''' Just a reminder: next Sunday is Mary, Elizabeth and the Magnificat. I’d tend to read them today for several reasons: 1. December 23 feels too late to be telling that story in the Advent run up to Christmas, and 2. Mary and Elizabeth’s rejoicing is a good companion to all today’s other text’s calls for rejoicing. Go to Year C - The Fourth Sunday of Advent for a reading script and other ideas about exploring this story with children.
''' The shared themes of the first three texts for this week speak more clearly to children than does any particular text. So, I’m making thematic rather than scripture based suggestions for all except the gospel reading.
Lighting the Advent candle:
If you use a pink candle in the advent wreath, briefly explain that it is the joy candle. (ASIDE: The candle is NOT pink because we hoped it would be a girl as one wit suggested!)
Statement to read while lighting the candle:
If focusing on rejoicing: God, sometimes the world feels dark and evil. We light a candle today to remind ourselves that you are with us every day and love us with a powerful love. So, even when things are awful, we can rejoice.
If focusing on Mary: Mary sang, “Rejoice in the Lord for God has done and is doing marvelous things!” We light this candle for Mary and Elizabeth and to remind ourselves to be as ready as they were to join you at work in the world.
''' Today children can rejoice with the following festive, non-Christmasy songs:
“O Sing to the Lord!” includes three verses of simple, repeated words set to a Brazilian folk melody. Children enjoy the addition of a trumpet interlude before the last verse, “dance for our God and blow all the trumpets.” For extra exuberance add streamer twirlers when this song is sung as the processional or recessional.
Sing “Dona Nobis Pacem” as a round both at the call to worship before you explore the day’s theme and at the benediction reminding worshipers of what they now know about peace and joy.
And of course there is “I’ve Got a Joy, Joy, Joy Down in my Heart” with verses such as “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding way down in the depth of my heart.”
If you project songs to sing, try this Go Now in Peace as a benediction.
''' If you are ready for a Christmas carol, try “Joy to the World!” The words are too complex for children, but with direction they can get the first line of each verse. Before the congregation sings the carol, have them follow along in their hymn books as you point out these opening lines somewhat as follows:
Why can we sing “Joy to the World”?
1. No matter how bad things might be at the moment, “The Lord is come”, i.e. God is with us.
2. The Savior, not any king or ruler or bully, is in charge of the world. (Who is the savior? Jesus is!)
3. Given that, we don’t have to get upset in our sorrows or caught up in all the bad stuff that happens.
4. And, like all good last verses, this one is the summary. We can rejoice and sing “Joy to the World!” because God rules the world with truth and grace.
''' Jewish midrash includes several stories about how people responded to God’s dividing the sea for the slaves to walk through on dry land and then bringing it back together to drown pharoah’s army. It seems some of the newly free slaves complained that walking through the sea was scary and hard. They could only think about how tired and dirty they were. But Miriam and others, who were also tired and dirty, danced and sang songs praising God for the incredible miracle they had just experienced and their new freedom. After describing the situation, ask which group was “right.” Of course, both were at different levels. Then ask who they would rather travel into the wilderness with. Younger children will not be able to follow this. But older children can be drawn into the possibility of rejoicing being more a matter of one’s attitude toward what happens than what happens. They can be helped by parallel examples - maybe siblings who get similar sweaters from their grandparents. One child is delighted and the other discards it as dumb. (If you and the children talk easily on the steps, this could be a children’s time. It could also draw older children into the real sermon if presented there.)
It might be fun and instructive to devote sermon time to imagining “not rejoicing responses” Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and others in the story might have had. All of them chose to rejoice, but might have responded differently. Then, there is the innkeeper who wavered between “I’m just too busy” and “you’re about to have a baby?! The barn is all I have, but you’re welcome to use it.” As you talk about each character, lift the appropriate figure from the creche.
''' Many congregations have become sensitive to people for whom it is hard to rejoice at this time of year. Remember that this group includes children as well as adults. Children face the same problems that daunt the adults, but do so with different twists. For one thing, they lack the experience of many Christmases that the adults can draw on to keep a sense of balance. For another, they feel that as a child they should be totally into the season. It feels even more unfair to them than to the adults that they are not going to have special gifts or fun family gatherings or decorations or…..
''' If you have a Chrismons tree, help the children find ornaments that are stars or have stars in them. Explain that stars are happy, rejoicing lights. No one ever sees a star and says, “Rats! Who needs a star?” Star stickers are used for decorations. You never get a star sticker and a frowny face sticker on the same paper at school. Recall, if a child doesn’t beat you to it, the star of Bethlehem. Describe it as the happiest star ever and proof that God’s light was coming into the world.
''' “Fear not!” is another shared theme of these texts. But the fears alluded to are fears that I will not be enough, that I will not be able to handle it, that war or economic disasters will sweep me away, etc. These fears are different from the fears children face in very subtle ways. Facing them requires a different kind of courage and understanding of what is feared. I think the fears that children face are better explored using other texts at other seasons of the year. So, I’d tackle this theme with and for the adults.
''' The RCL schedules verses 1-6 of Luke 3 for the second Sunday of Advent and verses 7-18 for the Third Sunday of Advent. I (and lots of scholars!) think these verses really belong together. So I’m suggesting reading them all on the second Sunday. To accommodate this, I’d move the texts about Mary and Elizabeth to this week where it fits nicely with all the rejoicing in the other texts. Go to Year C - The Fourth Sunday of Advent for ideas for Mary’s story. But, just so you can find ideas where you look for the text I am reposting the ideas about the combined John the Baptist text that are also posted on the Second Sunday of Advent. The ideas for the Mary and Elizabeth story are posted on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
''' Combine the 2 readings about John’s ministry. As you begin, point out that when John grew up huge crowds followed him. Invite the congregation to join you in reading about John and those crowds. Assign different sections of the congregation to be the crowds, tax-collectors, and soldiers. The Narrator, who is probably the key liturgist, and John read from the front. Everyone will need a script. Prepare John to read dramatically as if addressing a large crowd out doors.
Luke 3:2b -17
Narrator: God spoke to Zechariah’s son John when he grew up. John was living in the desert. So John went along the Jordan Valley, telling the crowds of people who came there to hear him,
John: Turn back to God and be baptized! Then your sins will be forgiven.
Narrator: Isaiah the prophet wrote about John when he said,
“In the desert someone is shouting,
‘Get the road ready for the Lord!
Make a straight path for him.
Fill up every valley
and level every mountain and hill.
Straighten the crooked paths
and smooth out the rough roads.
Then everyone will see the saving power of God.’ ”
Narrator: Crowds of people came out to be baptized, but John said to them,
John: You bunch of snakes! Who warned you to run from the coming judgment? Do something to show that you really have given up your sins. Don’t start saying that you belong to Abraham’s family. God can turn these stones into children for Abraham. An ax is ready to cut the trees down at their roots. Any tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire.
Narrator: The crowds asked John,
The crowds: What should we do?
John: If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn’t have any. If you have food, share it with someone else.
Narrator: When tax collectors came to be baptized, they asked John,
Tax-collectors: Teacher, what should we do?
John: Don’t make people pay more than they owe.
Narrator: Some soldiers asked him,
Soldiers: And what about us? What do we have to do?”
John: Don’t force people to pay money to make you leave them alone. Be satisfied with your pay.
Narrator: Everyone became excited and wondered, “Could John be the Messiah?” But John said,
John: I am just baptizing with water. But someone more powerful is going to come, and I am not good enough even to untie his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His threshing fork is in his hand, and he is ready to separate the wheat from the husks. He will store the wheat in his barn and burn the husks with a fire that never goes out.
Narrator: This is the Word of the Lord!
Congregation: Thanks be to God!
Based on the CEV
''' Revel in all the specific places and people in the opening verses. Get out a map – or better yet a globe. Locate your congregation on it. Point out the places. They are all right around present day Palestine. Together pronounce the names of the people and insist that these were real people that we read about in history books. Luke’s point and yours to the children is this is a real story about real people in a real place. Children who have trouble sorting out fiction from non-fiction appreciate knowing that. They also enjoy Luke’s point that with the choice of all those important people living in important places, God gave his message to nobody John who lived in an unnamed wilderness.
''' Remember that children will hear the poetry about roads and mountains literally unless you direct them otherwise. In a day when mountain top removal is an environmental issue it is easy for children to jump to wrong conclusions.
''' “Repent!” is John’s favorite word. He used it lots! To help children understand and claim the word, point out the difference in being sorry and repenting. Being sorry is feeling bad that you did something wrong or hurt someone. Repenting is doing something to make sure you never do that again. Repenting is making changes in what we do. It is much easier to feel sorry about something than to repent it. John is not even a little interested in people feeling sorry about bad things they were doing. He wanted them to change. He would want the same for us this Advent.
After talking about repenting, challenge children to draw or write about repenting they plan to do in the coming weeks. Invite them to put their art in the offering basket as a way of offering it to God and asking for God’s help.
''' To explore John’s call to repent and be baptized, explore the question “Do you renounce evil and turn toward Jesus Christ?” in many baptism and confirmation rituals. To describe how we actually do this, sort a collection of cards or small posters into “evil” and “turn to Jesus” piles. Write on each card something like Mine!, I want it!, Give me! Me first! You stink! May I help? Can we share this? What would you like? You first! I think you are special! Can we do this together?... Briefly describe what working to say or not say each of these things is a way of keeping a promise to God.
''' Sing your way toward repentance with “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian.”