Thursday, September 9, 2010

Year A - Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 19, 2010)

I suspect that on the fourth Sunday of Advent there are lots of congregation’s worshipping “away from the lectionary.” So, what about sharing in the Comments what your congregation (and its children) is doing this fourth Sunday when Christmas is still six days off. Names of cantatas, dramas, etc. that you think are child friendly AND appropriate to the congregation’s worship would be appreciated by all of us.

Isaiah 7:10-16
A woman shall bear a son named Emmanuel

The key verse for children is verse 14, “a virgin (or young woman) shall bear a son.” The Old Testament context is beyond them. They mainly want to know that the phrase is a promise in the Bible and perhaps link this promise to the name Joseph is to give Jesus in the Matthew reading. Select music that uses the name Immanuel in it after explaining the meaning of the word and pointing to its appearance in the gospel text.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Another prayer for national restoration

Especially on the Sunday before Christmas, this prayer for national restoration is going to fly past the children. Let it go.

Romans 1:1-7
Who is Jesus?

The ideas about who Jesus is that are woven into this text are important. But it seems to me that today worshippers of all ages are more interested in hearing them fleshed out in the gospel text. Maybe one of you has an idea about how to use this text in a way that will speak to children on the Sunday before Christmas.

Matthew 1:18-25

Illustration by Margaret Kyle
The Family Story Bible, p. 157
 Mary and Joseph prepare for Jesus’ birth

Children are likely to miss the story as it is read from Matthew. So, you may want to retell it in your own words with the children in mind. If you told the story of Mary last week, this week recall Mary’s story and tell Joseph’s story. Talk about all things Joseph did – search for a place to stay in Bethlehem, make the barn as comfortable as possible, even stay close to Mary when the shepherds showed up. (Mary must have been surprised and a little frightened.) Then imagine together some of the ways Joseph took care of Jesus as he grew up. He taught him carpentry skills, told him Bible stories and taught him the Ten Commandments. Children are curious about Joseph who gets much less attention than Mary.

If you did not tell Mary’s story last week, take more time telling the story of the couple. Note Mary’s bravery in being willing to have a baby, even God’s baby, before she was married. Note Joseph’s strength in being willing to marry her, even though she was pregnant. Talk about how much they must have loved and trusted each other and how curious they must have been about this special baby. Then light the fourth candle of the Advent wreath for the love and courage of Mary and Joseph and move the Mary and Joseph figures to the manger in the crèche.

Or, be brave. Discuss the incarnation with the children:

The name Joseph and Mary are to give this child is Emmanuel, “God with us.” When we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus. Jesus once said, “If you have seen me, you have seen God. What I say is what God says. What I do is what God does.”

Who can think of one thing Jesus did or said? In response to their answers say, “yes, God …..(does that)… too.” (Be ready with a few hints to get it started, e.g. what did Jesus do with Zaccheus? When people were sick, what did Jesus do?)

God is invisible. Jesus when he lived on earth could be seen and heard and touched. Jesus is God with skin and bones.

God is more than we can understand. But Jesus is like us. He was born, grew up, told stories, and took care of the people around him. I think that is one reason God became Jesus. God wants us to know what God is like.
  • For the purpose of this discussion, I’d not bring up that Jesus is God’s son. If children bring it up, note that many fathers and sons look and act alike. Jesus and God are even more alike than human fathers and sons. Jesus is God in human skin.
  • If impossible to answer questions such as “when God was being Jesus, who was taking his place in heaven” come up, affirm them as good questions that everyone wonders about at times. Most such questions have the same answer. We don’t know how God does it because God is bigger and “more” than anything we can imagine. It is mysterious.

To explore incarnation without using the word, ask everyone to get out their hymnbooks and walk through the verses of “Once in Royal David’s City.”
  • Verse 1 simply gets the story started. So just read it or ask one of the children to read it.
  • Verse 2 is pure incarnation. After reading the words, make comments, “hey, did you hear that? It says Jesus is God straight from heaven AND that Jesus who was God was born in a barn and lived among the poor people. He didn’t have to do that. He was GOD! But he did. Wow!”
  • Ask another child to read verse 3. Note that this verse recalls Jesus’ childhood experiences to make the point that because he has lived through the same things we do, Jesus understands us. He knows how we feel.
  • Read verse 4 using your voice to emphasize its message that even though Jesus was a child, just like us, he was also always God and Lord. Ponder that, the lord of the whole universe understands us and loves us.
Then, invite the congregation to sing the carol.


  1. Here is what I did with the Isaiah passage:
    Isaiah 7:14: But the LORD will still give you proof. A virgin is pregnant; she will have a son and will name him Immanuel.

    Feel free to substitute “a woman who wasn’t married” if you don’t wish to explain what “virgin” means.

    Names tell us a lot about a person. Share with your child why you selected their name. Perhaps share the story behind a nickname you had as a child.

    In this verse, Jesus is called Immanuel, the Hebrew word for “God with us.” This is God’s promise that Jesus is coming.

    This would be a good time to talk about the names of Jesus used in the Bible. All of them can help explain to children the awesome “bigness” of God.

    Here are just a few of them:
    Alpha and Omega: Beginning and End
    Christ: Anointed One (Chosen)
    Prince of Peace
    Mighty God
    Son God

    What names would your family add to explain to someone how great Jesus is?

    This would be a great night to listen/sing Handel’s Messiah and see if you can discover any other names for Jesus.

  2. Great idea! And, if you have a Chrismons tree, it would be an opportunity to point out the ornaments that connect to the names you highlight.


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