano. Hope 232 [1987] (Piano)
    Carter, John. Still More Carols for Piano. Hope 8175 [2002] (Piano)
    Cherwien, David. Interpretations, book 3. AMSI OR-6 [1983] (Organ)
    Edmundson, Garth. Seven Service Preludes. Fischer 9206 [1960] (Organ)
    Ferguson, John. A Christmas Triptych set 3. Morningstar MSM-10-141 [2000] (Organ)
    Haan, Raymond H. Festival Hymn Preludes. SMP KK329 [1985] (Organ)
    Haan, Raymond H. Five for Christmas. Morningstar MSM-10-139 [1999] (Organ)
    Langlois, Kristina. 5 for the Christmas Season. Morningstar MSM-10-146 [2000] (Organ)
    Schaffner. Five Christmas Carols in Baroque Style. Concordia 97-6194 [1993] (Organ)
    Sherman, Arnold. Joy to the World. Concordia 97-6448 [1994] (Handbells, 3-6 octaves)
  2. The unison anthem "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy" by Dorothy and Tom Christopherson is published by Concordia 98-3094 [1993] and is suited for either a children's choir or an adult choir.
  3. "Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain" is an anthem for combined SATB and children's choir. It was composed by Carolyn Jennings and published by Kjos C8118 [1981].
  4. Introductions and alternative accompaniments for the carols in the service can be found in the following sources:
    Eggert, John. Creative Hymn Accompaniments for Organ vol. 2. Concordai 97-6851 [2000]
    Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ bk. 1. Ludwig O-05 [1975]
    Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ bk. 2. Ludwig O-07 [1983]
    Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ bk. 3. Ludwig O-10 [1986]
    Johnson, David N. Free Harmonizations of Twelve Hymn Tunes. Augsburg 11-9190 [1964]
  5. Many of the children in your congregation who study piano probably have worked on some Christmas carol transcriptions as part of their lesson material. We encourage you to consider inviting some of them to play the offertory music for this service. Many of the pieces may be brief-group as many together as you need. This is a wonderful way to include children and youth in this service. We would also encourage you to have them play the pieces for you a week before the service so that you can help them "fine-tune" the pieces and become used to the touch of the sanctuary piano.
  6. We established a tradition to close the Christmas service with the congregational singing of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus." Congregational copies can be purchased through Fred Bock Music Company B-G0745 [1984]. A choral arrangement transposed to the key of C by Claire W. Johnson was published by Rubank, Inc. in 1941. Using the transposition accompaniment makes the chorus more accessible for congregational singing.
  7. The postlude music "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella" arranged by Keith Chapman was published by McAfee Music in 1976. It has since been reissued in a newer collection of pieces by Keith Chapman.

Liturgy Notes:

  1. Some churches prefer to worship on Christmas Eve and often will plan it as a candlelight service. Others will worship on Christmas morning. The service provided here can be adapted to suit your congregational circumstances, and with adaptations will serve at either time.
  2. This is the final time that the Advent wreath with the candles is used. Today all candles are lit, including the Christ candle. The suggestions included on the October 19 posting give ideas for this part of the service.
  3. This service is so open to children and their full participation that we have not included a separate Children's Moment. You should use your judgment on what is best for your congregation.
  4. We suggest that the opening statement after the candles ("Let's go to Bethlehem and see..") could well be spoken by a child of the congregation and serves as the call to Christmas worship.
  5. The story of Christmas from Luke 2 is read in two parts. We suggest that lay persons, perhaps children, read these passages. You may also want to consider using multiple children for each passage, dividing it into paragraphs, or sections of verses, and have them "team-read" it. If so, it will be wise to provide some coaching and perhaps even rehearsal so that the readings will be clear and understandable.
  6. This service includes lots of congregational singing. We believe worshipers expect to sing many songs at Christmas, and what is more appropriate to express our celebration of the glory of God than hearty praise! We have always concluded a Christmas service with the singing of the "Hallelujah Chorus" by Handel. (See the Music Notes above.)
  7. We remind you that the pastoral prayer should be sensitive to those who find this season difficult. Perhaps they have family problems, or have lost a loved one this year, or have a family member who is in the military, or are struggling with significant health issues, and so on. Our prayer should include their needs.
  8. This is the time of the year when some will come to worship who have not done so for a long time. A warm welcome should be extended, and the leadership of the liturgy should be "friendly" to them. The message and/or personal comments should be appropriate to their "seeking."