Anna's Hosannas!
Free Worship Resources for Use with the Lectionary
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First Thoughts: Our theme for the fourth Sunday of Advent is "Empty," and our symbolic representation of that is a manger bed.  We look to Mary and Joseph as our teachers in emptying.  Here they are, young people beginning their lives together, likely full of their own hopes and dreams.  But God asks them to set aside these plans, to empty themselves, in order to make room for God's plan to be born.  Mary is literally emptied that her womb can be filled with the Christ; and Joseph's figuratively emptied, as his heart makes space for a child that is not his own, but he will raise as his own.  Emptying is an important theme for Advent, and one that is easily overlooked.  The holidays are a time when everything seems to be filling up - our schedules, our bellies, our busy minds.  If we are too full, though, we won't have any room for the Christ to be born among us.  We MUST set aside an empty space, even if it is only a feeding trough in a stable somewhere, that God can visit us.  Emptying ourselves is the greatest act of love we can offer; we make space for the other to enter us and live in us.  Since love is the traditional theme for this Sunday of Advent, it's a perfect match.  If you would like to use a coordinating children's lesson, I've provided one on SermonSuite.
Call to Worship
L: In this world where so many heedlessly and foolishly fill themselves up with worthless things, O God, we empty ourselves,
P: For there is no greater love than to empty ourselves for a friend.
L: As Mary and Joseph set aside their own plans to make space for the coming of Christ, O God, we empty ourselves,
P: For there is no greater love than to empty ourselves for a friend.
L: The manger waits empty, holding its vacancy, to receive the gift that comes.  So, O God, we empty ourselves,
P: For there is no greater love than to empty ourselves for a friend.
L: Come to us, Lover of our Souls, filling the void that awaits you.  We empty ourselves,
ALL: For there is no greater love than to empy ourselves for a friend.
Reading for the Advent Wreath
We look to Mary and Joseph whose sacrifice made possible the coming of Christ for us.  We recognize that they had other plans, other hopes, for their lives; that they set these aside to be instruments of God's love in the world.  So do we seek to empty ourselves of our own ideas and plans, our own noisiness, that we might make space for the Christ to be born among us.  We will carve out spaces of solitude, silence, fasting and stillness, that our lives might be hospitable to the movement of God.  And so we commit to the greatest act of love, setting ourselves aside that another might be born in us.  We empty ourselves in faith, we empty ourselves in love.
(As reader lights the fourth purple candle, two children lead in the song "Empty Your Heart."  They sing it through once, the congregation joins in the second refrain, and the children sing third refrain alone.)
Communion/Stewardship Reflection: As the manger stands empty and void, so our hearts feel the longing of emptiness.  We are not whole on our own, and any attempts we make to fill ourselves are in vain.  Our hearts long for the coming of the Christ, to know and to feel ourselves as God's beloved.  We welcome being emptied knowing that we will become instruments of God's compassion and healing in the world.  We accept the pain of emptiness knowing that we will soon be filled, that we will become the Christ-bearers for our world.  Everywhere we walk will become holy ground, and every gift we offer will become manna for the starving.  And so we give of our lives, our hearts, our Love.