Advent Wreath Ceremony, 2018 — without fire

Introduction: One thing we know about the Messiah. The birth in Bethlehem was not what was expected – those who longed for a Messiah were hoping for a political leader who would free them from Roman rule. Not a child, not a stable, not straw, not shepherds, not magi. One of the things we expect in Advent every year is the lighting of Advent candles on an Advent wreath. This Advent wreath ceremony surprises by inviting not the lighting of a wick but the pouring of living water each week.

This has been a year of terrible fires throughout the world. California which has suffered from raging wild fires for several years faces the worst fires in history. At this date more than a thousand people are missing. We all hold in our deepest prayers those who mourn lost family and friends, those whose homes, businesses, security has been destroyed, those who have been unable to breathe clearly for weeks. We also pray for firefighters, for first responders, for those who offer shelter and comfort.

Please feel free to use or adapt this liturgy for one Sunday or for the season. Each week includes an invitation with two possible scriptures, a children’s story (all ages) you may want to use, words for pouring and a prayer of invocation. The physical set up is the familiar wreath of evergreens, with three small blue or purple glass bowls and one that is pink, and a small pitcher. A electric string of clear tree lights surrounding the small bowls will add sparkle to the water.

Music – these verses may be used – one for each week, if you wish. This is an adaptation of an African American spiritual in public domain.

1) I’ve hope like a rainfall, I’ve got hope like a rainfall.
I’ve got hope like a rainfall in my soul.
I’ve hope like a rainfall, I’ve got hope like a rainfall.
I’ve got angels around me and I’m whole.

2) I’ve got peace like a river; I’ve got peace like a river;
I’ve got peace like a river in my soul.
I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got hope like a rainfall.
I’ve got angels around me and I’m whole.

3) I’ve got joy like a fountain; I’ve got joy like a fountain;
I’ve got joy like a fountain, in my soul
I’ve got peace like a river; I’ve got hope like a rainfall;
I’ve got angels around me, and I’m whole.

4 I’ve got love like an ocean; I’ve got love like an ocean;
I’ve got love like an ocean, in my soul
I’ve got joy like a fountain, I’ve got peace like a river;
Touched by hope and blessed by angels, I am whole.

First Sunday in Advent – December 2, 2018 — Hope

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” Psalm 42:1

The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:2

Leader: As the people of Israel hoped for water in dry times,
so they hoped for the Messiah, the one promised.
People: We bring our hopes to Advent –
because we are thirsty for tenderness,
and longing for God’s Spirit to hover
over the dryness in our lives.
Leader: Long ago they thought Emmanuel
would be a leader in war, a torch of freedom.
People: The child who was born was called living water,
true vine, a door for all, bread of hope.

A story for all ages:
The very first people to start traveling to Bethlehem were the magi. They were following a star from a long distance away. Maybe they even began before Mary knew she was pregnant. If you have a crèche in your home or church, maybe you want to place the three magi and any camels in another room or a table at a distance. Because they were following a star, they could only travel at night. There is a story that there were several days with clouds in the sky and they were just stuck! They became discouraged and afraid they would be too late. A village girl approached them and said, “ Come to the well in the middle of town. Anyone can see what they hope for there. I believe you can see your star.” And they did. They looked up – no star; they looked down – the star was shining and they could plot their directions. The girl, Rachel, said, “A well is a blessing.”

Pouring: Today we pour water for the first Sunday of Advent
the Sunday of Hope. We celebrate the wells of grace
and the gentle rains that bring new growth
and quench our doubts and fears.
We wait for the Messiah who came long ago,
and who comes to us in our days. (pouring)

Prayer: Emmanuel, God-with-us, when we leave this place help us to draw deeply on our sources of hope and grace to share with all we meet. Amen

Second Sunday in Advent – December 9, 2018 – Peace

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; and leads me beside still waters… Psalm 23: 1-3a

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22: 1-2

Leader: We need peace in our lives and in our world.
People: Every month we need healing,
but December can be the hardest time of year
when we need rest from busyness
and gentle words for many sorrows.
Leader: Down by the Advent riverside
we follow the prints of Peace.
People: And there we meet the Prince of Peace.

A story for all ages:
Sheep need water. Only if the plants they find are very moist can they get by without it and that was never true in the hills around Bethlehem. If sheep can dream it is about leaves fat with water; if young shepherds can dream, it is about wells or streams without resident bullies. A story goes that when the angels came to sing about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, one shepherd had to stay with the flock, along with the dogs who protect against wolves. An angel came down and asked this left-out shepherd whether he wanted a bright fire and warm food. “No,” was the answer. “A warmer cloak?” “No.” “Shall I sing an angel song or let you touch my wings?” “No.” “What do you want while you are waiting?” “Let there be a small safe spring in these rocks, so none of my flock will sleep thirsty.” And there was.

Pouring: Last week we poured the water of Hope,
that quenches our doubts and fears. (pouring)
This week is the Sunday of Peace,
and we celebrate still and peaceful water
and those who make it accessible in our days,
for the river of life is all of God’s children. (pouring)

Prayer: Emmanuel, God-with-us, when we leave this place help us to draw deeply on hope and drink our fill of God’s peace. Amen

Third Sunday in Advent – December 16, 2018 – Joy (if someone in the congregation has a tabletop fountain, it might be a fun addition to the advent wreath.)

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19

‘… those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ John 4:14

Leader: Advent is a time of many traditions.
People: God is always doing a new thing.
Leader: God offers us hope, peace, and even joy,
knowing that we live in a sad world.
People: And we do a new thing –
not “store” presents, but gifts of the heart.

A story for all ages:
“Let’s borrow a donkey.” Joseph said to Mary, and that advice was something their son Jesus would remember. Nala donkey was the silliest donkey in all Nazareth. Nala would be frisky and then balk. She went too fast and then wanted to take a nap. She drank her water with so much gulping and guzzling that everybody in the city square would turn and look. But Nala made people laugh. There were soldiers all around and nobody wanted to smile, but Nala made them laugh. The census meant that there were caravans of migrants on the road, uncomfortable, hungry, tired, but Nala made them laugh. Mary was hurting and Joseph was worried, but Nala’s spitting and snorting and sneezing made them laugh. Then, when the door was almost shut in their faces at the last inn in Bethlehem, Nala twitched her ears and heehawed so loudly, the exhausted innkeeper couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit of joy and sent the new family to the stable.

Pouring: We have poured enough Hope,
to put out great fires and fears. (pouring)
We heard the Messiah say, “Peace be still,”
and knew it meant our waves. (pouring)
This week is the Sunday of Joy,
and we remember from a story about Cana
that, when Jesus asks us to pour water,
it means we are going to have a party. (pouring into the pink bowl)

Prayer: Emmanuel, God-with-us, when we leave this place may we be hydrated with hope, bathed in peace, and willing to splash the world with joy. Amen

Fourth Sunday in Advent – December 23, 2018 — Love

And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’ Matthew 10:42

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Amos 5:24

Leader: This month we gather around our Advent wreath.
People: We remember that God’s love is a circle.
Leader: This year we have poured bowls of water
rather than lighting candles,
and this, too, is for the sake of love,
comfort for those who mourn the losses of fires,
and letting another symbol
remind us of the starlight and the straw.
People: We celebrate all ways people share love,
and wait for the birth of Christ in our lives.

A story for all ages:
When a baby is born it takes a lot of water. Water heated up to make everything safe and clean, water cooled down to wash the baby before swaddling, and cold water on a cloth for a mother’s forehead. At one point Joseph poured a bucket over his head just to stay awake. Then the animals needed to be watered and the visitors needed a drink and, with all the hay out of their manger, some water needs to be nearby in case of fire. Somebody was running around with water in that Bethlehem stable long ago.

(Pull out a tray with cups of water or use a communion tray with the small glasses filled with water) Maybe it was you. Maybe it is you. (Choose an extrovert) Would you pass water to everyone who wants it? Oh, you need help? Who would like to help getting water to people? (As water is quickly passed with many helpers) Modern day love is helping everyone have water.

Pouring: We have poured a cup of Hope,
for the lips of the hopeless. (pouring)
We have poured a cup of Peace
in a world of conflict.(pouring)
We have poured a cup of Joy, —
did someone mention – hose?
is anyone afraid of splashing? (pouring)
This is the Sunday of Love
and our hearts are not as hard as flint,
so we pour love in the name of Jesus
who came long ago and comes today. (pouring)

Prayer: Emmanuel, God-with-us, long ago and always – we come to you for living water, for our world has too many fires, too many thirsty people, and a great drought of the Spirit. We welcome your coming and share your good news. amen

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Guest post — Litany of Grief and Hope in a time of wildfire, Linda Grund-Clampit

Linda Grund-Clampit lay pastor at Falls City United Methodist Church in Oregon has sent this litany from her congregation’s worship August 5th after the deadly fires in Oregon and California, and just as appropriate in these days. She writes,
“I am convicted that worship must bring faithful expression to our daily experience. Perhaps this litany could be meaningful to others during this time of tragic fires in California — and in the future, as this vulnerability will not change quickly. The place where specific names are listed can, of course, be completed with appropriate names for the time of use or no names could be listed at all.”

Litany of Grief and Hope in a Time of Wildfire

Lord, our world is on fire.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The summer brings heat and dry-ness,
but more than that our greedy use of fossil fuels
has unsettled the delicate balance
of weather and climate,
so that drought and excessive heat
follow season after season around the world.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We see the interdependence of your Creation
and our societies,
the acts of individuals
and the consequences for communities,
the reaping of what we have sown
and the harvest stunting generations.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We hear your promise of green pastures,
and still, refreshing waters.
We see the fruit of our foolish wanderings
away from where you lead.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Call us, gather us up,
lead us in paths of justice and righteousness
that the world may be healed.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As you wept with Mary and Martha
at the tomb of Lazarus,
look with compassion on us and all who grieve
loss of home, loss of loved one, loss of economic security,
especially the family and friends of:

John Ruby, Brian Hughes, Jeremy Stoke, Don Ray Smith, Melody Bledsoe, James Roberts, Emily Roberts and others who have been killed in wildfires this season.

Grant them the assurance of your presence now
and faith in your eternal goodness,
that in them may be fulfilled the promise
that those who mourn shall be comforted,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We thank you for the courage and dedication of the firefighters, their support crews, National Guard and police departments, utility workers, farmers, and journalists; as well as neighbors and businesses in affected communities who have taken people in, offered free food and services, saved and sheltered animals, and been neighbor to each other in time of need.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

May the communities which rise from these ashes be blessed by those who walk in your righteousness, so that – in your time, Lord — their mourning may be turned to dancing, and their grief be turned into hope.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We ask all of this in the name of Jesus,
who taught us to pray together, saying

The Lord’s Prayer


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Psalm 150 for World Toilet Day

(The United Nations has designated 19 November as World Toilet Day. 1 in 3 people around the world lack access to a toilet, which means that more people have a cell phone than a toilet. Poor sanitation is deadly – proper sanitation is a fundamental human right. Proper sanitation, I believe, is a sanctuary.)

Praise God! Praise God in our sanitation;
praise God in squat toilet and sit-down toilet!

Praise God with digestive well-being;
praise God when diarrhea is no more,
when malnutrition is reversed,
when menstrual shame is past,
when a child’s water is not polluted,
when a woman is not raped in the bushes.

Praise God with pit latrine;
praise God with fill valve and flush valve!

Praise God with flange and tank;
praise God with float arm and flapper!

Praise God with shelter and dignity;
praise God with loud composting chambers!

Let everyone who has somewhere to go, praise God,
and make sure that the rest of everyone can praise God, too.

More information here

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Guest Post — by Yosimar Reyes, an undocuqueer

It is my friend Larry Trent who often gets ahold of a fresh poem by Yosimar Reyes, one of the most powerful poets that I know. When asked who he is, Yosimar will say, “Just tell them I am an undocuqueer.” Larry lives in Los Angeles.

I am sitting at Mexican restaurant
waiting for my order
the tv is on

across the screen
reports on the Central American Caravan
traveling through Mexico

The waitress and patrons
stare wide eyed at the mass of people walking

In comes in a señor selling flowers
they are bit tarnish
but he is determined to sell them before he ends his day
he walks from table to table
almost reciting poetry as he markets his flowers
“Se van a miran bonitas en tu comedor”
“Joven, para su novia”

I am sitting here
thinking on how it hurts
to know that these people
that leave their lands
for a better life
a dream
the illusion that this place is better
will one day wake up to have their hearts broken

I am thinking of my mother
on what day did she wake up
and think, “Maybe I should have stayed”

It hurts because
who do we tell about this heartbreak
who do you tell
what it feels to be unwanted

who will believe you when you tell them of everything they took from you
after their wars
after their trade agreements
after their privization of water

who is going to believe you
that all you have left is your body
and your will
to build

By Yosimar Reyes.

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Guest Post — Heather Kelly

Three poems by Heather Kelly, who lives in Peacehaven Village in Invercargill, New Zealand, touch me profoundly.

Neighborhood Gardens

I visit with God in the streets as I walk:

The God whose glory is reflected in roses in rain
whose majesty is real in the vibrant gladioli
whose purity is witnessed in the white daisy
whose honour is true in the tall conifer
whose grace is glimpsed in the sacred lily.

Good Grief

It was a painful path, that crucifixion journey –
A time of loneliness, of tears, of grieving;
A time when depression
and an overwhelming sadness were mostly what I felt.

I trembled, stumbled and fell on that journey,
fearful of the pain, longing to be in control.

But you, God, were in control.
You knew the darkness would feed the life in me;
You knew the pain was pain of growth.

There were times on the journey
when I felt the gentle, loving touch of Christ:
The touch brought nurture and tears.
Brought the beginning of healing;
Brought the gifts of Christ to me

Psalm from the South

Holy God,
I seek your blessing as I walk by the ocean:

The great southern prospect moves me to praise;
the roar of the breakers speaks of your power
and there is wonder as I touch the ice in the wind.

The tang of the sea scent fills me
and draws me into your presence;

for I find the salt spray is Christ’s commission
as I walk again with Jesus
at the edge of the sea.

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Advent wreath ceremony without fire

One thing we surely know about the Messiah. The birth in Bethlehem was not what was expected. One of the things we expect in Advent every year is the lighting of the Advent candles. I made the suggestion last year that for one week churches honor the suffering from fire in California by using water.The fires are even worse this year. This year I will be creating an Advent wreath liturgy for those who wish to be in solidarity with those who are suffering — a re-visioning of the wreath ceremony.  The new liturgy will be broader so that is may be used in all churches and will be shared next Monday, November 19, 2018. This is my poem from last year.

God, this year I offer a new Advent wreath.
The circle is your love for people in California
and in each place for a candle,
we pour a cup of water.
The first cup is an easing of wind,
The second cup is care for firefighters.
The third cup is shelter for the evacuated
and the fourth cup rescue for all who fear
and comfort for those who mourn.

On Christmas Eve I will remember —
the child was born in straw,
to share our vulnerability,
and grew up to give us living water.

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The old holiday (Armistice Day)

My mother was twenty days old
at the Armistice –
it was made for her and all children —
ending the war to end wars,
but she sent a husband to the next one,
and, lucky enough that he came home,
protested the six that followed,
and died in her nineties.

I am old enough to remember
one Armistice Day
celebrated in a town hall
with a tin ceiling and a revolutionary flag,
voting booths pushed into the corner,
and me and some other pastors
invited to offer prayers,
but a frail grey-haired lady,
who remembered 1918
stood up to lean on a chair, smiling
at moms and kids in red, white and blue.

She said it was grand.
Churches rang bells all day long —
folks took turns on the ropes.
Women came out of their homes
banging wooden spoons on pots and pans,
and, every couple hours,
neighbors would decide to make a parade,
find somebody’s flag
and march around the streets.

The holiday has gotten old today –
one hundred years,
and too many damned poppies.

Soldiers sit all armed-up at the border
to protect us against desperate families,
and this president threatens war,
changes friends and enemies
easy as dirty shirts,
and sits ill at ease with peace and justice
in any council of the nations.

(Woodrow Wilson: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations …”)

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