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God's People at Prayer
A Year of Prayers and Responses for Worship
By John Killinger
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2006 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
COME AGAIN, O GOD, and visit us in this world of sin and darkness with the spirit of your Son Jesus. Our hearts cry out in anguish from the suffering of masses of people—from injustice to the poor, from the inequities of medical care, from the oppression of the helpless, from the neglect and abuse of children, from the unequal distribution of wealth, from the unwillingness of governments to correct the problems, from materialism and unemployment and self destruction and gross immorality. Only in you, O God, is there hope for this poorly governed planet. This is why our hearts leap up again at Christmas, for Christmas means candles and carols and stars and love. Christmas reminds us of the light that dawned in peasants' hearts at Bethlehem all those centuries ago, a light that will never be extinguished but will grow and grow through the centuries until your kingdom has finally and fully come on earth. Christmas reminds us of the Child who was born in a cattle stall, the Son of God arriving in very unfavorable circumstances to bless a world that was largely unaware of his coming. It is better now, O God; there are many of us who are aware of his coming again. But we have been poor stewards of the story. The world is still enthralled to darkness. People are still selfish and blind to love. Evil still thrives in our hearts and in the way people deal with one another. Show us the light again this year. Help us to see it with the eyes of those who saw the coming of Christ all those years ago. Remind us of hope and love and peace. Convert us from our dark and selfish ways into people of the kingdom, and give us a mission in the world, to make straight the ways of our Lord and to exalt the poor and unfortunate before his coming again. Teach us to sing the old songs with new zest, and to embrace the gospel with new power. For your Son is entering the world afresh and our hearts are glowing with the promise of his return. Amen.
Leader: That first Christmas was filled with extraordinary signs, O God—the visits of angels, the promise of a Savior, the song of the expectant mother, the star that guided eastern wise men.
People:Our lives are also filled with miracles, although we are often too busy to notice them—these marvelous bodies, so intricately made; the strange forces in the world, such as magnetism and electricity and light and power; the gifts of love and sympathy and compassion, that make life so much richer than mere physical existence.
Leader: Teach us, O God, to see the deeper meanings of things all around us.
People:Help us to see the angels in our lives, and to care about the things that are holy and sacred.
Leader: Enable us to regard the coming of Christ in a new light, so that we are transformed into people of joy and passion.
People:Grant us the most special gift of all this Christmas—a sense of your divine presence in our midst, converting everything around us into beauty and meaning. Then we shall live with new purpose, and our lives will become blessings to others. Nothing will be the same; everything will be changed. And we shall sing your praises with new voices and lift up our hearts with great joy—the true joy of Christmas! Through Jesus our Savior. Amen.
Suggested readings: Isaiah 40:1-5; Psalm 119:89-96; John 1:1928CHAPTER 2
THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
THERE IS SOMETHING very humbling about Christmas, O God. When we remember that Christ, the Lord of all glory, was born in a simple cattle stall and laid in a manger, it affects the way we think about ourselves and our pretensions of goodness and greatness. In the scheme of eternity, O Lord, we are only grains of sand on the seashore, molecules in an ocean of churning humanity. Yet you have loved us with an infinite love, and cared for each of us as if we were the only person in the entire world. We cannot understand such a miracle, we can only accept it and live with hearts full of gratitude. Teach us in this special season, O God, to begin to love as you love, and to begin with the poorest, neediest persons we know. Help us to make a difference in the world by caring for those who are most desperate for love and companionship, those who have no power, those who are most neglected and abused by the systems we live in. Fill us with compassion. Motivate us with the example of Christ. Enable us to represent him to the best of our humble abilities. Let this be a Christmas in which we look beyond ourselves and the happiness of our families to the people around us who are in want, and to the vast world of need in the ghettos of large cities and the remote areas of desolation and the unknown regions of Third World nations. Show us how to share what we have with all of these people. Make us joyous conduits of your grace. Heal our sick, we pray, and minister to those who are lonely and depressed. Anoint our visitors with the spirit of the Christ whose birthday we shall soon celebrate. Turn this community of the faithful into a way-station for the poor, the broken, and the desperate of our own area. And let the spiritual power that resided in Christ reside in us as well, that we may honor him with our love and compassion and commitment, now and forevermore. Amen.
Leader: Let us remain in silence for a few moments, waiting for the Spirit of the Lord to open the eyes of our hearts and reveal the things we need to know and remember. (Silence) Now let us speak of the things that have been revealed.
People:Some of us have seen the foolishness of our lives, O God, and what a high price we are paying for fleeting pleasures.
Leader: Others have recalled the way we have neglected spiritual treasures we might have had, and the gifts we have failed to provide for our friends and families.
People:Some have realized that this is a perfect time to ask for your forgiveness and for the power to transcend the failures of our lives, so that we can begin to live each day in a state of grace and joy, making our lives count for good in the world.
Leader: I am personally aware of the failure of our church to rise above earthly concerns and care about the things that really matter—the welfare of the poor, the joy of little children, compassion for lost and wayward people, providing a haven of comfort and strength for the broken and battered people of our society.
People:Everything in our lives changes when we experience your presence, O God. It is all up-ended, and the things we thought were so important are no longer important at all, while the things we neglected become central to our awareness. Help us to live in this up-ended state, so that we do not lose the vision of the way life ought to be. Let this time of Christmas be the season of our renewal, so that it makes a tremendous difference in our lives. Show us the way to Bethlehem, and teach us to fall down and worship the most important Child who was ever born. For his name's sake. Amen.
Suggested readings: Isaiah 40:6-11; Psalm 119:41-48; John 1:29-34CHAPTER 3
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
IN THE MIDST of all the preparations for Christmas, O God, the baking and decorating and shopping and partying, grant that we shall not miss the real meaning of the occasion, or a sense of the presence of Christ that we all need in such a busy, materialistic world. Teach us to find moments of spiritual depth in all the hubbub—times when we retreat from activities and pressures to contemplate the momentous birth itself and the possibility, even now, of communing with your Spirit in the swift currents of our lives. In short, help us to be still and know that you are God. Let the deeper significance of Advent and Christmas overtake us in our rush to the end of the season, and let it refashion our lives in the image of the One whose birthday we celebrate. Help us to be just and kind and thoughtful of the poor. Give us a faith that will sustain us even in the face of our own brokenness and death. Show us a vision of what life ought to be like for all the people on earth, and enlist us in the achievement of that life. Then the lights on the Christmas trees will shine even brighter for us, and our joy in the season will be more unremitting. Be especially close now to all our friends and loved ones who are experiencing difficult times for any reason—health or jobs or school or family relationships or mortality. Bless our visitors with an extra sense of your presence after being with us today. Attend to our children in this excited time of their young lives, and help them to grow in love and relationships through the special joys of Christmas. And grant that we adults may likewise come through the ordeal of busyness with a new and higher sense of what our lives ought to be—and can be. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Leader: Sometimes, O God, we envy the people whose Christmas will be simple but intensely real, like that of the shepherds who came to visit the baby Jesus.
People:We get too caught up in the traditions and trappings of the season, and often forget the deeper meaning of the birth of Jesus, that it was your way of saying you love us and are preparing a place for us in your eternal kingdom.
Leader: Teach us to find rest in Christmas instead of busyness, and serenity instead of anxiety.
People:Help us to relax, breathe deeply, and experience a sense of your holy presence in our lives.
Leader: Let the gift of your Son, and his life and ministry, his death and resurrection, become uppermost in our lives this Christmas.
People:And let the spirit of his life—especially his love and faithfulness to you, and his care for the poor and marginal people around him—take over our lives and transform us into true followers of his way.
All:Then it will truly be Christmas, and not just for a day but for the rest of our lives. In the name of the Child whose birthday we celebrate. Amen.
Suggested readings: Isaiah 40:18-26; Psalm 119:49-56; Philippians 2:1-11CHAPTER 4
THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
IT IS ALMOST CHRISTMAS, O God, and many of us are worse for wear because of it. We have shopped and baked and gone to parties and eaten things we shouldn't and generally abandoned ourselves once again to the frenzy of the season. And those of us who haven't mailed our Christmas cards or finished our shopping or wrapped our presents are filled with anxiety about getting everything done, while those who have done these things are probably tired and still a little anxious lest they have forgotten something in all their flurry of activity. How did things get this way, dear God? How did the simple, unpretentious birth of Jesus in a cattle stall near a tenth-rate little town in the Middle East grow into such a frantic, exhausting, and budget-busting occasion as the one we celebrate today? We're not complaining. Christmas is one of the biggest joys of our existence. We love the colored lights, the evergreens, the hustle-and-bustle of the shopping malls, the frenzied baking and gift-wrapping and partying, the stories of Santa and his elves and reindeer, the excitement of little children, the air of expectation. But we do pray, O God, that we shall not lose the real meaning of Christmas under all this blanket of cultural traditions and fevered preparations. Give us some quiet moments when we commune with you and say thanks for the true spirit of the season. Help us to pause at our desks or over the cooktop or in the traffic at the mall and have a sense of your rich and abiding presence that we might not have ever known if Jesus had not been born all those years ago. And let that presence restore us to our saner minds and remind us of important interpersonal things we have to do, such as visiting a shut-in or taking a casserole to an elderly friend or being there for a person who is missing a loved one or bringing a special gift to someone who is poor and in want at this busy time of the year. Grant that the Jesus whose birth we remember at Christmas will be more than a little child for us—that he will be a living presence whose spirit is here right now to challenge our lethargy and encourage us with hope and remind us of a love that knows no boundaries of any kind. And we shall all praise you, and sing carols about your Son, with a joy that will transform even a major cultural event like this one into a time of deep spiritual sensitivity and loving celebration. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Leader: It is nearly time, Lord. Christmas is almost here.
People:It can't come too soon, O God, for our troubled and weary world. We need to hear the song of the angels again, and know that your spirit is still here in spite of war and crime and human failure.
Leader: We pray that we won't be too tired and busy to recognize your spirit when we see it, or to hear the song of the angels when it is being sung.
People:Give us hearts that are sensitive to everything—to the cries of hungry children, the despair of jobless people, the rebellion of teenagers, the anger of terrorists, the indifference of politicians, the hopeless plodding of millions. Let us weep over the suffering of the masses and identify with the disappointments of children. And help us to resolve to become a part of your solution to the world's problems by joining in the movement of love that began with the birth of the Child of Bethlehem.
All:Let love be the greatest ingredient in our Christmas this year, and let it fill our hearts to overflowing from this hour forward. We shall pay our homage to Christ by loving others as you have loved us. In his holy name. Amen.
Suggested readings: Isaiah 40:27-31; Psalm 119:57-72; Matthew 1:18-25CHAPTER 5
IT IS HERE, O God; the holy time has come. We begin the cycle of Christ's birth and life and death and resurrection. Forgive the sins and self-preoccupation that have marred our coming to this hour, and take away all thoughts, cares, and ambitions that would now prevent our worshiping you. Help us to enter this moment freshly, and with full hearts, remembering how important it is to the whole world. Let the spirit that came into the world that night so long ago now enter our own spirits, converting them to its way and its will. Take away all fear and hesitance and distraction. Enable us to enter into the holy of holies with you, and to sense your presence so vividly that it will leave our lives changed and renewed. When we read about angelic choirs, let us really hear them. When we read about lowly shepherds coming to view the holy Child, let us see the scene, let us actually feel the rarefied air of that stable, rank with the smells and sounds of cattle, warm with the fact of a human birth. Help us to bring our real selves to the experience in order that the experience may be convincingly real to us. Let the holy birth quash all thoughts of buying and wrapping presents, sending and receiving cards, and taking part in an endless round of festivities. Make the experience itself the thing, and let our participation in it transform who we are, so that we may enter your kingdom. And then let us follow the star we have seen until we arrive at all those decisions and modifications of our existence that you desire. For yours are the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Leader: Let us be very still, and listen for the sound of heavenly choirs.
People:We want to hear them, O God, and know that we are surrounded by angels.
Leader: Let us imagine the scene in the stable, when the royal Son of God was born and laid in a manger.
People:We want to see it, O God, even in our minds' eyes, and remember what it means that you loved the world so much that you gave your only Son to be born and to suffer and die for our sins.
Leader: If we try very hard, we can visualize the mother of our Savior, her brow still wet with the labor of giving birth, and Joseph, his earthly father, attendant upon the holy Child.
People:We can even see the shepherds coming in from the fields to see the little Messiah where the angels said they would find him, and imagine their whispers of wonder and awe as they beheld the little King of Kings.
All:It is a holy night, even all these centuries after it occurred, and our hearts are lifted up by contemplating it again, the way people's hearts have been lifted up through the centuries. Grant a blessing to the entire world, O God, for the sake of this wondrous night. Amen.
Suggested readings: Isaiah 41:17-20; Psalm 119:105-112; Luke 2:114CHAPTER 6
THERE IS NO day more special in all the year, dear God, than this very day when we remember the birth of our Savior. Our hearts are almost too small to take it in. Our own birthdays are important to us. But the birthday of Jesus is the most important birthday in the history of the world. It is more important than the birthdays of Moses and David and Peter and Paul and Charlemagne and Joan of Arc and Shakespeare and Mozart and Napoleon and Washington and Lincoln and Florence Nightingale and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa all rolled into one! How can we pay homage to our Lord on this special day? By being meek and humble, as he advised? By going the second mile with those who ask anything of us? By loving our enemies and praying for those who spitefully use us? Surely by all these things, dear God. But we long to do even more. We yearn to follow him with our very lives—with our dreams and hearts' desires; with our substance and all that we have; and with the hours of our days, from now until we die. Let him be uppermost in all our thoughts. Let his words and attitudes be imprinted on our hearts. When we say his name, let our eyes light up. When we encounter the poor or the disadvantaged, let us become Christ in his stead. In short, O God, let our lives be conformed to his with such eagerness and fidelity that people will see him living through us, and have their lives touched by his the way ours have been. As the bells ring out today, let them ring not only in announcement of a birth twenty centuries ago, but of a birth that has occurred today, in our hearts. For he is the Lord of life, and we shall find our happiness in following him. Amen.
Excerpted from God's People at Prayer by John Killinger. Copyright © 2006 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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