Rubrics and Notes for Celebrating Advent and the Nativity of Our Lord in the Lutheran Congregation


Traditionally Advent encompasses a spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. The Western Church sets the season of Advent as beginning on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through the daytime services of December 24. Christmas begins with the evening services (Vigil) on December 24th and extends through the twelve days of Christmas. The Christmas octave (eight days) includes the Nativity on December 25th; Feast of St. Stephen, the first Martyr on December 26th, the day after Christmas; the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist on December 27th; and on December 28th, the Feast of the Holy Innocents; and the Festival of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus on January 1st.


“Behold, your king is coming to you.” Matthew 21:9

Like the Lent, Advent affords the penitent a time of preparation for receiving the fulfillment of the Father’s plan of salvation in the incarnation of His Son, Jesus. Though not as ‘deep’ as the preparatory season of Lent, the Church does exercise some restraint in the Divine Service during Advent.

  • In keeping with the tone of repentance, the Hymn of Praise/Gloria in Excelsis (the angel’s proclamation at the birth of Christ) is omitted from the Divine Service, even on the Sundays in Advent.
  • Depending on local custom, the organ playing may be restrained before and after the service.
  • In many places flowers are not used at the altar.
  • Christmas hymns and carols are not sung until Christmas Eve.

Paraments. The traditional color of Advent, and that which still best fits the historic pericopes of Advent, is purple/violet, which is both the color of repentance and the royal color of the coming King—the two main themes of the One-Year series. When possible, the paraments used in Advent should be different than those used in Lent as the character of the seasons is quite different, for the only symbol common to both is the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God (Pfatteicher).  Since the adoption of Vatican II reforms of the liturgy by much of the Western Church, the use of blue as the color of Advent has been adopted by many Lutheran congregations. In the Lutheran church, Advent blue is a tradition color for Advent among the Swedish Lutheran churches. Blue suggests the color of anticipation and hope, a theme that is seen in the revised readings of the Three-Year series. A congregation should be attentive to use the paraments that carry the theme of the lectionary being used.

The Advent wreath or Advent log is an arrangement of four candles, originally used in home devotions to count the weeks of Advent and symbolize the approach of the Coming One. The traditional Advent wreath featured white candles, but recently the custom of using seasonally colored candles has become common. If the church’s Advent paraments are blue, four blue candles should be used. If the paraments are purple/violet, then three purple/violet candles are used with a rose candle being lit on Gaudete (“Rejoice”), the Third Sunday in Advent in the historic lectionary. When using purple/violet candles, the rose candle is set in the Advent wreath at three o’clock and the candles are then lit from week-to-week starting with the purple candle in the nine o’clock position. With it’s colored candles the Advent wreath is better displayed in the nave than in the chancel.

The use of the Christ Candle in association with the Advent wreath is a liturgical novelty and should be discouraged in the Lutheran congregation. First, the Christ candle is an importation of the idea of the paschal candle and will only likely confuse the Christmas and Easter seasons—let the paschal candle remain associated with Easter and baptisms and funerals. Second, because the Advent wreath belongs to the season of preparation for Christmas, the wreath should no longer be on display, but removed, for services of Christmas allowing the two seasons to be well-defined and distinct.

The decoration of the church during Advent should not be to elaborate. A problem has arisen among many congregations when the cultural celebration of Christmas in the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is followed. Advent is a season of preparation for something greater. While not as austere as Lent, Advent does call for some restraint in deference to the “tidings of great joy” that will be proclaimed on the Nativity and during the season of Christmas (Maxwell). Candles as decoration should be kept to a minimum. Greenery may be hung but should remain undecorated. Banners may be hung but should be simple in style and decoration in keeping with the mood of the season. If the press of obligations makes it absolutely necessary to erect the tree before the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the lights should not be turned on until after service on the Fourth Sunday to help guide and highlight the transition from Advent to Christmas.


“The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of man might become the sons of God.” Leo the Great

The Christmas season follows as the fulfillment of the Advent expectation. The long-expected first coming (the Nativity) and birth in Bethlehem is the promise and guarantee of the second and final coming on the Last Day (see propers for the First Sunday in Advent).

Christmas is the celebration of the victory of the True Light born into the world dark in sin. God Himself visit us in our darkness. Heaven and earth are to be renewed by God’s coming (Gerhke).

The Gloria in Excelsis is the preferred Hymn of Praise. The restraint that characterized Advent is lifted. Second only to Easter, Christmas is observed in great joy and with high celebration.

Seasonal flowers and greens may decorate the area around the altar.

The color of Christmas and it’s season is white.

The Advent wreath has been removed. A crib or crèche may be set up in the nave and remains in the church through Epiphany when the Magi join in the adoration of the Christ Child.

Because of the association of light with Christmas, one of the most effective decorations of the church building is the candle. If candelabra were removed during Advent, these are returned. If extra candelabra or candle stands are available these can be placed around the altar. Candles on the window sills or candle stands lining the center aisle of the nave would be fitting.

Much could be said about decorations appropriate for use in the church, and the need to exclude anything that is gaudy or cheap. Also, it should be kept in mind when decoration the church, the altar always remains as the center of attention and focus, and anything that fights for that attention or distracts the focus should not be used.


The Nativity of Our Lord and Christmastide

The season of Christmas begins with evening prayer on Christmas Eve (December 24) with the first celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, and ends with midday prayer on January 5.

The evening services of Christmas Eve mark the beginning of the Church’s celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord. The season continues after December 25 over a period traditionally known as the twelve days of Christmas or Christmastide.

This season includes a number of lesser festivals: The festival of St. Stephen, the first martyr, occurs on December 26. St. John, apostle and evangelist, is remembered on December 27. The death of the babies in Bethlehem (Matthew 2) is observed on December 28 as the Festival of the Holy Innocents. The circumcision and naming of Jesus on the eighth day after His birth (Luke 2:21) is celebrated on January 1.

The liturgical color for Christmas and Christmas tide is white. Continue reading

Nativity theft being probed as hate crime

HOLBROOK, N.Y., Dec. 20 (UPI) — Police say that the theft of one of the three kings from a New York nativity scene appears to be a hate crime.

The missing king is Balthasar, an African, and he was replaced by a white sheet hanging from a pole, possibly a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan, police said. The nativity scene was outside a Lutheran church in Holbrook on the east end of Long Island.

It is the second time the figure has been stolen. Church members crafted a new one.

“When it was taken two years ago we figured it was just taken,” the Rev. William Bloom, pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church, told Newsday. “But now it seems that someone has a problem.”

Police are trying to determine if the theft of the figure is related to vandalism of a menorah, the Jewish eight-branched candlestick of Hanukkah, at a shopping center.

© Copyright 2005 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Luke 2: 1-20 – The Nativity of Our Lord–First Service (Christmas Eve)

It’s A Boy!

(Christmas Eve)

St. Luke 2: 1-20

“…the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (St. Luke 2: 1-20)

It’s a boy!

Mary had a baby!

It’s a boy!

Can you imagine Joseph’s joy?

I shall always remember the great joy God gave me each time I became a father. You have seen it too, haven’t you? You grandparents have gotten that phone call “It’s a baby, it’s a boy! Everyone is doing fine!”

We have added so much decoration and glitter and fuss and bother to Christmas that the basic story easily gets lost.

It’s a boy!

While Mary and Joseph knew this Son was special, at the same time they celebrated: It’s a boy! Mother and Baby are doing fine! When God blesses us with the miracle of birth, there are generally three things we want to know:

First: Is it a boy or a girl?

Second: How is the mother doing?

Third: Is the baby healthy?

St. Luke answers these basic questions concerning Jesus’ birth in our text. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he did his homework before he wrote his Gospel. Many people believe that Luke talked directly to Mary and had her direct testimony

First question: Is it a boy or a girl?

“[Mary} gave birth to her firstborn, a son. ”

It’s a boy! More than that, he is her first child.

Firstborn sons are important in Jewish families. We remember that the firstborn sons in Egyptian families died when Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. After that, all the firstborn sons of Israel belonged to God, but they could be bought back through the sacrifice of a lamb at the temple. A firstborn son received an inheritance twice that of any of his brothers.

It’s a boy! A firstborn son!

Second question: How is the mother doing?

“[Mary] wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger. ”

Mother Mary is doing fine. She is up on her feet. The same night she received visitors, the shepherds. Luke tells us that after the shepherds left, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (2:19). A woman in pain doesn’t concern herself with singing angels and smelly shepherds.

Mother Mary is doing fine. It’s a boy. And Mary cared for him.

Third question: Is the baby healthy?

“[Mary] wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.”

The word that Luke the physician uses for “gave birth” is a technical word which implies the live birth of a healthy child. Had baby Jesus been sick, Mary would not have put him in a feedbox. Mary would have cradled him in her arms and rocked him and prayed over him and kept him warm with her own body. Had he been sickly, Joseph would have gone for help.

Baby Jesus is doing just fine. Thank you for asking.

Jesus’ heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to answer the first three questions we ask at every birth: It’s a boy. Mother Mary is doing fine. Baby Jesus is healthy.

So what? What does this have to do with us? Millions of healthy firstborn sons have been born to healthy women. Why do we make so much fuss over this one birth nearly 2,000 years ago?


First: It’s a boy!

A human baby boy! We call this evening the first service of the Nativity of Our Lord. The Word became flesh. God himself became a human being. He is one of us!

Consider just what that means. When Coach Neumeyer, wants to send a new player into the game, he looks to the St. Luke bench. He does not send a Trinity Warrior or St. John Eagle into the game to play for the Mustangs. It is the same way with God the Father.

When he needed a substitute to die for our sins, he sent neither a dog nor a horse, nor did he send an angel. He sent a human like us. Jesus could pay for our sins because he was born a human being.

It’s a boy!

You and I needed someone to substitute for us.

Just look at what we have done to Christmas. Do we worship the Lord of Bethlehem? Or do we worship at Lord and Taylor, Sears and L. S. Ayres? Is our Christmas full of the Holy Spirit, who came to us in our Baptism? Or is it mostly some undefined and nebulous “spirit of Christmas’? Is you heart full of angel songs, or does your Christmas cheer come out of a box or a bottle? Do we hear sweet voices of children singing “Mary had a baby”? Or are homes full of the sounds of Nintendo, Sega and Play Station?

O Lord forgive us our Christmases! We need a substitute to pay the price of our corrupted Christmases. And we have a substitute worthy and willing to come for us. It’s a Boy!

Second: Mother Mary is doing fine.

Jesus was born into a human family. Like you, Jesus had a mother, brothers and sisters, and a step-father –Joseph. He knows from firsthand experience what it is to have parents who do not completely understand him. He knows from firsthand experience what it is to have squabbling brothers and sisters. He knows from first hand experience what it is to have siblings whodoubted him and who deserted him when he was hurting. Mother Mary had to be healthy to give Jesus a normal human family. She and Joseph were there to teach him basic Jewish family values. Mother Mary is doing fine.

We are blessed because Mary was blessed. Jesus was born to die for us. A sword pierced Mary’s heart when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus also was born to live for us. Jesus lived a perfect life for you in a family much like yours.

In order for his death in your place to mean anything, he had to live a perfect life for you. Jesus lived perfectly for you in the face of the same temptations that come to you. Mother Mary was part of God’s plan to make possible Jesus’ perfect life for you. Mother Mary is doing fine. Thank you for asking.

Third: Baby Jesus is healthy.

He had to be healthy. Look at what he faced as he grew up:

• less than two years after his birth, he and his parents became nighttime political fugitives.

• The Gaza Strip is not a healthy place for travelers today. The Gaza Strip was not safe for the fleeing holy family either.

• Life as the son of a carpenter in the hills of Nazareth was as hard life.

• He served a preaching and teaching ministry on the road.

• He organized a traveling seminary for 12 men.

All this hard work.

Then his body and spirit bore the mockery of the crowds, the agony in the garden, the beatings, the scourging, the thorns, the cross. Only a strong healthy body could carry all of this, and the sins of the world.

Baby Jesus is healthy. He grew up to be a strong and healthy man He lived perfectly for you He died perfectly for you. His Father in heaven said. “This is my Son! I delight in him!” It is as though the Father were saying. “It’s a boy! I am so proud of what he is doing. I shall raise him from the death he did not deserve!”

Now Jesus sits on the throne in heaven with a resurrected and perfect body. Soon you and I also shall stand before him with perfect bodies. Our sins forgiven. Our Christmases forgiven. Jesus is still a human. He still knows the troubles you have. He knows you and speaks on your behalf before the Father. He can do this because he has been here. He has lived among us.

It’s a boy!

Today, part of our world says, “Ho,! Ho! Ho!” Another part of the world says: “Bah! Humbug!” You and I have a different message to share: “Look! Look! Look, it’s a boy!”


Adapted from a sermon series, Concordia Pulpit Resources