Open Table service – Advent

Open Table Worship  uses inclusive language and imagery for intimate worship settings at which everyone is welcome and valued

 

Advent Theme:  Hope: Light in the darkness

A complete worship service weaving together scripture, song, reflection & conversation

Compiled & written by Ana Gobledale for Open Table

This service is designed for a congregation gathered around tables.  It can easily be adapted for a more traditional setting.

Each section of the service is available as a separate print out.

Leader’s Sheet

The Leader’s Sheet includes the entire service, with all of the leader’s words written out.  It is ready to print and use.

WORD Advent Open Table Leaders Sheets

Handout worship guide

A ready-to-print handout worship guide (service sheet) has been created for your use.  You may  tweek it to reflect your preferences.

Advent Open Table handout

Materials & Planning

  • Centre piece on each table: Advent/Christmas items; keep it simple, e.g. a glass bowl of Christmas tree baubles, one or two figures from a nativity scene (crib), a glass bowl or vase with fairy lights inside (battery powered), a candle surrounded by holly.  For discussion one might include other more secular Christmas items, e.g. Santa Claus, a reindeer, a mini Christmas tree, a wrapped present.  Each table need not hold the same item( s).
  • Place a copy of a reading, or a Bible marked at the reading, or printed handouts, in the centre of each table.
  • Bible translations:  suggested are The Inclusive Bible: the first Egalitarian Translation 2007 by Priests for Equality;  New Revised Standard Version; or The Message.  Ideally, have all three available. NRSV provides the scholarly translation and TM provides an interpretation in modern vernacular. The Inclusive Bible provides a ready-to-read inclusive language translation.
  • Candles to light during prayers of the people (one lit candle to use for lighting others)
  • Communion elements:  juice – or grapes – and bread to be shared (gluten free and non-alcoholic, so no one is excluded). These might be set out before the service on each table, or set aside to be brought forward later in the service, especially if space on table seems cluttered.
  • Consider distributing candles near the close of the service to take home and to light during the week, perhaps with a sprig of holly or other greenery.

Gathering

photo by Hugh Abel

Look at the items in the centre of your table.

Questions for discussion around the tables:

  • Which are your favourite Advent and Christmas traditions? Why?
  • Which Advent and Christmas traditions would you like to discontinue?  Why?
  • What new tradition might you like to start?

Purpose: to establish as a group; to each fully arrive, moving from the outside world to being fully present here; to get to know names; to affirm one another as God’s creation.

All:  We are here.  We are who we are.

Introduce yourself using only your first name, then saying either ‘I am here.’ or ‘I am who I am,’ or both.

Alternatively:  Introduce yourself using your first name.  Then say,

‘I am here.’  Then everyone responds with the affirmation, ‘You are who you are, created by God.’

Use Bibles on tables or printout.

Isaiah 9:2-7 from Inclusive Bible

If possible, use multiple readers, reading   1-2 verses each.

The suggested translation is from The Inclusive Bible.

The people walking in darkness

   are seeing a brilliant light —

upon those who dwell in a land of deep shadows

   light is shining!

God, you have made the nation greater–

   you have brought them abundant joy!

they celebrate in your presence

   as with the harvest celebrations,

   or as warriors celebrate when dividing spoils.

For the yoke that burdened them,

   the weight on their shoulders,

   the rod of their oppressors,

   you have shattered it,

as you did at the defeat of Midian.

For every boot that tramped in battle,

   every cloak that was dragged through blood

   is now used as fuel for the fire.

For a child is born to us, an heir is given us;

    upon whose shoulders dominion will rest.

   This One shall be called

Wonderful Counsellor, the Strength of God,

   Eternal Protector, Champion of Peace.

This dominion and this peace

will grow without end,

with David’s throne and realm,

 sustained with justice and fairness,

now and forever.

The zeal of YHWH Omnipotent

will accomplish it!

Sing an Advent Song —  something known or new lyrics to a familiar tune

For carols using inclusive language go to:  Simple Living carols for justice

Simple Living provides lyrics for Christmas Carols with Justice.  The verses blend traditional and bold progressive language.  They are easy to use and bring the real world into Christmas. Each carol is sung on YouTube and the printed lyrics are easy to copy.

Singing a New Song, a series of songbooks by George Stuart of Australia, include inclusive hymns for the entire Church Year.  George’s new lyrics fit familiar tunes so are easy to sing. George has given permission for everyone to use the songs.

 

Longing for Light

O come, all ye faithful (vs 1, 5)

Who would think that what was needed

O come, O come Emmanuel

Come thou long expected Jesus

Of the Father’s Love begotten

Reflection

Choose one or two of the following:  a video, a statement of faith, a word of hope, the provided sermon/story from South Africa, or another reading of your own choosing.

If the congregation sits comfortably with watching a video, Simple Living provides two videos (Have yourself a merry little Christmas 1 & 2; 6 min & 10 min) challenging us to reflect on the Christmas traditions we uphold, e.g. gift-giving, decorations, and offering suggestions for alternatives.  They are not great, but they do raise important questions about how we observe and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

A statement of faith by Loren Richmond, Cairn Christian Church, Lafayette, Colorado USA

A Word of Hope, Salisbury Cathedral Emmanuel, God with Us – Loren Richmond, USA

 

Remember,

God is with us in our suffering,

loving us, walking with us, comforting us.

I do not believe God is the cause or author of such suffering,

I don’t not believe God “allows” bad things to happen.

I can’t imagine why God would “allow” us to suffer.

I believe in a God who is always working for good,

a God who is somehow able

to take horrible, rotten things

and create something out of the rubble.

I believe that God came into the world

amidst violence, oppression, and despair

and was able to bring life from that darkness,

and I believe that God is with each one of us

in our challenges and suffering,

comforting us and consoling us

and trying to bring good

out of that which was so bad.

And that is what I think makes God, God.

This reading is posted on Worship Words…click here.

From the liturgy at ‘From darkness to light: the Advent procession,’ Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire UK, 2016

WORD  A Word of Hope, Salisbury Cathedral

A word of hope

“The darkness is at one and the same time

a comforting and a frightening place.

It is the place where we dream,

where our hearts and minds wander towards the divine,

where we imagine what our life

and the lives of those around us

might one day become.

It is also the place where our fears come to life,

where we dread the future, worry over our decisions,

and where our vulnerabilities feel most profound…

Into the dark and forgotten places of our world,

into the parts of our lives we fear or worry about,

and into the darkness of our hearts,

into the places which we can hardly bear to recognise,

the light comes.”

A baby born in Zululand; and this shall be a sign!

This is a complete sermon written from the perspective of a young minister and her 6-year-old daughter.  Attached for consideration and inspiration.

WORD A baby born in South Africa, and this will be a sign — Sermon by Ana & Tod Gobledale

A Christmas Story by Ana & Tod Gobledale

And This Shall Be a Sign…A story of hope and promise  — Luke 2:1-7 

Two readers: 

  • Ana is the mother
  • Thandiwe (Thahn-dee-way) is the 6-year-old daughter

They live illegally in South Africa in a rural area designated ‘Blacks-only’ under the laws of apartheid.

Pronunciation 

Don’t worry about correct pronunciation of the Zulu names, merely choose a pronunciation you are comfortable with, and stick with it throughout.

Mhlongo = eM-lowng-go  (surname)

Khanisiwe = Connie-see-way  (first name)

Philisiwe = Pill-ee-see-way  (first name)

Umfundisi = Um-fuhn-dee-see  (means Reverend or Minister, the title)

Mfanefile = eM-fahn-ah-fee-lay (rural community)

Ncane = eN– tscha-nay    (first name)

Ingane iyabuya  =  in-gone-nay  ee-yah-boo-yah     means: the baby is coming!

SCRIPT

Ana:    Something has awakened me.  I rest drowsing in our crowded bed.

 

Th:      My brother, Mandla, and I have crowded into our parents’ bed because it is so cold in our own beds!  We snuggle with them because they are so much warmer!  And, anyway, this day is my sixth birthday and I figure mum and dad will let us in their bed early on this day.

Ana:    Not sure what has stirred me from my long winter’s nap, I lie in bed cataloging all that lies ahead of me this day.

Th:      You know my mum, she is famous for her lists.   She is busy thinking of all the things to be done: bake a cake, decorate the house, wrap presents, prepare for my party…

Ana:    And, I am still working on Sunday’s sermon!  Then, (rap on pulpit) knock, knock, knock, knock, a persistent rapping at the door.  Now I know what awoke me!

Th:      I feel my mum moving the blankets, letting in cold air.  I burrow further under the covers.  I hear her strike a match and a bit of its light reaches me.  I wish she would stop letting in the cold!

Ana:    Four thirty! (rap on pulpit) The knocking continues.  Who is here at 4:30 in the morning?

Th:      I hear my parents talking.  Dad says, “it’s your turn.”  Mum lets in more cold air when she gets out of bed.  She lights a kerosene lamp.

Ana:    I resentfully wrap a robe around me.  I go to the front door and when I open it, two church members, Khanisiwe Mhlongo and Philisiwe Nene emerge from the cold and dark of a bleak mid-winter night.

Th:      All is quiet in the still night.  I can clearly hear the tidings which our visitors herald with excitement.  “Umfundisi—pastor– a baby is about to be born!  Ma Mhlongo must go to hospital.”

Ana:    South Africa, 1990, apartheid grips the country.  We live, illegally, at Mfanefile, a small, Zulu community.  It is illegal because we are white and this is an area designated ‘Blacks-only’. A single dirt road gives us access to the wider world.  The nearest hospital is twelve kilometers distant.

Th:      My parents own one of the few cars in our community.  People often come to them for help with transport, but this is the first time anyone has come this early in the morning!

Ana:    As I dress, Thandiwe and Mandla poke their noses out from under the covers into the frosty air.

Th:      Rubbing sleep from our eyes, we ask the obvious questions.  Is Ma Mhlongo having a baby?  Are you taking her to hospital?  And the not so obvious question: Can we come, too?

Ana:    Both kids clearly relish this added excitement to Thandiwe’s birthday.  If I take the kids with me, Tod can get the house ready for the birthday party, yes…including baking the cake…, and he will not have the kids to look after while he is doing it.  I say yes to the kids and they are out of the warm bed, where I wish I was, in a heartbeat!  Too bad they are not like that now that they are young adults.

Th:      I greet Khanisiwe and Philisiwe at our front door.  I step outside and glance around.  A sliver of moon is just rising in the east.  The frigid air provides a clear sky.  Stars twinkle against their velvet setting.

Ana:    I herd everyone into the car and we drive to the Mhlongo’s home.  At the home, Thandiwe, Mandla and I wait while Philisiwe and Khanisiwe go fetch the mother-to-be.

Th:      Mum dozes off.  I hear Philisiwe calling from the door of the hut.  I tap mum’s shoulder and point up the hill.  “She wants you,” I tell mum.

Ana:    “What now?” I wonder aloud.

Th:      My Zulu and Mandla’s is better than dad and mum’s but mum needs no translating when Philisiwe cries out, “Ingane iyabuya!”  Which means?!…  Yes!  The baby is coming out!

Ana:    I dash up the hill, through the wooden cattle-kraal fence and into the candle lit hut.  I am not sure what help I will be.  Many times I think I should have gone to nursing school instead of seminary.  The baby’s head is crowning.  Luckily for me, AND the woman in labor, we are not alone.  Gogo, grandmother, Mhlongo takes charge.  She calls for towels and water.  As I hand her a towel, the baby’s head emerges, quickly followed by two slippery shoulders.  The baby slides out, a little grey heap.  Is it alive?  There seems to be A LOT of blood.

Th:      Mandla and I wait a long time.  Mandla complains of the cold, but I think he is a little scared sitting in the dark.  He is ready to climb up the hill and sit in the Mhlongo’s hut.  He knows it will be warmer than the car.  I try to tell him about babies being born, but he does not listen.  He knows how to unbuckle himself.  He climbs out of his car seat.  I take him by the hand and we climb the hill to the Mhlongo’s home.

Ana:    The candle flickers as a cold breeze blows through the single unglazed window of the hut.  I cringe upon seeing the piece of broken bottle Gogo Mhlongo will use to cut the cord.  I murmur a prayer.  Placing our trust in God, Gogo Mhlongo ties a string to the cord and saws with the glass until it servers.  The stillness seems to go on and on and on… Pause

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger… Luke 2:12

All my childhood and young adult years, the Christmas sign of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger seemed, at the least, extraordinary to me if not out and out miraculous.  But as I reflect on this winter morning, I realize, there is nothing extra-ordinary about a baby born in mean and rude surroundings.  Babies are born in such settings every day.  The vast majority of the people Tod and I baptize in Africa are born at home, close to the earth, close to their family’s most prized possession, the livestock which helps them survive.  What IS miraculous, is when the child survives these humble beginnings.  AND, what IS miraculous, is that God chooses to enter the world in the very same way: as one poor, humble, and vulnerable.

This Christmas story we tell over and over again, what an amazing story of hope and promise.  Emmanuel!  God is with us, in each child, in each child of God.  How great is God’s love for us?

How great IS God’s love for us!

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger…  Pause…

Back at Mfanefile, South Africa, in that dimly lit hut, my worries about birthday presents, parties and Sunday’s sermon fade as the stars fade with the coming dawn.  We hold our collective breaths, waiting and hoping for the bundle swaddled in those towels.

Th:      Shhh!   Don’t tell mum, but me and Mandla have come into the hut.  Everything is quiet.  All the grownups are looking at a bundle that Gogo is holding.   The stillness of that silent night seems to go on and on…long pause

Ana:    long pause…  Then, a cry!  Life!  Our baited breaths exhale into smiles.  Tears spring to my eyes.   Laughter and chattering erupt.  I am exhilarated to have witnessed such a miracle.  I am gratified that this wee one has managed, so far, to overcome all the obstacles facing a baby born black and poor in South Africa, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter.

Th:      Mum has a blanket and they give her the baby.  I see he is a boy.   She wraps him up.

Ana:    Gogo urges the mother on.  The mother’s name is Ncane, which means, “little one.”  Gogo Mhlongo massages Ncane’s stomach.  The afterbirth is released.

Th:      Mum places the baby on Ma Mhlongo’s breast.  Mother and child rest.

Ana:    I feel as though I am emerging from a dream.  I take stock of my surroundings.  I recall Thandiwe’s birth six years before on this very same day.  I remember the clean hospital, compared to this mud hut with its cow-dung floor.  The hospital’s bright lights in contrast to this flickering candle.  The medical team with their shiny equipment and here a few thread-bare towels and a sharp piece of broken bottle.

Th:      Sometimes my mum gets so involved with her work she does not notice anything else.  But now, I can tell she is noticing things.  She looks at me and Mandla.  She smiles but has this faraway look as though she is thinking of something else.  I am feeling very happy.  Today is MY birthday, but now it is also this little boy’s birthday!

Ana:    We leave mother and child resting peacefully.  We step outside into the rosy light of dawn.  We share a prayer of thanksgiving.  And as we pause I reflect on my anxiety of what seems ages ago: Thandiwe’s birthday preparations, worries long forgotten in the presence of this most amazing of presents, a new life in our midst.

And this will be a sign for you…  Emmanuel!  God with us!

:

What do we think?

Questions and responses might be shared in pairs or threes.  Inform everyone that there will not be any plenary or feedback time.

  • Where is God, for you, this Advent season?
  • Which Advent/Christmas traditions bring you closer to God?
  • What dark areas of your life need the light of God? Need hope?
  • What dark areas in our world need the light of God? Need hope?

Ask someone to read the passage from a Bible on the table, or from their own Bible or from a printout. 

 Job 11:18

You will have confidence [renewed security],

 because there is hope. 

You will be protected and take your rest in safety.

–NRSV (bracketed insert from The Inclusive Bible)

This is the season of hope. Even though our world can seem dark and frightening, we live in hope. Even as we walk in darkness, a ray of hope is always shining in our midst. We know that Christ’s powerful love transforms darkness into light.

  • Where in your life are you hopeful that you will grow in confidence?
  • When has God transformed your darkness into light?
  • Where might God be calling you to venture into a new light, out of an area of darkness in your life?
  • Who has protected you and guided you during a time of darkness? How did they assist you returning to the light?

Sharing & Caring – Bringing light into our world  

There is hope, for our God is a God of hope.  Trusting that God’s light can penetrate any darkness, we pray in hope for our world and those we love.

Pray with me, using the prayer response:

God of hope, shine your light upon our world.

God of Hope, you have granted us the use of five senses through which we experience your world.  You have blessed us with sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.  Create in us a sensitive spirit, open to sense the beauty of your creation and able to sense the suffering and sorrow therein.

God of hope, shine your light upon our world.

During this Advent season we see the glitter and magic of Christmas lights.  Help us also see how people, animals and even the very soil of your earth, suffer.  Help us to see with your eyes, compassionate God, so that we will know how to help.

God of hope, shine your light upon our world.

As Christmas approaches, we hear the cheerful chimes of bells and crackling of Yule logs.  Help us also hear the cries of victims of violence and warfare. Open our ears to the cries of distress from families and children in our community, sighs of tension between co-workers and colleagues, words of misunderstanding between friends and neighbours.  Help us listen patiently and offer your peace.

God of hope, shine your light upon our world.

During the holiday season, we will taste the sweetness of Christmas logs and fill ourselves at feasts.  Save us from the excess and over-indulgence our culture promotes.  Help us remember those for whom these holidays have a taste of bitterness, disappointment, anger and grief.  Pour your sweet blessing upon them, that they might taste the refreshing cup of your assurance.

God of hope, shine your light upon our world.

We smell the aroma of Christmas trees, mince pies and mulled wine.  Help these wonderful Christmas smells not completely capture our senses.  Help us continue to smell the pollution we have inflicted on your world, and the stench of poverty.  Help us to remedy this, so that we may smell again the freshness of creation and the wholeness of humanity.

God of hope, shine your light upon our world.

During this season of love, as we hug our family or kiss under the mistletoe, remind us of those whom it is difficult to touch, difficult to reach out to.  Help us extend a compassionate hand and a loving embrace to all your family – the outcast, the poor, the stranger, the sick and the suffering.

God of hope, shine your light upon our world.

Creator of our senses, sensitize us to the true meaning of Christmas. May our holiday experiences in sight, sound, taste, aroma and touch remind us of the birth of a child proclaiming your love for the world.

God of hope, shine your light upon our world. Amen.

We continue our prayer in action, extending our hands and embrace around the world as we light candles to remember those in need of our prayers and love.

You are invited to light a candle, reaching out in prayer to people you love, people in need, people on our minds and in our heart.

If you would like to share your prayer, feel free to share aloud with the group, or you may light the candle in silence.

After candles are lit and enough silent time has passed

God, we place into your hands all that we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. Encircle those we have named, and those left un-named, with your love.

God of hope, shine your light upon our world.  Amen.

Use a familiar version (which many people will know from memory) or introduce an alternative version.

Click here for several alternative versions to consider or try one of the following.

 

Version by Revd Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, USA

Holy One whose name we honour and praise,

When we laugh, you laugh with us.

When we weep, your tears wash over the earth.

You know the joys and sorrows of our hearts,

Our efforts for change and our resistance to it.

We seek a time when Your ways become our ways,

A time when our hopes for reconciliation,

Peace and justice become reality.

Spirit of Life, today we ask for enough:

That the food we have may be enough,

That the money and possessions we have may be enough,

That our achievements and successes may be enough.

That we may be enough.

Lead us from the temptations of wanting more

To the contentment of having and being enough.

Even as you sow the seeds of discontent

That move us to change systems

That give some too much and others too little.

Help us to forgive others and ourselves

When we disappoint, neglect, or harm.

For your grace is enough for all of us.

By your creativity, the universe was born,

And in your love, we are sustained. Amen.

 

Version by Revd Stephen Best, UK

WORD Lord’s Prayer – Stephen Best, UK

PDF Lord’s Prayer – Stephen Best

Great Love; the root and sap of our evolving fullness,

Nudge us forward in our creative potential

So we may flourish for the common good.

In each mindful moment, help us recognise that

We free ourselves from the ghosts of our past

In the release we grant those who have harmed us.

Keep us focused on what is right

Make us thirsty for what is just.

For it is love, that knows the way,

Shows the way, becomes the way,

To the fulfilment of our eternal call. Amen

Communion

Choose a familiar reflective song/hymn to lead into communion.  A Christmas carol can be appropriate for the season.

This communion table is set generously before us.  On it is prepared a meal of hope and promise. All are welcome to partake, whoever we are or are not, whatever we have done or left undone.  There is a place for everyone. This meal unites us as the children of God, followers of Jesus and companions with one another.

The bread is gluten free and the juice is non-alcoholic so that all may partake freely. No one is excluded from this meal.

As we approach this meal of hope and promise, we prepare our hearts and minds by confessing our mistakes and hurtful actions, by clearing away all the clutter blocking out the light of God.

Pray with me.

God of Hope, during this season of Advent,

this time of hopeful waiting,

we ask forgiveness for times we have been impatient,

when we have hurried past and not recognized you

in the poor and the hungry,

the lonely and the suffering.

Forgive our preoccupation and failure to see your image

illuminated in our sisters and brothers.

In your mercy, remove our blinders

and move our hearts to joyful recognition and compassion.

We admit all the wrongs we have done,

opening them to the illumination of your love and forgiveness.

Amen.

Our hope is in God who patiently waits for us, diligently watches over us and generously forgives us.  Emmanuel, God is with us!

We remember how Jesus shared the bread, the bread of life, with his friends.  He blessed the bread, broke it and gave it to each of them saying, ‘This is my body broken for you.’

We remember how Jesus shared the cup, the cup of salvation, with his friends.  He blessed it and poured it out for each of them saying, ‘This is my blood, poured out for you.’

This, like the bread and juice Jesus shared, is ordinary bread and ordinary juice. But when we partake of this meal, it becomes extraordinary, uniting us as the ‘body of Christ.’  Through it we are transformed into the eyes, ears, hands and feet of Christ today.

Pray with me…

God of hope and promise,

for this time together around this table,

we give thanks.

For the power of this meal, this simple bread and juice,

to unite us as the Body of Christ,

we give thanks.

Transform us into the hands and feet of Jesus,

committed to sharing your hope and love with the world.

Amen.

Break bread as words are spoken:

The body of Jesus, broken.  The body of Christ made whole again in each of us.

Pour out juice as words are spoken:

The blood of Jesus poured out for many.  The blood of Christ, the life-source that empowers us to be the hands and heart of Christ in our world.

Pray with me.

Spirit of hope and promise,

fill this simple meal with your power

that we might receive nourishment as one spiritual body,

one family, united with you, one another and all peoples.

Empower us to worthily serve the world,

bringing peace and justice to all, in your name.

This we pray in hope.

Amen.

Ministering to you in Jesus’s name, all things are ready.

When you take a piece of bread, please hold it until everyone has a piece.  Then we will all eat together. [or: Please eat the bread as you receive it.]

When everyone has bread:
The body of Jesus, broken.  The body of Christ made whole again in each of us.  Partake/eat of the Bread of Life.

When you take a cup of juice, please hold it until everyone has been served. Then we will all drink together.

When everyone has a cup:
The blood of Jesus poured out for many.  Partake/drink of the life-source that forgives and empowers us to be the hands and heart of Christ in our world.

Pray with me.

God of hope and promise,

thank you for your presence in our lives, today and each day.

Thank you for protecting us from the darkness

and uniting us through this meal.

During this season of Advent,

illuminate the path of patience, compassion and service.

Amen.

Preparing to depart

Sing a familiar uplifting song/carol, or a carol with new words sung to a familiar tune.  See previous suggestions.

This week, meditate daily on hope, and the things you hope for.

Consider distributing candles to light at home during the week, perhaps with a sprig of holly or other greenery.

Have another cuppa? A mince pie?  Some Christmas pudding?

            Shake hands?

            Slip away quietly?

            Whatever is comfortable for the group and for the individuals.