With December approaching, churches everywhere prepare for celebrating Christmas with church family and welcome visitors. One cherished tradition for many is observing the Advent season.
In many Protestant churches, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and ends on Christmas Eve (or for some, Christmas Day).
Each Sunday, Advent is usually celebrated by an Advent reading from the Bible, based on the theme of the week, then lighting a candle or candles for the week. Advent prayers can follow the lighting of candles.
This article will focus on those Advent readings for church services from a Protestant point of view, from our own personal experiences; these traditions can vary from other Christian traditions.
Why Celebrate Advent at Church?
With the first Sunday in Advent sometimes falling in November, it can feel too soon to start talking about Christmas for some people. The first Sunday is usually at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend in America, and some could regard it as rushing into the season.
But Advent is an excellent way to start the Christmas season. The word advent comes from the Latin “adventus,” meaning coming, or arrival. We use the Advent season to prepare our hearts for Jesus’s arrival.
He arrived on earth to live as a man; He arrives in our hearts when we have a personal relationship with Him; and He will arrive again in the second coming of Christ. As we prepare to celebrate His birth, what better time to reflect on His arrival?
How Does a Church Celebrate Advent?
Preparation for Advent doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does require some planning. Our tips on planning come from a church that doesn’t follow a liturgical calendar or a lectionary. We’ve adapted different aspects of Advent celebration for our observance of the Advent season.
Put the dates for Advent on your church planning calendar early. Sometimes the first Sunday in Advent falls in November, and other times it doesn’t. If you are following a structured liturgical calendar, there won’t be any question of when these dates are.
But for other churches, you may have a question of if your final Advent reading is at a Christmas candlelight service; or if it will be on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Our church has done all of these different options.
Generally, our final Advent reading is at our Christmas candlelight service, unless Christmas Eve or Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. Then, we will celebrate Advent for five Sundays in a row.
Decide on who your readers will be. Spend time in prayer about this. This can be a meaningful time of service for those who participate, but it can also hurt feelings if only the same people are chosen year after year. Vary who will be reading your Advent readings for church services.
Consider at least one of the Sundays choosing a group of people to read, in addition to the staff members or families that you choose to read on other Sundays.
Some groups who have read in the past at our church include the youth group, the children’s church class, a Bible study, and a group of widows. For groups, consider scheduling some rehearsal time before the service.
Be sure to get the Scripture reading to people ahead of time.
Prepare your supplies. For our church, we have a simple candle holder similar to this one, that we place on a pedestal. Some people use an Advent wreath candle holder similar to this one; but you would need to safely add a fifth candle if you are doing five weeks’ worth of readings.
We use white candles for all the weeks; however, we need more than five candles as the ones burned early in the month last for about 2 weeks before they need to be replaced.
They burn for about an hour or so once a week. We try to leave at least one partially burned candle in the candleholder each week after the first week, if possible.
Using white candles may vary from the blue, rose, violet, or purple candles your tradition may use.
When you are setting up the candles, make sure to light the candles and let them burn for a few seconds before extinguishing them. This will make the candles easier to light when it comes to light them during the Advent reading.
Consider the lighter you will be using, and who will be using it. Limit the lighting of the candles to adults. Advise them to light the candles further away from them first, so they are not reaching over lit candles to light a candle.
Choose your Scripture Advent readings for church services. Some churches follow a theme for each week. Our readings often follow this pattern:
- First Sunday of Advent: Hope,
- Second Sunday of Advent: Peace,
- Third Sunday of Advent: Joy,
- Fourth Sunday of Advent: Love
- Candlelight Service/Christmas Eve/Christmas Day: Jesus’ birth.
We’ll cover these themes in depth later in this article.
Schedule the Advent Reading into the worship services, and be prepared. Did they show up without the reading? Is the family who was supposed to read running late – will you postpone the reading until later in the service, or will you find a substitute? Are they having trouble lighting the candle? These are all real problems we’ve encountered. It’s good to think about what you would do in each situation.
Please note that our experience with Advent is from a less liturgical tradition, so it may not match your traditions. Please feel free to adapt what you need for your style of Advent celebration.
Advent Readings for Church Services
Now that you’ve thought about other preparations, it’s time to focus on what passages you will choose for your Advent readings for church services. Each of these passages is followed by an optional prayer that is also based on the theme for the week.
If you follow a different order in the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love series, feel free to interchange the week’s readings.
Advent Week 1 Reading: Hope
What a wonderful gift the Lord gives us, in that we have hope! The first Sunday of Advent focuses on the hope we have in Christ, and the hope that His birth represents to the world.
Read this before the first candle of Advent is lit.
Advent Readings for Church Services, Week 1 Passage: Matthew 12:18-21 NIV
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.”
Prayer of Hope
You are our hope! We are so thankful that You came to live among people like us, that You were fully God and fully man, in order to bring us Your salvation.
Prepare our hearts for celebrating You this Christmas. May our worship be a sweet gift to You.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Advent Week 2 Reading: Peace
We often think of peace as serene and calm circumstances. But the most important peace we have is the peace we have with God. We warred against God with our sin, but Jesus’ sacrifice puts us at peace with God. We only need to accept the free gift of salvation.
Read this before the second candle of Advent is lit.
Advent Readings for Church Services, Week 2 Passage: Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Prayer of Peace
We were dead in our sins, doomed to spend an eternity away from You. But Jesus paid the debt we owed in our sinfulness. Thank You for the peace that we have through Jesus Christ.
Thank you for the peace we can find in You everyday, as we pray and trust in You. May we rest in peace with You this Christmas season.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Advent Week 3 Reading: Joy
Joy is not as fickle as happiness. Happiness depends on our circumstances, but joy that we find in the Lord depends on Him! We can trust Him for the joy and contentment that we can find when we walk closely with Him.
This reading reminds us of the joy and strength we find in His salvation. Read this before the third candle of Advent is lit.
Advent Readings for Church Services, Week 3 Passage: Isaiah 12:1-3 ESV
“You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.’”
Prayer of Joy
We are so thankful for the joy we have through the salvation You offer to us. We rejoice over who You are and what You have done for us.
May our Christmas plans and preparations celebrate the joy that You have given us.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Advent Week 4 Reading: Love
The fact that God loves us so much that Jesus came to earth to pay for our sins, it is an overwhelming thought. The theme for week 4 of Advent is love, and it is a great opportunity to reflect on and be thankful for God’s love for us.
Read this before the fourth candle of Advent is lit.
Advent Readings for Church Services, Week 4 Passage: John 3:16-17 NASB
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.”
Prayer of Love
Thank You for Your love for us! Your love is perfect, holy, and faithful. Thank You for loving us so much that You made a plan for our salvation through Jesus.
May we feel Your love and presence not just during this Christmas season, but all year around. May we reflect Your love out to others.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Advent Week 5 Reading: Jesus’ Birth
The final candle for the season of Advent is sometimes called the Christ candle. We light this candle at our last event for the Christmas season.
Because we don’t have a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service unless those days are on a Sunday, we will often light the last candle at a Christmas Candlelight service on a Sunday evening.
Traditionally, we read a passage that proclaims the birth of Jesus. Read this before the fifth candle of Advent is lit.
Advent Readings for Church Services, Week 5 Passage: Luke 2:8-14 ESV
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”
Prayer of Worship of Jesus
We are so thankful for the birth of Jesus! We celebrate His birth, His life, His sacrifice for us, and His resurrection. We rejoice that we can have a personal relationship with Jesus.
We ask that You will help us, even with all the busyness and bustle of this season, to live a life that reflects what You have done for us. Help us to honor You as we celebrate Christmas.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Other Resources for Advent Readings for Church Services
If you didn’t find exactly what you are looking for, you might find other options for your advent readings for church services at these websites.
- Logos Bible Software lists out the readings from the lectionary for multiple years here.
- If you prefer a Christmas story theme for your Advent readings for church services, you might incorporate these Bible verses about Jesus’ birth listed here at Influencer magazine.
- This article by Bible Study Tools is written for family devotions for Advent, but you can review the Scripture and themes in it.
Through the weeks of Advent, this season of waiting, may we all take the time to reflect on the birth of Christ. May we remember the love and sacrifice of Jesus, and may we strive to live our lives in a way that honors Him.
Whether this is your first time observing the Advent season, or you are looking for new ideas for Advent, we hope this article helped you! May this Advent season be a blessing to You, and may it add special meaning to your celebration of Christmas.
If you liked Advent Readings for Church Services, you may also like Thanksgiving Psalms, Prayers, and Poems for Church and Prayer Points for Church Service.