Saturday, June 23, 2012

Year C - First Sunday of Advent (December 2, 2012)

Happy New Year!  Greet the congregation with that phrase.  Explain that today we start through the stories that make up the church year again – Advent, Christmas, Lent….  If you did not bring out all the paraments to celebrate different parts of the story of Christ last week, bring out the paraments for the entire church year today.  Briefly match the seasons to the colors.  Select those for Advent and put them in place with help from worshipers.  (At the very least invite one or more children to put the Advent stoles around the necks of those who wear them.)  Consider it a hanging of the purple/blue. 

In the United States this is one of the few years when the first Sunday of Advent does NOT fall on the Sunday of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  That gives us an opportunity to introduce the season with more folks in the congregation. 

Serbian child lighting the Advent Wreath
' Before lighting the Advent wreath, take time to introduce it.  Explain the numbers of candles, the colors, and the ritual you will use to light the candles this year.  Point out the possibility of making Advent wreathes to light at home.  Name stores in your area where supplies can be purchased.  Give out Advent devotional or wreath lighting guides.

' On the first day of the church year we start with a combination peek ahead and reality check.  Jeremiah tells the Jews living in Exile who feel like a dead old stump that God will raise up a leader who will bring justice and restoration.  Luke gives a poetic description of “how bad it can get” to remind us that the world is in an awful state, BUT that God is going to intervene.  Hope is the key word.  Bad things are happening all around us.  Bad things happen to most of us during our lifetimes.  It looks like the bad leaders, bad people, and bad plans always win.  But, God promises that in the end they will not win.  God will.  At the beginning of December the hopes of most fortunate children are focused on “what I will get” and “what will I get to do” for Christmas.  It is hard to get them to look beyond this to other hopes – but it needs to be tried.  At the very least we need to name to them some of the evils in the world and identify the church’s hopes about the demise of those evils.

' Statement for lighting the first candle of Advent as the candle of Hope:  God, the world is scary.  But, in the darkness we light this first candle of Advent with hope.  Hope that you are with us even when awful things happen, hope that you will show us what we can do to fix the world, and hope that you will fix what we cannot. 

' Especially if you are hanging blue Advent paraments, sing “Watchman Tell Us of the Night” with half of the congregation (or the choir) singing the Watchman lines and the other half (of the congregation) singing the Traveler lines.  Point out that Advent blue is the soft color of the sky just before dawn.  Every time we see it we think of the light of Christ coming into the world.  Invite people as they sing to think of watchmen and travelers looking toward the light that is just-beginning to show at the horizon.

' Heads up to those planning for Advent way ahead:  Propers 26, 27, 28 and the Reign of Christ (that’s all the Sundays of November!) all include apocalyptic texts.   As I post materials for the Advent Sundays during June, I’m not going to dig into those earlier texts but go straight to the apocalyptic in the first Sundays of Advent.  So when we get to the November texts, we may find that some activities or explanations about apocalyptic things need to be used in November rather than Advent.  Guess we’ll just have to deal with that then.  Or, you might want to do some looking ahead on your own. 

The Texts

Jeremiah 33:14-16

' The CEV is my favorite translation for children on this text:

The Lord said:  
      I made a wonderful promise to Israel and Judah,
and the days are coming when I will keep it.
I promise that the time will come
when I will appoint a king
from the family of David,
a king who will be honest
and rule with justice.
In those days,
Judah will be safe;
Jerusalem will have peace
and will be named, “The Lord Gives Justice.”

I took this years ago
in the Marshes of Glen.
Feel free to use it.
' Jeremiah wrote this from prison to people who were ruled by cruel foreigners.  They all felt about as alive as an old dead tree stump.  But, Jeremiah insists that God has made and will keep a wonderful promise – one day there will be a leader who will be honest and fair. 

If you have a Chrismons tree in your sanctuary, put it in place undecorated today.  While talking about this promise of a new branch that will grow out of the dead looking stump, add a tree stump cover to the base of the tree.  A simple one can be made by wrapping a bucket with brown paper cut at the bottom into roots that can spread out on the floor.  Or, make a reusable one from burlap or other fabrics that look like a tree stump.


Make a floral display with an small tree imbedded in a real tree stump or set in a bucket covered to look like a stump.  Point this out as an illustration of Jeremiah’s message.

'  “It is not fair” is a frequent complaint of children.  List for them all the things that were not fair for Jeremiah’s listeners and their children – forced to live in a foreign land as servants, not enough food, no chance to go to school, soldiers who told you where to go and what to do, etc.  Then read Jeremiah’s promise and imagine with them how a fair, just leader who was one of them rather than a foreigner sounded.  Invite children to draw pictures of unfair, unjust things today.  Near the end of or after the service, gather all the pictures and put them under the base of the Chrismon tree with a prayer.

'  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is filled with language children will not follow. But, they enjoy and understand the difference in the sad, stumpy verses and the happy refrains.  To emphasize that difference have the choir or one side of the congregation sing the verses and the congregation or the other side of the congregation sing the refrains.

' Before singing “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” walk through verses 1 and 2 connecting them to the people who first read Jeremiah’s promise.  Then present verses 3 and 4 as prayers or wishes for the Advent season we are entering today.

Psalm 25: 1-10

This is another of the alphabet psalms.  It might be called “The ABC prayers of people waiting for God’s leader” or “The ABC’s of Advent.”  Each lettered verse is a separate prayer within the larger prayer. 

' The New Jerusalem Bible actually has translated the verses so that each one begins with an English word that follows alphabetical order, e.g. adoration, but, calling, direct…  Unfortunately, the rest of the verses are difficult for children to understand as translated.  Still, you might use it to illustrate how acrostics work.

' Have the psalm read by a group, maybe a class or several families, with each person reading one verse.  (Verse 5 includes two lettered prayers one for He and the second for Waw.) 

' Encourage worshipers (or worshiping households) to select one of the prayers from this psalm to be their prayer for this week.  Suggest that they post it somewhere as a reminder to pray it several times each day.

' Work with the children to create alphabet prayers of your own for this AdventThe first might be “Advent is here, God.  Thank you.” Go on to prayers such as “Be with us as we get ready to celebrate Jesus birth.” or later “Help us be kind and loving” and “Keep us from getting selfish about gifts.” etc.  Don’t worry about getting through the whole alphabet, just do a few letters.  Older children might try to complete the alphabet back in the pews.

' Prepare a children’s choir or class to accompany the congregation singing the Argentine “Song of Hope” with rattles and other rhythm instruments.  Sing this short hymn once in response to the whole psalm or after each even numbered verse.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

' Paul said to his friends in Thessalonica that he loved them and knew they loved him and that he hoped that love would help all of them lead lives worthy of Jesus.  He said this as a blessing or benediction.  So, give special attention to the benediction today.  Read or say to worshipers what you will say as the benediction and explain what you mean when you say it.  If you raise your hands in benediction, comment on why you do that.  Then, stand and give the benediction.  This could be addressed to children gathered at the front or to the entire congregation.

Go to The Advent Door  and scroll down to "A Path For Blessing"  for a commentary on this passage in particular and blessings in general by Artist/Pastor Jan Williamson.

Luke 21:25-36

' Children will not follow these apocalyptic images as they are read.  But do not assume that they cannot explore the message they carry.  Several points are important to them.

Do not under-estimate the horrible things children live with everyday.  They are aware of war, see murder on TV or in their neighborhoods, experience the destruction of divorce in the their lives and the lives of their friends, fear the power of storms, struggle with bullies and more.  The church does them a favor when it admits out loud that that is true.  Bad stuff does happen to everyone. 

When things get really bad, we have to be brave and strong.  We have to “suck it up.”  While we are doing this we know that other people are also doing it.  And, we know that God is with us even at the worst times.

The most important thing to remember when bad things happen is that in the end evil will not win.  God and God’s love will win.  God is also with us as we live through the bad times.  This is hard to remember, but it is true.

Apocalyptic sets the stage for Jesus being born in a stable, teaching and living love, forgiving evil while dying on their cross, and rising from that death.  It says God’s answer to the evil that is using violent power to run the world is not a stronger power that crushes evil but love and sacrifice that overcome evil.  God’s methods are different from evil’s methods.  At the beginning of Advent the apocalyptic power of evil sets the stage for the Christmas story.  It also calls us to follow Jesus and use God’s methods – even when it is really hard. 

' Go to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Biblical Apocalyptic  to compare and contrast today’s apocalyptic literature for children and youth with biblical apocalyptic.

' Introduce the youngest children to apocalyptic by reading and pondering the childhood fears depicted on some of the pages of Some Things Are Scary, by Florence Parry Heide.  After pondering several of the scary things, admit that we all face scary things.  Point out that when Jesus was born everyone was scared – scared of the Roman soldiers, scared of the tax-collectors, scared they wouldn’t have enough to eat.  When Jesus was born and grew up he promised people that even in the scary times, God was with them and that God’s love would win in the end.  They could be brave about the Romans and we can be brave about all the things that scare us.  Below are some of my favorites from the book.  I almost didn’t list them because you really need the wonderful art to bring them to life.
Being on a swing when someone is pushing you too high is scary.
Finding out your best friend has a best friend who isn’t you is scary.
Having your best friend move away is scary.
Thinking about a big bird with big teeth who might swoop down and carry you away is scary.

NOTE: You may want to think about when to use this book.  It could be used to introduce some of the apocalyptic texts in November.

' Advent is about our deep yearning for God to fix things.  One way to get children into the message of the apocalyptic that expresses this yearning is to talk and pray with them about what needs fixing in the world.  If you have easy conversations with them, brainstorm together a list of things you wish God would fix.  If you need something to start this conversation show pictures of poor children, wars, etc.  Either knit your list into a prayer asking God to come fix our world or invite the children to pray a set short prayer after each item as it is named, e.g. “God we need you to fix our world.”

' If you have a Chrismons tree, dig out all the ornaments that feature either alpha and omega or a circle.  Display them and ponder their message that God was before the beginning and will be after the end.  God is forever.  Or, display the crosses on top of orbs.  These remind us that Christ is the lord of the world – no matter how it may look otherwise at any point in our lives. 


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