This service is approximately 30 minutes, depending on how long people share. It’s designed to be very little work for you. Everyone is so tired right now, this needs to be a no muss, no fuss service. You can have one person read everything, if that’s easier.
I’ve chosen music that I think would fit, but you may have other videos you would like to use (just be careful not to insert cheery Christmas carols, or it defeats the purpose of the words). Check with your church’s copyright license for permissions to play the videos.
It’s going to be less stressful if you have someone in charge of playing the videos, who can share their screen, and have the videos cued up in separate tabs, ready to play without having to negotiate the ads.
I hope this service ministers to you and other people who are having a hard season. You can cut and paste it into a word document, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you a Word document.
Suggested opening music while people are coming in to the zoom room:
an instrumental version of Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
(for eg. Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming (3:46)
Leader: Welcome to this virtual prayer service.
The Christmas season is upon us.
Christmas is a time where we want to be merry and bright,
but in this pandemic year, that can feel impossible.
Many people are weighed down with anxiety and grief,
and it’s hard to remember the reason for the season.
Celebrations that usually happen at this time of year are cancelled
or are being shoehorned into two dimensions on a screen.
Even this service would feel better if we were physically together.
But this is our reality.
I want to thank each of you for coming today;
we are here for each other in this time, in this space.
We are here to talk to God and to listen.
This service will consist of prayers, some readings and some music;
it will take around 30 minutes. Let’s begin.
Our call to worship is from Psalm 142: 5,6
I cry to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Give heed to my cry,
for I am brought very low.
Let’s pray: Here we are, God, in the land of the living,
but we are walking through some pretty deep valleys.
It is a blue Christmas for many of us,
and we need your help.
Hear our cries in this service,
and make your presence known.
We pray this in the name of Jesus,
the awaited one, Amen.
Hear the words of the Psalmist, who reminds God of the suffering of Israel. This is from Psalm 44:23-26
Voice 1: Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off for ever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For we sink down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up, come to our help.
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.
Leader: We take these words of the Psalmist to heart
and join our voices, calling on God to hear our sorrows
that weigh heavy on our hearts.
Voice 1: Pandemic. We didn’t even know what that word meant a year ago,
and now more than a million people have died.
Physical distancing has become the new norm,
masks and quarantine are part of our everyday life.
So many of us are anxious about those we know who have COVID-19.
So many of us are worried about our loved ones getting the virus,
or we are afraid of getting it ourselves.
We’ve waited and waited for a vaccine,
and now we wonder if it will come in time.
God, will you take care of the sick?
Will you comfort those grieving loved ones lost to this virus?
Voice 2: This pandemic has made us appreciate our health care system
and those who work in it in new ways.
We worry about those we know on the front lines,
that they will stay healthy and not burn out with all the extra work.
We hope there will be enough equipment and medication to keep people safe.
Everyone is working so hard to keep food supply lines open
and essential services operating.
God, will you help us keep things going?
Voice 1: This pandemic has changed our lives.
This Christmas is different—so many of us can’t be with family.
Loneliness feels more lonely at Christmas.
Distance feels more distant.
We miss hugging our friends and family.
Some of us have spent too much time alone,
others have been forced into too much togetherness.
The pandemic has lasted so long the griefs are compounding.
It’s not just the disappointment of a physically distanced Christmas,
it’s that we missed out on Easter and Thanksgiving too,
and there were graduations, weddings and funerals we’ve missed.
God, do you know our grief? Do you feel our loneliness and sorrow?
Voice 2: This pandemic has been financially devastating.
Slowdowns and shutdowns have meant so many are unemployed,
or underemployed. Debts pile up, and bills keep coming in.
Businesses are teetering on the edge of failing or have closed.
We wonder how we will ever get out of the hole we’re in.
God, will you help us with our money troubles?
Voice 1: And in the midst of this pandemic the everyday sorrows of life
have not slowed up for one minute.
People are still getting sick, people still die,
we have family conflicts and breakdowns,
and mental health crises.
God, do you see all our tears?
How can we bear this, especially at Christmas?
Leader: We sometimes picture that first Christmas in idealistic ways.
But Mary was giving birth far away from her family in less than ideal conditions.
Bethlehem wasn’t a picturesque Christmas village with snow gently falling–
it was an occupied country.
Shortly after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph fled with him to Egypt…
they were refugees, escaping political violence.
Let’s listen to this carol, which speaks of that first Christmas:
Music: Lullay Thou Little Tiny Child (3:15) (The Coventry Carol)
Vox One Jazz A Cappella
Leader: Let’s hear prayers now for the suffering of the world–
sorrows that lie heavy upon us:
Voice 2: We live in countries where the colour of our skin
determines whether we encounter violence.
This year we have seen the ongoing struggle for racial justice
in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
There are so many racist comments, racist actions,
there is even racism in our justice system.
We mourn that there are so many missing and murdered indigenous women.
God, where is safety to be found? Where is justice?
Voice 1: In our world, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer,
and that has only gotten worse in this pandemic.
More people homeless, more people relying on a social safety net,
more people finding this safety net
has holes in it.
Too many children are growing up in poverty.
God, will you hear the cries of the poor?
Voice 2: This has been an unprecedented year
for hurricanes and forest fires,
for droughts and torrential rains and flooding.
This burden has fallen most heavily
on people in countries that can least afford it.
We are anxious about our beautiful world
and the changes we see in our climate.
Can you be with us as we work on this problem?
Leader: Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Psalm 10:1 (NRSV)
A blue Christmas is a time when questions swirl in our minds
and we wonder, God, are you there?
Can you be born again even into the world as it is now?
In this minute of silence we lift up our own questions for God.
[Minute of silence] [alternatively, you could invite participants to share short questions for God]
Voice 1: Isaiah 40:1-5 (The Message)
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Leader: The promises of God are what sustain us.
Even in the hardest times,
we can listen to the voices of faithful friends
who remind us of God’s steadfast love for us.
The Spirit of God is not affected by COVID-19
and Jesus doesn’t need to quarantine.
Leader: As a community we want to care for each other,
to listen to each other and help in practical ways.
You are invited now to share a short sentence prayer—
you can pray for yourself or pray for someone you know,
or a situation that is heavy on your heart.
After someone shares, I will respond for the group, by saying,
“God, hear our prayer.”
You can join in too with that refrain, but we ask that you keep your microphones muted.
If you would like to share, raise your hand, and I will call on you.
I will close with a final prayer.
Thank-you, God, that you have been with us
hearing our prayers and laments.
Thank you for giving us this space and these people
so that we are not alone in hard times.
Hope shines like an infinitely distant star,
like a star over Bethlehem.
We need angels this year, with good news,
lighting the sky of our lives, offering relief.
On these longest nights of the year,
in the mystery of your love,
steal into our world again.
Be born again in our hearts.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us.
We trust that you will guide our feet
into the way of peace.
This is our prayer, may it be so. Amen.
We leave today with a final hymn.
You may not be able to claim these words as your own right now,
they may seem far off and inaccessible.
But hear the voice of faithful people through the ages.
It’s the song of the angels…
good tidings of great joy.
Music: How Can I Keep from Singing (5:16)
NYC Orchestra (make sure you cue it up to avoid the ads)
(this one has beautiful music, and an inspiring diverse choir that really communicates)
or this more contemplative version
How Can I Keep from Singing (4:22)
(nature pictures, with more of a focus on the projected words…you don’t see the singer)
or if you feel your community needs a more sombre ending entirely, omit the last paragraph, ending with “may it be so, Amen” and play:
In the Bleak Midwinter (3:28)
Leader: Thank you for coming, go in peace my friends.