Saturday, August 31, 2013

Year A - Planning for Advent and Christmas (2013)

Advent and Christmas are filled with many treasured worship traditions, stories, and songs.  Preachers often worry about finding something fresh to say.  But, for children all these traditions are new, even unfamiliar.  They encounter them only one month of the year.  At one time American churches counted on the public schools to present the basics of the story and teach the best known Christmas carols.  That day is past.  So, congregations must be intentional about introducing their children to the Advent Christmas stories and songs.  Some of this is best done in classes, children’s events, and choirs.  But, it is also possible to do it in worship.  Actually, many adults either enjoy sitting in on the next generation’s learning or learning something that they may have missed before.  So, as you think about the Advent traditions and songs, ask “what do the children need, if they are to participate in this with at least some understanding?”

A Few Advent Traditions to Think About

'''' Many congregations ask families to light the Advent Wreath reading a script about the meaning of the candle.  Often the readings are too long including a Bible verse, some words of explanation and a brief prayer.  Simply naming the candles being relit and then adding one sentence of explanation about the candle being lit for the first time does the job.  It is also easier for people to remember the candle if it is lit after its meaning is explored in the sermon and liturgy. 

There are no universally accepted, unquestioned, don’t- mess-with-this meanings for each of the candles of the wreath.  That invites worship planners to match the meaning of the candles to the themes of the Sundays of Advent worship.  I will suggest several possible meanings for the candles of Year A Advent.

Week 1: Be light, be prepared
Week 2: Peace
Week 3: Joy, Patience or Mary
Week 4: I am With You or Mary and/or Joseph 

Asking families to light the wreath is fine.  But, for variety some year, ask a different class or group within the congregation to light the Advent wreath each week.  Select groups that are from different ages and match them to their theme.  Each group is to come up with a brief answer to one question about its theme, decide who will light the candle/s and who will read.  The whole group comes forward to stand near the wreath as the candles are lit.  Below is a set of directions for an invited group to follow.

December 12 is the third Sunday of Advent.  You will relight the first two candles and then light the third candle.  As one person lights the candles, another person or persons reads.

Today we light again the first candle of Advent, the candle of…..
And, we light again the second candle of Advent, the candle of…
And we light for the first time the third candle, the candle of patience.

'''' If your congregation displays a Chrismon Tree in the sanctuary, its meaning has to be re-explained regularly.  Highlighting one or two ornaments tied to the week’s worship theme each week, helps children claim the ornaments and see the tree as more than just “the church’s pretty Christmas tree.”  Do this during the sermon pointing to the key ornaments with a flashlight to point them out.  Or, make it a feature of a time with children each week.

Week 1: Christ over the world
Week 2: Stars (hope)
Week 3: Snake on Tau Cross (for healing)
Week 4: the nativity ornament 

'''' Children no longer learn Advent and Christmas carols in public school.  That puts families and congregations on call to intentionally introduce these loved songs, explaining their meaning and history, rather than simply assume that by singing them with the congregation the children will eventually come to love them as we do.  One way to do this is to “feature” one song the congregation will sing each week.  There will be lots of suggestions each week.  You can also go to Singing Christmas Carols in Worship with the Children.

'''' Display a crèche in the sanctuary.  On the first Sunday of Advent, set aside all the angels and the baby.  Place the shepherds and some sheep in one area of the worship center, the traveling magi in another, and Mary and Joseph in separate areas.  In the stable area place the empty manger and animals.  Move the figures to the manger as their stories are told during Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  Involve the children in unpacking them and putting them in place on the first Sunday of Advent.  Involve the children in moving the figures at the appropriate time or make the movement and very visual part of worship to get the attention of the children.  Suggestions will be offered for each set of readings.

FYI In Year A all the pieces are unpacked and spread out on the First Sunday of Advent.  A shepherd is turned into John the Baptist and set near the empty manger just for that day on the second Sunday of Advent.  Mary moves to the manger on the third Sunday (if you read the Magnificat that week).  Joseph (and Mary if you did not move her on the third Sunday) move on the fourth Sunday.  The Shepherds move on Christmas Eve and the baby is placed in the manger.  The wise men wait until Epiphany. 

'''' On the lookout for a good story book that reads well in worship to read to the congregation during the season?  Go to o to Christmas Story Books for Worship.  It gets updated every year.

'''' FINALLY, before you begin planning for worship for Christmas Eve Day, take a look at that post for ideas about planning overflow seating with children as well as adults in mind and the need to plan ahead for nursery care.

Year A - First Sunday of Advent, Also the Sunday after Thanksgiving in the USA (December 1, 2013)

' Yes, it IS the first Sunday of Advent, but in the United States it is also the Sunday after Thanksgiving and thus the end of the holiday weekend.  Given that it would be possible to focus on the beginning of the new Christian Year by celebrating the year as a whole.  Sing and read your way through the whole liturgical year.  Light the Advent candles, but save really getting into Advent until everyone gets back next week.  Go to Year C - Christ the King/ Reign of Christ Sunday for specific suggestions and resources.

' Set the sanctuary for Advent.  Have the Advent paraments, wreath, and other decorations in place.  OR 

If it is a relaxed holiday weekend, invite children and other worshipers to help put them in place before the service begins. 

If things are more formal, have two teams prepared, one to remove the old paraments and the second to install the Advent pieces.  Both teams process in and do their tasks dramatically.  (Families can enjoy serving on one team together.) 

Before the Call to Worship point out and explain briefly each of the changes.  Hint to additions as Advent progresses.

' The texts for the First Sunday of Advent are about watchful waiting.  Because Advent is all about waiting and everyone is into waiting for Christmas, it is tempting to compare waiting for the Son of Man to waiting for Christmas.  Be careful.  First, these texts are not about waiting for a holiday.  They are about cultivating an attitude of watchful waiting for God every day.  Second, for children waiting for Christmas is mainly waiting for Santa Claus.  Among young worshippers there are Santa true believers, Santa agnostics, and those who are “in” on it all.  In a conversation on the steps with all the children a member of the third group is likely to make a loud declaration that will dismay the others and their parents.  But more important than that potential brouhaha is the fact that as they discover the “reality” of Santa Claus, children inevitably question the “reality” of other such figures – like God and Jesus.   There is no way to sort through that during public worship.  But, we can be sure we don’t make figuring it out any harder by talking about God, Jesus and Santa as if they are similarly “real.”  Finally, Santa is making a list of who’s naughty and nice.  These texts encourage us to lead disciplined lives as we watch and wait for God.  That is a very subtle but important difference.  The first endorses works righteousness; the latter is…   Well, I can’t get the difference into one simple phrase and that’s the problem.  So be careful. 

Who Is Coming To Our House?, by Joseph Slate, gets at the right kind of waiting by telling the story of the animals preparing the stable for the guest who is coming to their house.  The story is very simple and reads in about 2 minutes, but makes more sense when listeners can see the wonderful art of the animals.  So plan to project it or to show the pictures to children gathered around you.

' Another theme running through these texts is the call to wake up.  Such calls are a daily reality for most children.  So, compare these texts with a parent’s call “Wake up you sleepy heads!  Don’t sleep your life away!  There is a wonderful day out there just waiting for you!”  Talk about turning on the light (and maybe trying to hide your eyes under the blankets).  Rephrase the prophet (and the parents) “Wake up you sleepy Christians!  Don’t sleep your life away because God is doing amazing things in the world.  You can be part of them!”

' Use an alarm clock for the Call to Worship.  Begin with it ringing.  Then launch into a call and response something like

Leader:          Wake up, you sleepy Christians!
People:          The night is gone.  The day is here.
Leader:          Be ready because God is at work in the world.
People:          Let us worship and serve God together.

' Often lighting the candles of the Advent Wreath is simply a way of counting down the Sundays until Christmas.  It is the sanctuary version of an Advent calendar.  To connect it to the advent call to join God at work in the world, compare lighting the candles to turning on the porch light or putting a candle in the window.  They are ways of saying we are ready, you are welcome, come in.  Often we turn these lights on while we are setting the table, sweeping the floor, and cooking dinner.  Compare those preparations to working with God to bring God’s love into the world.  Then, light the first candle of the wreath to say, “We are ready.  God you are welcome here.”  Read Matthew 24:44 - “Therefore you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected moment.”  If possible light the candle later in the service maybe as the affirmation of faith following the sermon.  If it must be lit earlier, point to it and recall its meaning as you work through this discussion.

' Take the Advent candles to another level by encouraging worshipers to become Advent candles themselves.  This week their job as a candle is simply to watch for times when they can add light, fun, love, kindness when they can see it is needed.

'     “This Little Light of Mine” and “We Are Marching in the Light of God/ Siyahamba” become Advent hymns in this context.

'      This Little Light of Mine, by E. B. Lewis, illustrates the hymn with pictures from the day of young African American boy.  As you flip through the book point out all the ways the boy let’s his light shine and what a difference it makes in his world.  Then challenge young worshippers to create their own book with pictures of themselves letting their light shine.

Traditional Advent Hymns
(for today or later in Advent)

' O Come, O Come Emmanuel has a sound that fascinates children and is filled with words that are totally beyond them.  To begin singing it with understanding they need to be introduced to only one word and then invited into the sound.  The word is Emmanuel, God is With Us.  It is both a nickname for Jesus who is God With Us and a reminder that God is indeed with us always.  Before singing, briefly explain that to the children and everyone.  To invite the children into the sound, point out the sad descriptions of all the problems in the verses and the happy sound of the refrain’s reminder that God is with always even when things look bad.  Encourage children who might have trouble with the words in the verses to sing the chorus.  Even take time to rehearse the chorus with everyone.  It would even be possible for the choir to sing the sad verses and the congregation to respond by singing the hope filled refrain.

' Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is another song that is all about the feel of the music.  The ideas are complex, but focus on the “more that we can understand,” goosebumpy beautiful fact that God came among us as a little baby.  

' Watchman Tell Us of the Night is another song that is best understood when sung antiphonally by either a choir and the congregation or two halves of the congregation.  In either case one group becomes the Traveler singing the first and third lines and the other group becomes the watchman singing the second and fourth lines.
The Texts
Isaiah 2:1-5

Public Domain Worldwide - Wikimedia Commons
' This text features the well-known prophecy about swords being turned into plows and spears into pruning hooks.  For children that means two vaguely known items are being turned into two totally unfamiliar items.  If we provide the details about the weapons and tools, they quickly grasp the message.  So take time to illustrate how swords can be made into plows and how a plow is used.  Because the pruning hook used in gardens today is hard to visualize being made from a spear, and because one prop is enough anyway, skip the pruning hook.
* Bring a sword (toy or real) or a poster board sword (perhaps created by an artistic parishioner) and a picture of an old fashion plow.  If the sample is flexible, show how it could be bent to be used as a plow.  Then read verse 4 again and rephrase it something like, “God promises that there will be a time when everyone gets along.  It will be so peaceful that people won’t need swords and other weapons anymore.  So, they will turn them into garden tools.”  Challenge the children to watch for swords turned into plows in the prayers and songs of the church during Advent.  (Make sure to provide them a sample or two in today’s worship.)
* If yours is an imaginative group, imagine together peaceful uses for modern weapons, e.g. think of cool things you could do if an aircraft carrier were turned into a cruise ship – take off from the short runway, land with a jolt on the hook, riding in helicopters, holding sports events and big dances.   Send the children back to their seats to reform other weapons to peaceful uses.
 ADVENT WREATH WARNING:  If you focus on this text, it is tempting to light the first candle of the Advent Wreath for peace.  But the texts for the second Sunday almost demand that that Sunday be the Sunday for peace.  Lighting today’s candle for watchful waiting – for peace among God’s other promises – is a better idea. 

Psalm 122

' Though it is the first Sunday of Advent, it is also the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend in the USA.  Children have been feasting on pilgrims, Indians and thanks for country.  So, focus on vv. 6-9.  Present it to the children as a prayer for Jerusalem by people who lived there.  Together identify prayers for your town, state and nation.  We want the same peace that the people in Jerusalem wanted.  Children will be able to add prayers for people who are caught up in current problems or disasters, prayers for a variety of leaders, prayers for schools and other local institutions, etc.  Either offer a prayer that incorporates what the children have said as you sit with them.  Or, begin the congregation’s prayers with the prayers the children have identified.  This is most effective if the congregation’s prayers immediately follow the time with children.  

Romans 13:11-14

' If you plan to devote time to Paul’s list of sins to avoid, note that the last pair – fighting and jealousy – fit children.  Avoiding fighting and jealousy during Advent is a worthy discipline.  List examples such as fighting among siblings while traveling or when stuck home for the long holiday weekend.  Point out how easy it is to get jealous and get the “I wants” as Christmas gets closer.  Paul says we can be better than that.  We are Jesus’ people.  We can stop the fighting and work on not getting so greedy. 

This could be a children’s time or could be dealt with in the middle of the sermon.  “Listen up children, I think Paul wrote this especially for you, maybe especially during December….”

' Introduce Advent waiting on the first Sunday of Advent by getting out a set of nativity figures for use in the sanctuary.  Set aside all the angels and the baby.  Place the shepherds and some sheep in one area of the worship center, the traveling magi in another, and Mary and Joseph in separate areas.  In the stable area place the empty manger and animals.  As you do, talk about what each set of characters was probably doing.  Then read Romans 13.11.  Note that it is a message to each of those people waiting for Jesus to be born AND it is a message to us.  We need to wake up and pay attention, too.  God is at work all around us. 

FYI This year a shepherd might be turned into John the Baptist and set near the empty manger just for that day on the second Sunday of Advent.  Mary moves to the manger on the third Sunday (if you read the Magnificat that week).  Joseph (and Mary if you did not move her on the third Sunday) move on the fourth Sunday.  The Shepherds move on Christmas Eve and the baby is placed in the manger.  The wise men wait until Epiphany. 

' Invite worshipers over the weeks of Advent to add a straw around manger for each good deed done.  Provide a basket of pre-cut short straws on the floor near the table.  People can bring their straws before or after worship or even during the offertory.  The good deeds of watchful waiting become the setting for the crèche figures as they are moved to the manger at Christmas.

Matthew 24:36-44

This is probably the least accessible text today for children.  Fortunately, its theme of being prepared runs through the other texts.  So, in this post you have already found or can go back to find…

' An Advent Wreath lighting suggestion based on
verse 44.

' A call to become Advent candles shining God’s light into the world

' Plans for exploring and singing three Advent hymns about waiting

' Directions for unpacking the crèche with attention to how the characters were waiting for Jesus’ birth

' An advent discipline: avoiding fighting and jealousy during December

Unpack the Chrismon ornaments and display only the one that fits today – Christ over the world.  Briefly introduce Chrismons and tell when the tree will appear.  Explain today’s ornament pointing out that it says what Matthew says in today’s text.  God/Christ is the biggest power in the world and rules over the world always.  God rules over the world way before Christmas and will rule over the world forever.  Hang it on a small hook in front of deep blue or purple Adventy fabric in a prominent place at the front of the sanctuary until time for it to go on the tree.

Year A - Second Sunday of Advent (December 8, 2013)

Peace and Hope are the key themes that run through all of these texts.  For children (and most worshipers) the key to both themes is found in the Isaiah reading and echoed in the others.

Music of Peace and Hope

'' “Canto de Esperanza/ Song of Hope” which is short and upbeat chorus celebrating hope and peace is easy for children to learn and repeat with the congregation.  Sing it as you light the Advent Wreath for Hope or as the Benediction at the close of the service.  Take time to practice it once before singing it several times.  Rhythm instruments are a great addition – especially in the hands of rehearsed players.

'' If you are devoting time each week of Advent to exploring as well as singing one Christmas carol, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” is a good choice for today.  Many of the words and phrases are hard for young readers, but if you walk through the carol putting the words of each verse into your own words, the children (and older worshipers) will begin to get it and sing it with more understanding.
  1. One quiet night there really were angels singing.
  2. Those angels could be heard over all the unhappiness and evil on earth.
  3. People who are having really hard times are called to listen to the angels and remember that God is working for a time when all will be peace, i.e. keep hope.
  4. A reminder that Isaiah had it right.  God is working toward a time of peace.

Chrismon for Today

'' The star Chrismon ornaments today become signs of hope.  Connect them to Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things” (find a copy at Gratefulness).  He speaks of hope in terms of “feeling day-blind stars above him.”  Like Isaiah he knows the stars are there even when he cannot see them during the daylight and trusts that God is there even when it feels like God is nowhere around.

The Texts

Hicks, Edward, 1780-1849. Peaceable Kingdom, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved August 30, 2013]. Original source:

Isaiah 11:1-10
'' Though the hope comes first in the text, the peace that begins in verse 6 with all the animals is the part that speaks most clearly to children.  Advent liturgy is filled with references to Isaiah’s lion and the lamb image.  Isaiah’s promise that God intends peace for both animals and people is as powerful for children as it is for adults.  Children, especially those who live caught in the crossfire at home, at school, and in their neighborhood, find deep comfort and hope in this promise.  But they need to explore its physical details before they can grasp its message.  

'' Download Edward Hicks painting of the Peaceable Kingdom from the Vanderbilt Divinity School library at This LINK .  The site offers the painting in three sizes for free download and use in non-commercial ways as long as the attribution is printed with it.  Today you might print it as large as possible to share with a small group of children who gather for a children’s time and/or print it as a bulletin cover or smaller illustration within the order of service.  (BTW this wonderful site provides a selection of free art to download for each Sunday of the lectionary year.) 

'' Show the painting to the children.  Help them identify the animals they see in it.  Talk about the problems some of those animals have getting along, e.g. lions tend to eat lambs for dinner.  If no child notices them, point to the people in the background.  Note that when Mr. Hicks painted this picture Indians and white settlers were at war, but that the people in the picture seem to be talking peaceably.  Finally read Isaiah’s promise that one day all animals and all people will get along (vv.6-9 only).

'' After presenting Hick’s picture, encourage children to create other pictures of animals that usually don’t get along, being together.  Children can put pictures in offering plate, bring them forward to talk to pastor while the offering is being collected, or work on them during sermon, then come forward before the congregation’s prayers to discuss their work and have their hopes added to congregation’s prayers.

'' Or gather animal figures in surprising pairs to place around the empty manger just for today.  You might add photographs of people who often do not get along to also place in surprising pairs at the manger.  Conclude the discussions by rereading verses 6-9 and praying for peace.  (Borrow animal figures from the nursery toy box or ask children to bring stuffed animals for this.)

'' Light the second candle of the Advent wreath for God’s promised peace.  Reread Isaiah 11:6-9 as you light the wreath.  Pray for peace at home, at school, at work, in the nation, in the world….

'' If you are thinking together about being Advent candles, this week encourage worshipers to be Advent candles for Peace, i.e. to look for situations in which they can be peacemakers.  Challenge them to notice people who are not getting along, to think of one thing they might do that could help them get along better, and to pray for peace between them.

'' The HOPE in the earlier verses also speaks to children.

'' They need help identifying two different kinds of hope.  Start with “I hope I get a bicycle for Christmas” as something I hope will happen but which I can’t be sure of.  The second kind of hope is the hope based on things you can be sure will be true – one day.  Isaiah says that one day God’s kingdom will cover the whole earth with peace and justice.  We can count on that.  Because we can count on it, we don’t get totally hopeless when things are not going well AND we can do our part to make the promise come true.

'' If your congregation uses hopeful blue rather than penitential purple during Advent, point out all the blue in the sanctuary today.  Explain that it is the blue of the sky just before dawn.  Note that Isaiah is telling people that we are living “just before the dawn” of God’s peace and justice.  Even though it feels dark and cold now, we know for a fact what is coming.

'' To further explore the significance of the dark before the dawn, read “the First New Year” in Does God Have a Big Toe? By Marc Gellman.  The story describes Adam experiencing his first sunset and learning about time.  The message is that God is planning for a future.  The sun will keep coming up.  We can trust that.  (The story can be read aloud in 6 minutes with time for laughter.)

'' I can’t quite figure out all the details in my head, but am wondering if a congregation could plan to tie their Christmas gifts with gold ribbon only.  The gold would be a reminder of Isaiah’s promise of God’s coming peace and justice.  If anyone has ideas about how to develop this, I’d love to hear them.

This is my photo.  You may use it
for non-commercial purposes.

'' Pictures help children understand what a Jesse tree is.  Show them a picture.  Challenge worshipers to watch for and bring in pictures of Jesse trees in your community.

'' To understand the significance of this image, worshipers need a brief clear account of the Old Testament situation to which Isaiah wrote.

When the Babylonians conquered God’s people, they burned their city, killed most of the important people, even lined up all the king’s sons to kill in front of him just before they poked out his eyes.  YECH!  That was a terrible thing to do!  They did it because they wanted God’s people to know that they had no hope.  Their old nation was as dead as an old dead tree stump.  Isaiah agreed that it looked that way at the moment, but he reminded people that some old tree stumps send up fresh shoots that grow into new trees.  He insisted that that would happen with God’s people.

'' A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope , by Michael Foreman, is one of those stories that can be heard on many levels.  Children will simply connect the grape vine that grows over the barbed wire fence with the shoots that grow out of the Jesse tree stump.  Adults will see that connection but also realize the connection to all the refugee camps in the war-torn Middle East at the time.  So the story would be well worth sharing with the entire congregation as a summary of hope.  If you project pictures during worship, scan the pictures to show as you read.  (If you buy a copy of the book and do not give your scanned show to anyone else to use elsewhere, I am told it is not a copyright infringement.)

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

'' To turn this psalm into a prayer for today’s leaders, begin by brainstorming a list of leaders together.  Include political leaders of all persuasions, leaders in your community, coaches, teachers, and other leaders of children.  Then adapt the first few words of each line (mainly the pronouns) to make the psalm into a prayer for those leaders.  Groups 1 and 2 could be the two sides of the congregation or the congregation and the choir.

h h h h h h h h h h h h

A Prayer for Leaders Based on Psalm 72

Group 1:       Give our leaders your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to their children.

Group 2:       May they judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.

Group 1:       May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
                           and the hills, in righteousness.

Group 2:       May they defend the cause of the poor
                              of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

Group 1:       May they live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon,
throughout all generations.

Group 2:       May they be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.

Group 1:       In their days may righteousness flourish and
                           peace abound,
until the moon is no more.

Group 2:       Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.

Group 1:       Blessed be their glorious names forever;

Group 2:       May their glory fill the whole earth.

All:                  Amen and Amen.

                                                                        Based on NRSV

h h h h h h h h h h h h
Romans 15:4-13

'' Verse 7 is the summary of this message and the easiest part for children to understand.  (The remainder of the text gets involved with circumcision and Gentiles and Jesse stumps which need explaining.)  Verse 7 makes sense on its own.  “Get along with each other!”

'' Present pictures of a variety of very different people (old National Geographics are a good source).  Offer some odd pairs. Include some international photos and some pictures of people who could be local, e.g. an elegantly dressed person and a roughly dressed person displaying a tattoo.  Ask what would be hard for these people to get along.  Close by reading verse 7 from a Bible (perhaps bringing the big pulpit Bible down and reading from it) and pointing out that we are to be friends with all people. 

If your congregation uses projected pictures, project pictures of unusual looking people during the singing about getting along.

Or, place the paired pictures around the empty manger as you pray for them.

'' Light the second candle of the Advent wreath not just for Peace, but for “Peace Among All People.”  Pray for people who often do not get along.

''  “Help Us Accept Each Other” is a sing-able new hymn that offers prayers for people working to get along with each other.

'' Turn verse 13 into a benediction with arm movements.  Either invite the children to join you at the front to help you send the congregation out into the week.  They do the movements while you say the words.  Or, have all worshipers do the movements standing at their pews while you speak.

May God, the source of hope, fill you with joy
     (sweep hands from toes to face)

and peace through your faith in him.
     (do it again)

Then you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
     (sweep hands from toes up over your head then spread
      outward to hug the whole world)

                                           From God’s Word Translation

 Matthew 3:1-12

'' This year John the Baptist appears on two Sundays in Advent (this week and next).  Today’s text focuses on the most difficult of John’s teachings for children to understand.  So, during children’s time tell John’s story in terms children will understand using your favorite Bible story book.  The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton, has a good story about John the Baptist.  I’d use only the first half of the story, saving the last half for Baptism of the Lord Sunday in January.  This story can either be read directly from the book or used as background for telling the story in your own words. 

'' Another way to retell the story of John the Baptist is to pick up a shepherd from the crèche.  Present it to the children noting that there is one person who is never in Nativity sets, but really ought to be.  He probably looked most like the shepherds.  Describe what he wore and ate.  Then tell what he did.  He called people to admit what they were doing that they knew was wrong and did anyway.  He baptized them to show them that God forgave them and would give them another chance.  He also told them God was sending someone very special indeed.  With that, put the figure near the empty manger just for today.