A Liturgy of Yearning

I have always enjoyed the rich contemplative tune of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel that most of our churches sing during Advent each year. But one year stands out for me above all others. I was serving as an interim pastor in Yachats in 2012. I had already completed the bulletin for that Third Sunday in Advent service. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel was already slated as the hymn to be sung after the sermon. All of my planning was complete with the exception of tidying up the last few edits to my sermon.

But I had not planned on everything. On Friday, a gunman showed up at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and shot and killed 26 people, 20 of them children between the ages of six and seven. The remaining six adults killed were school teachers and staff.

Christmas bulletinPastors are always trying to respond to the spiritual needs of our members and I found that I had to find some way to attend to the shock and grief that our members and nation felt. I didn’t want to start over and craft a whole other service. But I wanted to make sure that the themes of Advent that I was planning didn’t feel out of sync with the emotions of the day.

A simple change in the service accomplished both—I was able to stick with the service I had planned and make room for the grief of that Sunday morning. As we sung O Come, O Come, Emmanuel a liturgist read the names of the victims between each verse, honoring six or seven at a time. I will admit it. It was tough. Many of us had a hard time vocalizing the words between our tears. It was both painful and healing. It allowed us to name our grief and express through song our yearning for Emmanuel, “God with us.”

We have not had a Sandy Hook experience this year, but the combined grief related to the deadly coronavirus, the increasingly awareness of how deeply racism permeates our society, the devastating wildfires in our presbytery and national anxiety over our political life give new meaning to the yearning for God’s presence that O Come, O Come, Emmanuel  points to.

Below are links for for a sung responsive liturgy based on the hymn that you can use in one of the two remaining Advent services. You might use it for a call to worship or prayer. Or you may just choose to find a quiet place to sit, join in the liturgy and reflect on the meaning of Advent this year.

Watch it here: YouTube Link

Download for your Advent service here: Link for File Download

Here is the printed version of the liturgy:

VERSE ONE:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

READING:
Answer our yearning, O God, Emmanuel.
We are a lonely and isolated people
Separated by our ego and by our sin,
Physically distanced by our love and concern for each other.
We want connection. We want to hold and to be held.
We want you be with us, O God, Emmanuel.

VERSE TWO:
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

READING:
Answer our yearning, O God, Emmanuel.
There is a heaviness among us, the weight of cascading crises.
We count deaths and with each one a thousand stories come to an end,
A lifetime of memories gets frozen in time.
We are ready to play again. We want to dance. We want to feel alive.
We want you to be with us, O God, Emmanuel.

VERSE THREE:
O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

READING:
Answer our yearning, O God, Emmanuel.
Division, disunity and distrust are feeling too normal.
We compete rather than cooperate.
We lift ourselves up on the backs of others.
Our eyes betray suspicion and wariness.
We want to be one again. We want to love and enjoy our sisters and brothers.
We want the fabric of our lives to be whole again.
We want you to be with us, O God, Emmanuel.

VERSE ONE:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

2 thoughts on “A Liturgy of Yearning

  1. What a moving and meaningful post. I too love this Christmas hymn and what a wonderful way to incorporate it in your service. But part of the reason I love it so is that when my daughter was in first grade, her school had a Christmas program. Her class sang this hymn. I was surprised at her enthusiasm for it, until I realized that instead of singing “rejoice, rejoice,” she was singing what she thought were the words — “free toys, free toys.” All these years later, this is still one of our favorite Christmas stories.

    Like

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