Longing, Joy, & Hope: The Seasons of Advent and Christmas

Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.  We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.  We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.  We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.  We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.  We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.  To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus." Amen. -Henri Nouwen

“The Nativity Of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” Rublev.

“The Nativity Of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” Rublev.

Liturgical Season

Christian worship is fundamentally about union with God.  That is, God gives himself to us in worship.  And as we receive him- not merely by hearing his word, or making mental assent to a set of doctrines about him, but as we eat and drink him in Holy Eucharist- we are transformed into the image of Christ, unified with God, and brought into the very life of the Trinity!  And all of this happens by his grace, mysteriously, every time we gather to sing and praise, pray and preach, confess sin, receive absolution, share in the peace of Christ, and celebrate the sacraments.  This is Christian worship!

One of the unique ways the Church has learned to open herself up to the transformation that God offers, is through the observance of different liturgical seasons.  Basically, the Church says "Christians, let your worship of God be so pervasive and defining of your identity that even your calendars remind you of the gospel."

I love this!  And I find the observance of the liturgical calendar to be one of the most beneficial practices in my relationship with God.

Currently we are in the season of Advent, coming upon the season of Christmastide.  Let's use these as examples of how God shapes us in worship.  We'll ask: what parts of our human identity will be brought into union with God by Advent and Christmas?  I see three ideas here: Advent teaches us to be aware of our existential longings, and to point them in the right direction (toward Christ).  And Christmas- Christmas reminds us that union with God is a reality of joy and hope.  It is the fulfillment of our human longing!  The two liturgical seasons work together in this way.

Advent: Longing

In Advent we set out on a journey.  It's a journey of LONGING.  In the hymns and collects (prayers), the assigned scripture readings, the greenery around the church, and the progressive lighting of the Advent candles, we rehearse the plight of Israel in the First Testament as they waited for their Messiah to come and rescue them from slavery and oppression.  So we sing hymns with lyrics like this:

O Come, O come, Emmanuel, to ransom captive Israel.

Of course, the Messiah did come!  And so our longing during Advent is actually directed in large part toward the second coming of Christ!  It is a season layered with meaning and truth.  This is why sing:

Lo! He comes with clouds descending, Once for favored sinners slain; Thousand thousand saints attending, Swell the triumph of His train: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God appears on earth to reign.

Even the colors of Christian worship help us tell the story of the gospel.  During Advent you'll see purple and blue vestments and linens around the church.  Purple is the color of royalty, but also of lament and repentance (purple is also used during Lent).  Blue is used in some churches, and it represents the anticipation of the season, like the deep blue color of the sky, just before dawn.  It is also the color of the Blessed Virgin in Christian iconography.

So the colors blue and purple remind us that, in Advent, we are longing and lamenting, waiting with anticipation, making repentant preparations for a Savior-King!  We don't have to leave our longings at the door of the church.  We can bring them with us to worship, knowing that God desires to meet and fulfill them in his coming.

Henri Nouwen, in his monastic diary, gives us these words about longing: "An important part of the spiritual life is to keep longing, waiting, hoping, expecting. In the long run, some voluntary penance becomes necessary to help us remember that we are not yet fulfilled. A good criticism, a frustrating day, an empty stomach, or tired eyes might help to awaken our expectation and deepen our prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, come. (Henri Nouwen, The Genesee Diary).

Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Orlando, FL

Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Orlando, FL

Christmastide: Joy and Hope

Then?  Christmas comes!  The blue and purple vestments and linens turn to gold and white, colors of celebration, joy, and light.  The dawn from on high has broken upon us!  The Church celebrates Christmas not with a single day, but with an entire season called Christmastide- twelve days of reveling in God's coming.  This means that, even when the stores take down their decorations on the 26th of December, Christians continue to linger in the joyful mystery of the incarnation.  Christmastide is an exuberant and vibrant time of worship as God shapes us into a people characterized by joy and hope.

The emotional uplift that comes with Christmas shouldn't be missed in the sentimentality of the moment.  We need to lean into the joy of Christmas just as we did the longing of Advent!  In a world as broken as ours, joy and hope are precious realities that can sometimes be covered up in the Advent waiting.  Christmas gives voice to the truth, at least once every year, that our ultimate destiny in union with God is joy, hope, and fulfillment.

So my prayer for all of us during this season of Advent and Christmas is that, through the self-giving of God in Christian worship, we may become a people who know our longings, and know the hope and joy that comes with the God who fills them with himself.

- Josh Bales

Sunday Nights At The Cathedral Church Of Saint Luke - Downtown Orlando

Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando
Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

What: Christian Worship In The Anglican Tradition 

If you're in the Orlando area (or nearby), I want to invite you to Sunday Nights At St. Luke's.  Each Sunday night in the heart of downtown Orlando, in a beautiful Gothic-revival style church called The Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, I lead worship for an ancient Christian service called Holy Eucharist.  In songs and prayers, in scripture readings and preaching, we reenact the story of the Bible together: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.  It's a worship experience that involves all five of your senses.  You could say we even taste, smell, and touch the story in the bread and wine of communion.  So from the architecture to the liturgy, as poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said, "Christ plays in ten thousand places."  And it's glorious.  For more on Anglican liturgy and the Bible, HERE'S an article from one of the priests at St. Luke's, and my friend, Justin Holcomb.

Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

When: Sunday Nights 6pm

We meet each Sunday night from 6-7:15pm.  In Anglican churches some worshippers come early to kneel and pray silently in the Cathedral before the service begins.  You are welcome to do this!  After worship, we walk to a local pub for food, drinks, and conversation.

Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

Where: The Cathedral Church Of Saint Luke

Address: 130 North Magnolia Ave Orlando, FL 32801


The Risen Christ, Altar, Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

The Risen Christ, Altar, Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

How: Parking

Parking can be difficult in downtown Orlando.  There are three good places to park when you come to the Cathedral: 1) Metered street parking around the building is free on Sunday nights, 2) The Lanier Parking Lot sits RIGHT BESIDE the Cathedral and parking is FREE there for those attending Saint Luke's, 3) The Regions Bank Parking Garage is another great free place to park.  Pull into the garage, take a ticket, and get a parking voucher from an usher at the Cathedral before you leave.  As you pull out of the garage put both tickets in the machine and that's it!  Get more info on parking HERE.

Who: Leadership

One of the great things about Christian worship in the Anglican tradition is that its liturgical style ensures that the gospel's proclamation isn't based on one pastor's personality or sermon.  Nevertheless, God's church is led by imperfect men and women and we want you to know who they are!  These folks have a steady role with us on Sunday nights.  For a full list of wonderful staff of the Cathedral, go HERE.

Bishop Greg Brewer

Bishop Greg Brewer

Dean Reggie Kidd

Dean Reggie Kidd

Canon Justin Holcomb

Canon Justin Holcomb

Canon Josh Bales

Canon Josh Bales

On The Cross of Christ

Tertullian, 2nd CenturyAt every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign.


Delivered on the Second Sunday of Lent 2015 at the Cathedral Church of Saint Luke in Orlando Florida.

Ephraim the Syrian, 4th Century With the sign of the living cross, seal all thy doings, my son. Go not forth from the door of thy house till thou hast signed the cross. Whether in eating or in drinking, whether in sleeping or in waking, whether in thy house or on the road, or again in the season of leisure, neglect not this sign; for there is no guardian like it. It shall be unto thee as a wall, in the forefront of all thy doings. And teach this to thy children, that heedfully they be conformed to it.

Athanasius (from his Life of Saint Anthony), 4th Century But we by the mention of Christ crucified put all demons to flight, whom you fear as if they were gods. Where the sign of the Cross is, magic is weak and witchcraft has no strength.

Cyril Of Jerusalem, 4th Century Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow, and on everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we rise up; when we are in the way, and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the sake of the poor; without toil, for the sick; since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of devils: for He triumphed over them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they see the Cross they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, who bruised the heads of the dragon. Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of the gift; out for this the rather honour thy Benefactor.

John Chrysostom, 4th-5th Century When therefore thou signest thyself, think of the purpose of the cross, and quench anger, and all the other passions. When thou signest thyself, fill thy forehead with all courage, make thy soul free.

Collect for Holy Cross Day from the Book of Common PrayerAlmighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Christian Worship Resources

Adoration Of the Lamb

Adoration Of the Lamb

Worship Resources


Webber, Robert, the Ancient-Future Series (Ancient Future Faith, Ancient Future Time, etc).  All of Robert Webber’s books are helpful.  

Schmemann, Alexander, For The Life of the World.  This book is a great piece on the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as well as an introduction to thinking about he world from a sacramental perspective.

Marva J. Dawn, Reaching out Without Dumbing Down, Eerdmans, 1995 and A Royal Waste of Time, Eerdmans, 1999.  If you're moving from a more free-Church worship setting to a liturgical worship setting, Dawn's work will provide a great foundation.

Galli, Mark, Beyond Bells and Smells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy.  This is a very accessible introduction to liturgy.

Keller, Tim, see TK's articles online regarding Christian worship.  Find them simply by googling the topic and Keller's name!

Smith, James K.A., Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom.

Chan, Simon, Liturgical Theology.

Frame, John, Contemporary Worship, P&R Publishing.  Frame's perspective on Christian worship is helpful and wise.  He approaches the subject from a Reformed/Presbyterian ethos.

White, James F., Protestant Worship: Tradition in Transition.  White's book is a bit heavy but a good introduction to a wide range of issues.

Service Helps (Liturgy, Prayers, Instructions)

The Book of Common Prayer

The Worship Sourcebook (Published by the Christian Reformed Church (CRC)).

The Book of Common Worship (1943 Presbyterian).

Prayers for All God’s People (Methodist, Upper Room Press)

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions ( Arthur Bennet).

Lutheran Book of Worship.

The 1982 Hymnal, The Episcopal Church

The Trinity Hymnal and The Trinity Psalter

“Everyday Prayers” by Pastor Scotty Smith

Online Eastern Orthodox Lectures and Music

Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, My home church in Orlando. Cathechism of The Catholic Church Fascinating Theologian Wonderful Church in Florida and Retuned Hymns Anglican Worship Book (Book Of Common Prayer) Hymns Online (Search by Tune, Meter, etc)  Creeds Across Christianity  Retuned Hymns


Come People Of The Risen King (Getty Music)

His Love Can Never Fail (

Satisfied (

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say (

Jesus, Lover of My Soul (igracemusic) Come Away From Rush and Hurry (Lyrics by Author Marva Dawn)

Thy Mercy My God (

How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds (

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go (

Psalm 73 (

God Be Merciful To Me (

Come Ye Sinners (

Jesus Everlasting King (

Lord Have Mercy (by Steve Merkyl)

I Will Glory in My Redeemer (Sovereign Grace Music)

My Hope is Built (traditional)

All Creatures of our God and King (traditional)

Be Thou My Vision (traditional)

Come Thou Fount (traditional)

Before the Throne of God Above (Cook arrangement)

In Christ Alone (Getty/Townend)

Holy, Holy, Holy  (traditional)

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us (Stuart Townend)

How Firm a Foundation (traditional)

This is My Father’s World (traditional)

It is Well (traditional)

‘Tis So Sweet (traditional)

Our God is Greater (Tomlin)

Lord, I Need You and Christ Is Risen (Matt Maher)


What is Christian Worship?

Christian worship is God’s primary tool for shaping our identity as his beloved people, the Church. Worship is not a concert; nor is it entertainment for spectators. Rather, worship is a divine, community reenactment of the great story of the scriptures: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. Thus, as we gather to sing, pray, celebrate the sacraments, read the scriptures, confess our sins, and profess our common faith together, God’s story becomes our story and, over time, by God’s Spirit, we are shaped both individually and corporately into the image of Jesus Christ- the Church. Worship approaches, preferences, and styles may differ among contexts and communities, but the essence of Christian worship remains the same! The liturgy or structure of the worship service helps us tell this great story.

And, in short, the liturgical flow goes something like this: God communicates to us and we respond in worship. That is, first God calls us to worship. Accordingly, we respond in song and prayer. Next, God cleanses us in confession as we offer our honest prayer. Then God covers us with his gospel assurance, and so we respond in thanksgiving. In the preaching of the scriptures, God consecrates us with his word, to which we respond with an affirmation of faith. Finally, God commissions us with his blessing and we respond by lifting our hands to receive his benediction (blessing).