Eighteen months after the 2013 flood in High River, Alberta, that devastated our whole town, many people were still struggling to rebuild, renovate, and re-establish their homes and businesses.
As the Advent season approached, the Children & Youth worship team at High River United Church began to imagine a new kind of service, and through their discussions the message we needed to offer became clear: God is with us! We are not alone! Some of the congregation’s youth and children offered additional ideas and words to help create the Call to Worship, Prayer of the Day, Prayers of the People, and Commissioning and Benediction.
We began with the name Emmanuel, Jesus’ name in Matthew 1:23, which means “God is with us.” Then we began to imagine what everyone present at the birth of Jesus, as recorded in the gospels of Luke and Matthew, would have experienced and felt.
Taking those initial ideas and images, I gave them shape and words. I tried to capture a variety of feelings and reflect the post-flood emotions of our community, but I also tried to show that not everyone was joyful—or silent—on that holy night about 2,000 years ago. In fact, it was a bit of a messy night that unfolded in a rather smelly stable and involved an odd cast of characters. That’s why each character who offers a monologue reflects a different emotion and perspective. Yet all find comfort in the sheep’s words, which echo those in A New Creed: “God is with us; we are not alone!”
If you’re wondering why I had the sheep deliver the reassuring words that all the speakers needed to hear, remember that Jesus is referred to as both lamb and shepherd within scripture and within our tradition.
I hope you’ll enjoy using the adapted version of our original service, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel; please feel free to adapt it further for your context.
—Susan Lukey is minister at High River United Church in High River, AB
If you are wondering why we are sending out Advent material when it is still October, it is because we know that many of you are worship planners already looking several weeks ahead, and we hope that these messages might be helpful as you plan for Advent!