Friday, July 15, 2011

Planning for the Advent and Christmas Season - Year B

The Advent calendar this year poses logistical challenges.  First of all Advent is as long as it can possibly be – the full 28 days.  Then, the way the days fall presents challenges.
- Christmas falls on a Sunday which means Christmas Eve is on Saturday night.
- January 1 falls on Sunday and could be seen as The First Sunday After Christmas, New Year’s Day or even Epiphany (if you do not celebrate Epiphany mid-week).
- January 8 is The Baptism of the Lord – and then it’s into Ordinary Time.
Advent is long and Christmas is short.  The Advent readings are more abstract and therefore difficult for children than were the readings for Year A.  Therefore, this is one year when it would be especially wise to find ways to slip some of the Christmas carols and stories into Advent. 

One way to do this is to emphasize some of the Advent rituals and arts.  They may be familiar to you, but they are new to children who encounter them only one month each year.  So, plan to explain and enjoy them fully in worship.  The children need the introductions and most adults enjoy watching the next generation claim their treasure and in the process learning things they did not know about familiar rituals.  Below are summaries of ways to use Advent wreaths, crèches, Chrismon trees, and carols this Advent.  Detailed information on each will be found in the materials for each week of the seasons.  You might also want to check Planning for the Advent and Christmas Season - Year A  for slightly different ideas.

Most congregations love lighting the Advent Wreath.  But lighting the wreath with a collection of people reading a verse and a prayer each week can be an awkward spot in the service.  Often people in the pews lose all the words and simply enjoy the candles.  There are other ways to do it.

1.      Instead of lighting the wreath at the same time in the service, tie it to different parts of worship.  Rather than following a verse-prayer-match format, light the candles as part of that element of worship.  Specific directions are offered each week this year.  The general flow is

Ø  Week One:  Prayer of confession to name darkness, assurance is the lighting of the candle
Ø  Week Two: Offering or affirmation of faith
Ø  Week Three:  set the Joy theme lighting the candles at the Call to Worship or during a rejoicing hymn or carol
Ø  Week Four:  Sing “Here Am I” at affirmation time to stand ready with Mary
OR paraphrase Romans at the benediction
Ø  Christmas Eve and/or Day: At the time you generally pass the peace, light the four candles of Advent then light the Christ candle proclaiming “Christ is born!”  Invite people to say the phrase in greeting people around them.

2.      Instead  of reading as the candles are lit, sing a song.  Three below have both good choruses that can be sung each week and child friendly verses that can be added as the weeks progress.

“When God Is a Child,” by Brian Wren.  (This could be sung responsively with a choir or soloist singing the verses and the congregation singing the choruses.)

“Christ Be Our Light”, by Bernadette Ferrell  (Another way to use this is to sing the chorus only each week as that week’s candles are lit just before the call to worship.)

“Christmas is A Coming, the Church is Glad to Sing,” by John L. Bell

This creche graces the sanctuary at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, VA. 
The tallest figures are 15 inches tall.  They are all lightweight and unbreakable.

Children do not have as many opportunities to hear the nativity store as they once did.  So, displaying a large (for visibility), unbreakable (for fearless handling) crèche in the sanctuary and referring to it often during Advent is a good way to build children’s familiarity with the story.  It might be used different ways in different years.  Some years the figures might begin advent scattered throughout the sanctuary making their way to the manger over the weeks.  Other years all the figures may spend the season in a one place with individual figures being moved out for special attention each week.  If you use the later approach this year, there are several possibilities for each week.  Find details in each week.

Week 1.      Unpack and set up the figures talking about what each one is doing and wishing for before Christmas.
Week 2.      Feature a shepherd to either explore Isaiah’s shepherd who feeds the flock OR  to stand in for John the Baptist OR the empty manger
Week 3.      Feature a shepherd to be a John the Baptist look-a-like OR maybe Mary (if not saving her for next week)
Week 4.      Feature Mary
Christmas Eve/Day:  Add the baby to the manger.  Or, hand each child one of the pieces to add to the scene as you tell the story in your own words.  Or, add the shepherds on Christmas Eve and the magi on Christmas Day.

If you have a Chrismon tree, feature a different ornament each week.  In early Advent display it in the worship center.  Once the tree is up, point to it with a flashlight.  Connect it to the theme for that day.  Possibilities to consider this year include:

Ø  Advent 1:  hand of God who is at work in the world
Ø  Advent 2:  alpha-omega ornaments or a shepherd crook cross
Ø  Advent 3:  stars for joy – maybe, but probably need to save for epiphany
Ø  Advent 4:  Rose for Mary ornament
Ø  Christmas Eve: the nativity ornament
Ø  Christmas Day: enjoy the whole tree and note that every ornament tells us about Jesus
Ø  Epiphany: ……..

Advent hymns and Christmas carols are among the favorites of many worshippers.  But, they are generally sung during a very few weeks in worship.  We used to depend on the schools to teach them to the children, but that no longer happens.  Indeed, I listened to a podcast in which three Lutheran seminary professors suggested that in order to “save our heritage of Christmas carols” we need to find ways to include them in Advent worship.  Many congregations already do that.  Now seminaries seem to be recognizing the wisdom of that.  So, choose Advent-Christmas hymns carefully and plan to do more than just sing them.

Ø  Walk through them with the congregation before singing them.  Put key words or phrases into your own words and point to the message of the carol.
Ø  Choose songs with simple choruses that can be rehearsed with the whole congregation before singing so that young readers can join in the singing.
Ø  Sing the songs in different ways to call those familiar with the song to really hear what they are singing and to help younger singers understand the psalm.  Several, such as “Watchman Tell Us of the Night,” beg for responsive singing.
Ø  Replace generally spoken parts of worship with verses or whole carols. 
Ø  Lace sermons with references to the carols – even directing worshipers to open their hymnbooks to review a given carol.  If you are comfortable doing so, sing a phrase or two.  If you are not a public singer, enlist the help of the choir, a soloist, or the whole congregation to sing a verse or a chorus before or after your comments in the middle of the sermon.

Many of these can become children times just before a congregation hymn, but they are best addressed to the whole congregation.  Again detailed suggestions for this are found in posts for each week.


  1. Many thanks for your ideas Carolyn!

  2. HB : I'm studying to be a local Methodist preacher & as this is my 1st children & congregational sermon your material has given me the idea of how Joy features in our getting to understand & know God. God Bless & many thanks.


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