Advent 4 – December 24, 2023

Lectionary Texts

In 2 Samuel 7. 1-11, 16 David wants to build a temple but God says, “I will make you a house.”

Luke 1.47-55 The Magnificat. “My soul magnifies (praises) God, who has regarded me in my low status.” God has brought the mighty down and lifted up the lowly.

Romans 16. 25-27
God is able to strengthen you through the gospel to bring about faith.

Luke 1.26-38 The annunciation. Gabriel tells Mary she will have a special child., and she consents.

Preaching Thoughts

Still Advent? Seriously??
       Well, yes. This Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Advent. Liturgically it isn’t Christmas Eve till tonight. In the secular 21st Century, it is sadly true that for most folks Christmas is not a religious holiday. So they wouldn’t think of going to church twice on this day, in the morning for Advent 4 and in the evening for a Christmas Eve service. You’ll have to make a judgment call about how you handle that in your setting, and to what degree you allow this Sunday morning to slide out of Advent and into Christmas. Seek a way for liturgical integrity to dialogue with people’s desires and expectations.

2 Samuel
        When God says, “I will make you a house,” it can mean both “I will make a house for you” and also “I will make you yourself into a house (for me).” God provides for us, partly by providing in us. Our Advent preparations are mindful of this double blessing: that we await the coming of Christ for us, and prepare for Christ’s birth in us. For you God will make a house for Jesus to be born in, and God will make you a house for Jesus to be born in.

Luke 1.47-55— The Magnificat
       In the chronology of Luke’s gospel, this passage comes after the following one, of the Annunciation. (It’s the song Mary bursts forth with when she visits Elizabeth.) But in todays’ liturgy it comes earlier, serving as a Psalm— because it is one. It’s a song of praise for God’s grace specifically addressing our need: Mary’s “low estate,” paralleled by the state of the poor and hungry. Historically it has been an act of blatant denial for the church to ignore the obviously revolutionary sense of Mary’s song. Not only does God “lift up the lowly” (how sweet!) but also also “brings down the powerful” (how disturbing!) This isn’t a wish for the poor to be on top instead of the rich. (How many “revolution”s have we seen in which the formerly powerless become the ruthless despots?) This is not a zero-sum vision, that there’s only so much wealth or power to go around. It is a critique of all hierarchies, power structures, and systems of privilege and exclusion. It’s not that the levels of the political or economic ladder are reversed: they’re abolished. There’s no ladder. God brings everyone to the same level. Jesus preaches the same radical concept: not a ladder of status or a pyramid of power, but a circle in which the last is first and the first last. In a circle the last doesn’t become a new first: they, and everyone else, remain always both last and first.
      But. It sure feels like zero-sum to the folks who have to be brought down. To the privileged, justice feels unfair. This is the hard edge of the gospel: we want to hang onto our privilege, whatever it is. Time after time, with pharisee and tax collector in prayer, with prostitutes entering heaven before the rabbis, with laborers all paid a full day’s wage, Jesus keeps hammering it home: there’s no privilege with God. No superiority, no “better than.” No such thing as good enough, or not good enough, or deserving at all. Only God’s grace. This is the “mercy according to the promise God made to our ancestors” that Mary sings about.

Luke 1.26-38 – The Annunciation
       The “Virgin Birth.” Luke, for good reason, has misunderstood Isaiah 7:14 that says “A young maiden is with child and shall bear a son.” The word “virgin” means sexually chaste, but the Hebrew word simply means a young woman. In Isaiah there’s no reason to assume she’s a virgin, or not married, or even that this is her first child. There’s no prophecy of a virgin birth! If you want to be strictly literal, Gabriel does not say “This moment you shall conceive…” but “Now then, you shall.” It’s a prophecy about the future. Like, when she gets married. Mary’s response isn’t necessarily about her virginity. She’s just saying, “What are you talking about, having a royal baby? I’m just an ordinary girl! I’m not even married yet!” Gabriel’s response isn’t about the absence of sex in this child’s conception, but the Spirit’s presence. There’s no need to “create” a virgin birth. But of course Luke intends just that. Legends of virgin births were popular in Jesus’ day among important people: Caesar claimed one. So both Matthew and Luke follow the tradition. We can’t pretend that Luke doesn’t describe a virgin birth. So that’s the story, even if we don’t have to take it as literal truth.
       So what? What if the story of a virgin birth is not true? Nothing, that’s what. It doesn’t change a thing. Jesus is who he is, does what he does, sets us free from the power of our fear and selfishness, inaugurates a new Realm of Grace, and calls us to follow, independent of Mary’s sex life. And—look how God can do amazing things, even through ordinary people! And what if the story is true? Then look how God can do amazing things, even through ordinary people! (And look at the power of a woman who doesn’t need a man to fulfill her calling!) Remember, this is a story, the point of which is not how it happened, but what it’s about. And this is a story about God acting decisively in human history… about a way to think of Jesus as being “of God,” and God acting intentionally in Jesus, who is “sent” by God, and represents God… about God using ordinary people… about God’s promises and fulfillment…… about saying “yes” to God… about a lot of things other than sex. (By the way we know Mary did eventually have sex, since Jesus had at least four brothers and three sisters [Mt. 13.55]—unless they were all born of virgin births!) All of this, this story is about, regardless of Mary’s experience.
      Gabriel’s message, God’s prayer. Fussing about whether Mary had sex or not is a tragic diversion from the real impact of this story. Imagine it as God’s message to you —God’s prayer: that God favors you, that you have the power to conceive love in this world, not by your own accomplishment—“how can this be!?”—but by God’s grace—“for the Holy Spirit will come upon you.” The love you conceive will be great, and will last forever. And if you don’t believe this, look around at others who no one thought could bear love into the world and see: nothing is impossible with God.
       Maybe the best part of the story, the real part people should be obsessed with, is Mary’s response. “Here I am, willing to serve God. May it be for me according to your word.” Do we dare say that to God? Do we say that to God’s promise that we will bring great love into the world? Maybe we need Mary’s prayer as much as we need the Lord’s prayer.

Call to Worship

1. See Advent candle lighting prayers, Advent Wreath Prayers and music resources here.

2. [Also suitable as a prayer or response later in the service.]
Greetings, favored ones! God is with you.
Our soul magnifies the Holy One,
and our spirit rejoices in God, our savior.

You have found favor with God.
You shall conceive in your hearts
and bear God’s love into the world.
God has looked with favor on us in our lowliness,
for God has done mighty things for us.

The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
so your love will be of God.
God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly,
filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
Look about you and see the fruitfulness of God’s love.
Fro nothing is impossible with God.
Here we are, in service to God.
May it be for us according to your word. Amen.

God of love, we yearn for your presence.
Our hearts ache for your light.
Christ, bearer of miracles, we look to your coming,
for the dawning of your new day.
We look for the light that leads us to life.
Spirit of light, arise in us and guide us,
Our hearts are open mangers,
ready for the birth of the holy child
in our love and hope and gentleness.
Come, O light, and dawn upon is.
Come, O Light, and unfold your beauty within us.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

God of love, your angel spoke to Mary, telling her of great things you were doing in her. Speak to us now. Let us hear the good news of your desire for us, and for all Creation, unfolding in us. Here are we, the servants of your love. May it be for us according to your Word. Amen.

Great God, Loving Mystery, as your angel Gabriel came to Mary, come to us now and speak to us. May your Holy Spirit come upon us, and the power of your love overwhelm us, so that what is in our hearts may be holy. Conceive in us your love, your grace, your breathing presence. We are in your service. May it be for us according to your Word. Amen.

Gracious God, Creator of all things, you are still creating.
Receive our deepest longings with tenderness, and nourish them,
that we may plead for your coming in hope.
Gentle Christ, you who have come among us in love, you are still coming.
Open our hearts, that we may prepare for you with lives of love.
Spirit of Life, you shone in the darkness, and still you shine.
Shine in us, that we may proclaim your coming in lives of joy and justice,
Incarnate God, you entered into Mary, and she bore you into the world.
Bless us, that we may participate in your coming with deep and life-giving peace.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Beloved, we have found favor with you.
May your Holy Spirit come upon us,
your love overwhelm us,
that what is conceived in our hearts be holy.
Here we are, in service to you.
May it be for us according to your word.

Let it sink into me.
Let me conceive this:
that you choose to come into this world
through me.
May it be for me
according to your word.



Greetings, favored one. The Holy One is with you.
Do not be afraid: you have found favor with God.
And now, you will contain within yourself the body
of God, the flesh of love, the glory of heaven.
There stirs in you the mystery and power
of God’s great plan, God’s hope for humanity:
the salvation of the world in your hands, in your words.
The cosmic and the personal are one
in your womb, in your love, in your labor.
In you lies the seed of the whole garden.
Of the dominion of your love there will be no end.
The little things you do will burn with the energy
of heaven, the grace that turns galaxies and parts the sea;
that brings down the powerful and raises up the lowly,
feeds the hungry and sends the rich to find a new way.
And now, your kinswoman Mary in her courage
has also conceived this love, and has consented.
She in her compassion and wisdom has shown you
that nothing is impossible with God.


An ordinary life you have,
like baked bread, the aroma of love,
like old wood, edges worn from kindness.

In a moment’s pause, a small step aside
from the rush, the proof—
the abyss opens. Heaven inhales.

Deep, wordless, you sense
wings, breathing, Presence.
Silence speaks.

Sunlight on a plain rock,
music of a flower not usual
for this season: You are Beloved.

The Infinite names you, adores,
finds in you, in your flesh, your voice,
your hands, a place to live.

What is within you is holy.
What is of you is of God, Mystery
spiraling out from you like a nebula, a child.

You will not cease being ordinary,
nor feel different. You will bear
the Divine made infant into the world

if only moment
by moment you say

Response / Creed / Affirmation

[See Call to worship #3 above.]

Eucharistic Prayer

For prayers set to familiar Christmas tunes see:
Advent Table Songs (preparation for communion),
Eucharistic responses,
whole Eucharistic prayers, and
Songs of blessing.

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Our spirits rejoice in you O God,
for you have done great things.
You have looked with favor on your humblest people
and blessed us with mercy through all generations.
You have condemned the powers of oppression,
brought down the powerful, and set free your people.
You have fed the poor with good things.
Therefore with all Creation we sing your praise:

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]Blessed is the one who comes in your name,
Jesus, your Christ, in whom you dwelt among us.
In love he fed the hungry, lifted up the lowly,
and confronted the illusions of the powerful.
With the despised he was crucified, but you raised him up with power.
For with you nothing is impossible.

[The Blessing and Covenant…]

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
May your Holy Spirit come upon us,
the power of the Most High overshadow us,
so that what is conceived in us will be holy.

May your love rule in our hearts,
and of its reign may there be no end.
Here we are, Lord, your humble servants.
May it be for us according to your Word.

     [Spoken or sung]


* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) As the bread works within us to become flesh, so may your love become flesh in us, for the sake of the world, in the power of your Spirit and the name of Christ, who is coming. Amen.

Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You come to us in bread and cup, in human life, in love made real. By the grace of this meal may Christ be born in us. May we, by your Spirit in us, bear your divine, loving presence into the world for the sake of its redemption, to your glory. Amen.

Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have extended your favor to us,,and you have conceived your love in our hearts. Your Holy Spirit has come over us, and your Christ has been given flesh in our body and our soul. May your grace grow within us; may we embody your love. God of our salvation, may it be for us according to your Word. Amen.

Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.)
By the power of your Spirit, with the grace of these gifts,
in the company of Jesus, send us into the world as the Body of Christ,
to love as Jesus loved, to be light in the darkness
and signs of hope for the healing of the world,
to your eternal glory. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

For prayers set to familiar Christmas tunes see:
Advent Table Songs (preparation for communion)
Eucharistic responses
whole Eucharistic prayers
Songs of blessing

Come, Bring Your Light and Shepherd of Israel are weekly litanies, one verse per week; suitable for a call to worship, introduction or response to scripture, response to sermon, or other places in worship:

Come, Bring Your Light (Original song)
A dialogue between solo cantor and congregation.
The Cantor’s lyrics reflect the day’s lectionary texts; the congregational response is the same throughout Advent.)
Week 4:
My soul magnifies the Holy One, and rejoices in God my savior.
For God has looked kindly on me in my lowliness.

God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly,
filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty handed.

        O Come to us, O come, Emmanuel,
        and bring your light into our darkened world.

Blessed are you, for you have found favor with our God.
The Holy Spirit shall conceive a child, God’s Only Begotten One.

Noting is impossible with our God.
Here we are, your servants, God. Let it be for us according to your word.

        O Come to us, O come, Emmanuel,
        and bring your light into our darkened world.

Shepherd of Israel (Original song)
A dialogue between solo cantor and congregation.
The Cantor’s lyrics reflect the day’s lectionary texts; the congregational response is the same throughout Advent.)

Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison.
Come to us, and grant your peace.

Week 1. Shepherd of Israel, come, restore your people.
Shine your face on us and save us, God.    … Kyrie…

Week 2. Comfort, speak tenderly. Gently lead your people.
God, forgive our sins and make us new.    … Kyrie…

Week 3. Pour out your Spirit, God, Heal the brokenhearted.
Love, prepare our hearts to see your light.    … Kyrie…

Week 4. Grant us your mercy, God. Fill the poor with good things.
Guide our feet into your way of peace.    … Kyrie…

Blessed Child (Original song)

Blessed child of Bethlehem, waiting to be born,
some will bring you incense, and some a crown of thorns.
yet you bear so gently all our joys and harms.
How I long to greet you, and hold you in my arms.

Blessed child of heaven, waiting to e born,
joy of all Creation, delight of those who mourn:
teach us how to worship, teach us how to love,
living in the presence of angels from above.

Blessed child among us waiting to be born,
in whom all are healed, and all our sorrows borne,
help us live in love, in peace and reconciled.
By your birth in us, everyone’s a holy child.

Blessed child within me, waiting to be born,
bringing gifts and wonders with the light of morn,
heaven springing in me, new life yet to grow:
child of holy promise, oh how I love you so!

The Magnificat (Tune: What Child Is This)

My soul sings out in joy to God, who’s favored me, so lowly.
The Mighty One has kindly done great things, for God is holy.
This, this is grace outlaid, God’s mercy in the promise made,
Praise, praise, the Faithful One, and magnify our savior!

God brings the powerful down from thrones while lifting up the lowly.
God feeds the poor, and the rich no more receive, but the hungry solely.
Praise! Praise the Mighty one for all the things that God has done
Love, love will honor God, who promises mercy forever.

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