Many children join the congregation in the sanctuary for the first time during the Advent Christmas season. Some come with families who are trying out church for the first time or are visiting church-going friends or family. Some are brought from the nurseries by their worshiping parents who think maybe they are ready to share the traditions that are so precious to their parents. Lighting the candles of the Advent wreath, the presence of a crèche and/or Chrismon tree, other visual decorations of the season, and the birth stories all appeal to children. With we introduce these things so that children know what they are about and adults understand them more deeply, we lead these newcomers to become ever more fully participating worshipers.
As you plan for the entire season…
' Advent is a time when many congregations go “off lectionary” for at least a Sunday or two. Sometimes they do that to accommodate special music and pageants. But more and more people are doing it because they sense the need to spend more time with the Christmas stories than with the early Advent texts. Since we often see more marginally involved folks in worship during December and since we can no longer count on public schools to teach the basic stories, it also feels increasingly important to present the key nativity stories in worship when people are expecting to hear them.
' Given these things and this year’s calendar with the fourth Sunday of Advent falling the day before Christmas Eve, I’d be inclined to combine the three readings about John the Baptist birth and ministry turning Advent 2 into John the Baptist Sunday. I’d add the annunciation story to Mary and Elizabeth’s visit and move it from week four to week three where it fits the rejoice theme in the other texts. And then work with Luke 2:1-5 and 7c to create a “ready or not” theme calling worshipers to cross the unimportant stuff off their lists for the next few days and beyond in order to be ready to respond to God for the fourth Sunday.
' Check out another alternative Advent lectionary created for just this purpose at Rumors: a worship blog click on November 2009 and then on Bulletin for those Preparing for Advent 2009.
' There are many different meanings for the candles of the Advent wreath. Non are the indisputable, don’t-mess-with-this right ones. So, light the candles each year to fit worship that year. Check LINK Yr B for general ideas about doing this. Ideas for this year are posted with the text on which they are based. The overview is:
Week One: Hope
Week Two: Either Repent! or Rejoice!
Week Three: Repent! or Respond!
Week Four: Respond! or You are with us everyday
' Children have fewer opportunities to hear the biblical Christmas stories than they once did. So, displaying a large (for visibility), unbreakable (for fear-free handling) crèche in the sanctuary provides a visual reminder of the story and an opportunity to retell it during Advent. Yes, I know we’re not to rush the season. Still, it is possible to use a children’s time to tell the birth stories in a way that ties to Advent worship themes using the figures of the crèche. It could go something like this:
Week 1: The empty manger is in place. Other figures are set in visible spots around the sanctuary. With the children simply find the figures, name them and promise to tell more as the weeks go on.
Week 2: Bring the shepherds to the manger. Talk about how tired and dirty and looked down on the shepherds were. Briefly tell the story of the angels’ visit and what that meant to the shepherds. They left the manger aware that God knew who they were and invited them to see Jesus. They had hope.
Week 3: Bring the Magi to the manger. Contrast them to the shepherds. The magi knew they were important and smart people. But when they saw that God was doing something important, they dropped what they were doing and traveled a long way to see what was going on. OR, bring Mary and Joseph to the crèche if you read the Mary texts this week.
Week 4: Bring Mary and Joseph to the manger. Tell the stories of God’s call to each of them, what worried each about doing what God asked, and what they did. OR, lift each figure in turn to explore how that person turned aside to see what God was doing and get involved.
Christmas Eve: Either start with the figures in a box and with the children set the figures in place telling the story as you do. Or, add the baby to the manger and marvel at the difference that one little baby made to the outsider shepherds, the important magi, Mary and Joseph and us.
' Another way to use a crèche during Advent is to display it on a central table for the whole season. Beside the table place a basket of straws. Challenge worshipers to do one loving deed for someone during the week, then to pray for that person as they place one straw on the table around the manger the next Sunday. Worshipers of all ages can put their straws in place as they enter or leave the sanctuary each week. (To keep from burying the figures completely, cut straws into two or three inch lengths.)
' If you display a Chrismons tree in the sanctuary every year, it will fairly quickly come to be simply “that beautiful tree in the church” unless ways are found to re-introduce the ornaments and their meaning repeatedly. One way is to explain them to the children during a children’s time or as part of the sermon. Before the tree is up, show the ornaments in your hands. Once the tree is up, use a flashlight to highlight ornaments related to each Sunday’s theme. This year, I found the following connections. Detailed ideas for each one are found in the weekly posts.
Week 1: Add a stumpy trunk to the base of the tree. Or, feature the cross on the orb to highlight Christ’s lordship over the world. Or, look at all the circle or the alpha-omega ornaments that remind us that God is eternal.
Week 2: I couldn’t find a good match for John the Baptist or his call to repent.
Week 3: In keeping with the Rejoice theme, find all the stars. Or, if Mary is the center of attention, high the rose ornamenets.
Week 4: If Mary is the focus, find all the rose ornaments. Or, if you are exploring the response of all the characters, note the gold and pearls – precious things that are worth turning aside to see and have.
' You will find several reader’s theater scripts for the gospels this Advent. The goal is to help younger worshipers stick with longish stories and help older worshipers pay fuller attention as they hear familiar stories in a new way. Because they are read by adult readers, they address concerns raised by John Bell and others that we have given the Christmas stories to children for pageants which often robs them of some of their power.
Luke 1:5-25; 57-80
John the Baptist’s birth and Zechariah’s song
The annunciation and Mary’s visit with Elizabeth
The message of John the Baptist
Other posts on this blog that you might find helpful include:
Planning for Advent and Christmas - Year A with general ideas about celebrating Advent in the sanctuary with children.
Planning for Advent and Christmas - Year B includes a list of ideas about how to explore carols during worship and 2 different ways to light the Advent wreath (1. With a song instead of words and 2. Tied to different parts of worship each week)
Christmas Storybooks for Worship started with the worship leaders in the lectionary study group I attend sharing story books they have used in worship during Advent and Christmas. It is not a list of all the cool Christmas books I know, but a list of those I can imagine being read in the sanctuary.
Annotated List of Christmas Carols Children Can Sing in the Sanctuary is an annotated list of carols children can be drawn into singing.
And of course remember to use the SCRIPTURE INDEX to find idea related to specific texts.