On the day after Christmas children who come to worship (not unlike the adults who come to worship) will not be many in number and will be coming in many moods. Some will be basking in the rosy glow of a happy Christmas. Others will be deeply disappointed either because they did not get what they wanted or gatherings were less than peacefully cheerful. Some will bring along leftover relatives, who are becoming more or less welcome. Others are just tired – and maybe cranky. Christmas is over and won’t come again for a year. It is a challenging day to plan worship. But, because numbers are low and expectations are not what they were for earlier December worship services, it is a relaxed Sunday with the possibility to try a few somewhat different ways of praising God and responding to the Christmas story.
I don’t find much here for the children. Maybe one of you will???
A Call for Universal Praise
On the day after Christmas recall the Christmas story, then enjoy calling on everything in the universe to praise God for this amazing deed. Instead of having one reader, invite as many as possible in the sanctuary to get involved in this call to praise. As it is laid out below, Group 1 could be the choir and Group 2 the congregation. Or, Group 1 could be the left side of the congregation and Group 2 the right side. Invite children especially to join in the reading since the words are words they are likely to know.
All: Praise the LORD!
Group 1: Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Group 2: Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!
Group 1: Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Group 2: Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Group 1: Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for he commanded and they were created.
Group 2: He established them forever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Group 1: Praise the LORD from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
Group 2: fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Group 1: Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Group 2: Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
Group 1: Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Group 2: Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
Group 1: Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
Group 2: He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
All: Praise the LORD!
New Revised Standard Version
Give children a page with a small picture of the nativity in the center and lots of space to add pictures of things mentioned in the psalm. These might be handed out during a children’s time or simply be in worship bags. Watch for children to have them as they leave the sanctuary and take time to see what they have drawn.
“All Creatures of Our God and King” sets the words of St Francis of Assisi to music. St. Francis was surely remembering Psalm 148 as he wrote it. The repeated “Alleluias” are easy for even non-readers to sing and recall all the Christmas “alleluias.” Other hymns based on this psalm are harder for children to sing.
A reflection on the Incarnation
Children will miss this abstract text almost entirely. If you want to explore the incarnation in children’s terms, go back to the suggestions for the Fourth Sunday of Advent’s Matthew text. It includes a discussion outline and a plan for walking through “Once in Royal David’s City.”
On birthdays we not only retell stories about “the day you were born,” we also celebrate all you are doing and becoming. So on the day after Jesus’ birthday it is appropriate to take time to connect Baby Jesus with stories about the man Jesus. If there is an old teaching picture file in the church school, dig out pictures of Jesus to show the children in order to remind them of familiar stories. Basically you need a nativity scene and pictures of Jesus teaching, healing, and on the cross followed by a picture of the empty tomb. (If you add pictures of events such as calling Zacchaeus down from the tree, be ready to take time to hear a young story teller tell a rather long version of the story with possibly garbled details. Teaching and healing pictures can be identified without reference to details of specific situations and therefore move along a little faster.)
Flight into Egypt
Children hear this horrifying story most easily when the emphasis is on the flight into Egypt rather than the slaughter of the children. One way to tell it is to work with a crèche. Recall the Christmas story and how almost magical the night was. Then announce that the story did not stop there. Remove the angels noting that they went back to heaven. Set the shepherds aside noting that they went back to their sheep in the fields. Touch the three magi, noting that they did not sleep well that night. They had a dream in which God told them King Herod was really jealous of the new king and was ready to try to kill the baby. Given this God said they should go home without stopping off to tell Herod where Jesus was. Move their figures off to another side and note that they did as God told them. Now go back to Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Tell the children that they did not sleep well either. Joseph had a dream in which God warned him that Herod was out to get the baby. So, they were to get up right then, in the middle of the night and head down the road to Egypt. Move their figures away from the central place. Explain that they stayed in Egypt for two years. It was not an easy time for them. After two years they started back home, but God warned them that the King who followed Herod was just as evil as Herod was. So, instead of going back home, they settled in the little town of Nazareth. PAUSE. SIGH. Admit that this is a sad follow up for such a wonderful Christmas in the stable story. It would be nice if everyone had gone happily home and watched Jesus grow up safe and secure with angels watching over him and no problems for anyone. But it didn’t work that way. It doesn’t work out that way for any of us. We all have all sorts of problems to worry about and work on. The good news in this story is that God knows that. Jesus’ family had to run away in the middle the night to escape an evil king. So God understands when we and our families have scary problems. God is with us and loves us not just when things are Christmas Eve wonderful but also when nothing is going right. Right now, on the day after Christmas, that is really good to know. Christmas is over for this year. We still have New Year’s Day to look forward to. But, soon it’s back to school and all the old problems and people we will struggle with. It’s a good time to remember that God was with Jesus and his family in the peaceful stable AND on the scary road to Egypt.
Especially if your congregation is active in ministry to refugees in your community, explain that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus became refugees. Compare their experiences in Egypt where they were foreigners with the challenges refugees in your community face. Talk about some of the ways your congregation reaches out to refugees. Suggest that taking care of refugees is an especially good “after his birthday” birthday present for Jesus or a good New Year’s resolution in Jesus’ honor.