Making Swords into Plows
This text features the well known prophecy about swords being turned into plows and spears into pruning hooks. For children that means two vaguely known items are being turned into two totally unfamiliar items. If we provide the details about the weapons and tools, they quickly grasp the message. So take time to illustrate how swords can be made into plows and how a plow is used. Because the pruning hook in the garden today is hard to visualize being made from a spear, and because one prop is enough anyway, skip the pruning hook.
- Bring a sword (toy or real) or a poster board sword (perhaps created by an artistic parishioner) and a picture of an old fashion plow. If the sample is flexible, show how it could be bent to be used as a plow. Then read the text and rephrase it something like, “God promises that there will be a time when everyone gets along. It will be so peaceful that people won’t need swords and other weapons anymore. So, they will turn them into garden tools.” Challenge the children to watch for swords turned into plows in the prayers and songs of the church during Advent. (Make sure to provide them a sample or two in today’s worship.)
- If yours is an imaginative group, imagine together peaceful uses for modern weapons, e.g. think of cool things you could do if an aircraft carrier were turned into a cruise ship – take off from the short runway, land with a jolt on the hook, riding in helicopters, holding sports events and big dances. Send the children back to their seats to reform other weapons to peaceful uses.
Praying for the nation
Though it is the first Sunday of Advent, it is also the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend in the USA. Children have been feasting on pilgrims, Indians and thanks for country. So, focus on vv. 6-9. Present it to the children as a prayer for Jerusalem by people who lived there. Together identify prayers for your town, state and nation. We want the same peace that the people in Jerusalem wanted. Children will be able to add prayers for people who are caught up in current problems or disasters, prayers for a variety of leaders, prayers for schools and other local institutions, etc. Either offer a prayer that incorporates what the children have said as you sit with them. Or, begin the congregation’s prayers with the prayers the children have identified. This is most effective if the congregation’s prayers immediately follow the time with children.
The Epistle and Gospel readings are about watchfulness while waiting for the Son of Man. Because Advent is all about waiting and everyone is into waiting for Christmas, it is tempting to compare waiting for the Son of Man to waiting for Christmas. Be careful. First, these texts are not about waiting for a holiday. They are about cultivating an attitude of watchful waiting for God every day. Second, for children waiting for Christmas is mainly waiting for Santa Claus. Among young worshippers there are Santa true believers, Santa agnostics, and those who are “in” on it all. In a conversation on the steps with all the children a member of the third group is likely to make a loud declaration that will dismay the others and their parents. But more important than that potential brouhaha is the fact that as they discover the “reality” of Santa Claus, children inevitably question the “reality” of other such figures – like God and Jesus. There is no way to sort through that during public worship. But, we can be sure we don’t make figuring it out any harder by talking about God, Jesus and Santa as if they are similarly “real.” Finally, Santa is making a list of who’s naughty and nice. These texts encourage us to lead disciplined lives as we watch and wait for God. That is a very subtle but important difference. The first endorses works righteousness; the latter is… Well, I can’t get the difference into one simple phrase and that’s the problem. So be careful.
A better way to introduce Advent waiting on the first Sunday of Advent is to get out a set of nativity figures for use in the sanctuary. Set aside all the angels and the baby. Place the shepherds and some sheep in one area of the worship center, the traveling magi in another, and Mary and Joseph in separate areas. In the stable area place the empty manger and animals. As you do, talk about what each set of characters was probably doing. Then read Romans 13.11. Note that it is a message to each of those people waiting for Jesus to be born AND it is a message to us. We need to wake up and pay attention, too. God is at work all around us.
- FYI Mary moves to the manger on the third Sunday (if you read the Magnificat that week). Joseph (and Mary if you did not move her on the third Sunday) move on the fourth Sunday. The Shepherds move on Christmas Eve and the baby is placed in the manger. The wise men wait until Epiphany.
- Invite worshippers over the weeks of Advent to add a straw around manger for each good deed done. Provide a basket of pre-cut short straws on the floor near the table. People can bring their straws before or after worship or even during the offertory. The good deeds of watchful waiting become the setting for the crèche figures as they are moved to the manger at Christmas.
If you plan to devote time to the list of sins to avoid in Romans, note that the last pair –fighting and jealousy– fits children. Avoiding fighting and jealousy during Advent is a worthy discipline. List examples such as fighting among siblings while traveling or when stuck home for the long holiday weekend. Point out how easy it is to get jealous and get the “I wants” as Christmas gets closer. Paul says we can be better than that. We are Jesus’ people. We can stop the fighting and work on not getting so greedy.
- This could be a children’s time or could be dealt with in the middle of the sermon. “Listen up children, I think Paul wrote this especially for you, maybe especially during December….”
Advent Hymns (for today or later in Advent)
O Come, O Come Emmanuel has a sound that fascinates children and is filled with words that are totally beyond them. To begin singing it with understanding they need to be introduced to only one word and then invited into the sound. The word is Emmanuel, God is With Us. It is both a nickname for Jesus who is God With Us and a reminder that God is indeed with us always. Before singing, briefly explain that to the children and everyone. To invite the children into the sound, point out the sad descriptions of all the problems in the verses and the happy sound of the refrain’s reminder that God is with always even when things look bad. Encourage children who might have trouble with the words in the verses to sing the chorus. Even take time to rehearse the chorus with everyone. It would even be possible for the choir to sing the sad verses and the congregation to respond by singing the hope filled refrain.
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is another song that is all about the feel of the music. The ideas are complex, but focus on the “more that we can understand,” goosebumpy beautiful fact that God came among us as a little baby.
Watchman Tell Us of the Night is another song that is best understood when sung antiphonally by either a choir and the congregation or two halves of the congregation. In either case one group becomes the Traveler singing the first and third lines and the other group becomes the watchman singing the second and fourth lines.