Saturday, August 31, 2013

Year A - Christmas Eve or Day (December 24 or 25, 2013)

There are three sets of texts for Christmas Eve/Day in the lectionary.  Most of the ideas here are for Christmas Eve, the service children are most likely to attend.  But at the end of the post you will find several items that are mainly for Christmas Day.  Also know that I have gathered here most of the ideas from previous posts for Years A, B and C. 

T Before we go to the details of what happens in the sanctuary, last year I ended up in the overflow seating area in the Fellowship Hall.  There were 7 of us who simply couldn’t squeeze into the small historic sanctuary of the church my husband is serving. A large circle of chairs had been prepared in the fellowship hall near the big beautiful Chrismon tree and a small crèche. We had bulletins, hymnals and candles for the candle lighting service. Sound, but no video, was piped in. Still one of us was four and a half years old and another was just over two. They were trying, but it was clearly not going to be a great hour for them. We ended up bringing in crayons and paper from a nearby church school room. The children colored quietly on the floor in our midst. Communion was brought from the sanctuary. Seeing how “into his candle” the older boy was, he and I went to the sanctuary and lit our candles in the back of the aisle and sang Silent Night there. He was mesmerized. What I am pondering is what if…
• there was a worship center in the middle of the circle on a low table?
• there was an Advent wreath that the children there could light as the one in the sanctuary was being lit?
• there was bread and cup on the table here to be passed among us rather than brought from the sanctuary?
• the crayons and paper were already there and the children invited to use them?
• someone was prepared to show the pictures from a Nativity picture book as the story was read over the speakers from the sanctuary?
• there was a worship leader there to act as host for the whole service?
IMHO older children should get priority for sanctuary seats where the feel of Christmas is strongest. But, maybe a well thought out overflow space would be especially welcoming to families with young children high on Christmas.  If you have created one of these, how about sharing with the rest of us in Comments.

The Texts

Isaiah 9:2-7

This is the most child-friendly of the set Isaiah readings.  Unfortunately, it is so long that children get lost in the middle.  For their sake, edit it to Isaiah 9:2, 6-7.

Psalm 98 is the best of the psalms for children.  It offers many short praises that children can join the congregation in reading.  Groups 1 and 2 might be the congregation and the choir or two halves of the congregation.   The reading is probably better suited to Christmas Day, but could also be a psalm for Christmas Eve.
% % % % % % % % % % % % % % % %
                                                               Psalm 98 

All:                  O sing to the Lord a new song,
                            for the Lord has done marvelous things.

Group 1:       The right hand and holy arm of the Lord
                            have won the victory
                        The Lord has made known this victory,
                            And showed righteousness
                               to all the nations.

Group 2:       The Lord has remembered steadfast love
                            and faithfulness to the house of Israel

All:                  All the ends of the earth have seen
                            the victory of our God.

Group 1:       Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
                            break forth into joyous song
                            and sing praises.

Group 2:       Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
                            with the lyre and the sound of melody.

All:                  With trumpets and the sound of the horn
                            Make a joyful noise before the King,
                                 the Lord.

Group 1:       Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
                            the world and those who live in it.

Group 2:       Let the floods clap their hands;
                            let the hills sing together for joy
                            at the presence of the Lord;
                            who is coming to judge the earth.

All:                  The Lord will judge the world
                            with righteousness,
                            and the peoples with equity. 

                    Based on the New Revised Standard Version
% % % % % % % % % % % % % % % %
Luke: 2:1-20

T  For the children on Christmas Eve, it is all about Luke’s story.  They are well served by services of lessons and carols that walk them through the story.  Do take care to select a few carols they likely know.  Go to Singing Christmas Carols in Worship With the Children for an annotated list of carols from which to choose.

TFor family oriented services, lessons and carols invite some visual drama to grab the attention of children hyped up on Christmas Eve.  As each lesson is read, costumed youth and adults move around the sanctuary as the stories are read.  (Christmas Eve excitement makes this not a good night for a children’s pageant.  Children do best watching the youth and adults who are the age of the originals walk through the story.  A child shepherding with a parent is one exception.)  Actors may speak or simply walk through their part as readers read.  Mary and Joseph walk up the center aisle leave out a side door.  Shepherds, angels and their reader may appear in the balcony.  The Magi may come one at the time bearing their gifts regally up the central aisle and bow in front until the end of the reading.  It is often easier not to build a final scene, but to have the characters leave the sanctuary after their reading.  This leaves space in the front for choirs, extra musicians, poinsettias, etc.  I have posted the script for such a service that was developed at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.  Find it at Family Friendly Christmas Eve Service of Lessons and Carols. 

T If you follow a more “standard” order of service, consider having the gospel read by several costumed shepherds.  They could be members of one family (families often stayed out together to care for the sheep) or a group of teens (bet they often got the overnight shift).  This version is set for three readers.  It could easily be adapted for more or fewer.  It would also be possible to have one reader read verses 1-7 about the birth, then let the shepherds take it from there.  The shepherds could read from the usual upfront Bible or around a microphone an unexpected corner of the sanctuary. 

 T T T T T T T T T T T T T T  

Luke 2:1-20

Shepherd One:   In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Shepherd Two:   Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

Shepherd Three:  While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Shepherd One:  In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Shepherd Two: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,

Shepherd Three:  and they were terrified.

Shepherd Two:   But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.   This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Shepherd Three: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Shepherd One:  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,

Shepherd Two:  “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

Shepherd Three:   So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

Shepherd One:  When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

All shepherds: This is the Word of the Lord!
                                               From The New Revised Version


T  If you have been moving crèche figures around the sanctuary during Advent, tonight is the night to add the baby and move the shepherds, sheep and angels into place.  If you have not displayed a crèche, add one tonight.  During a children’s time have the children help you retell the story as together you move or place the figures.  Or, let the children’s retelling of the story be the presentation of the scripture this night.  An unbreakable crèche is a real asset on this night when “accidents are prone to happen.”

Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)
T  This could be called God’s proud parent speech.  Use verses 1-3 to explore why Jesus and his birthday are so important.  Verses 2a -3 are an ancient hymn (for today’s purposes one of the first Christmas carols).  Using the script below, one leader could put the lines of the song into his/her own words to clarify them for the children while reading the psalm. Or, one leader could read the psalm with a second leader offering explanations in response to each line.  Particularly if you chose the latter, it might be wise to reread the text uninterrupted afterwards.
 c c c c c c c c c c c c c c c

Hebrews 1:1-3

In the past, God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets,
Recall Moses, King David and other familiar prophets who were God’s leaders

but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.
Jesus is different from all these wonderful people in the past.

He is the one through whom God created the universe,
           Jesus was present at the creation of the universe

the one whom God has chosen to possess all things at the end.
          Jesus will be there at the end of the world.

He reflects the brightness of God’s glory and is the exact likeness of God’s own being,
          Jesus isn’t like God, Jesus IS God.  Every story about Jesus
          is a story about God.

He sustains the universe with his powerful word.
          Jesus is present right now holding things together.

After achieving forgiveness for human sins,
         he sat down in heaven at the right-hand side of God,
         the Supreme Power.
 Jesus died on the cross and rose again forgiving us
 and now is with God.

Based on Today’s English Version

 c c c c c c c c c c c c c c c
John 1: 1-14

T Read the children’s version of this poem from Jesus,the Word, by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones.  Project or display the rich pictures.  Take time to savor this as both adults and children will enjoy it deeply.

T To introduce the Word in John’s Prolog to the children, start with familiar phrases about people and their words.
She’s as good as her word
You have my word for it
Do as I say (as well as as I do)
Actions speak louder than words
“Don’t speak of love, show me” – My Fair Lady
In response to words (about something), “Prove it!” (show me with your actions)
He’s all words (and no action)

T Consider giving them a printed copy of the text in which to underline WORD every time it appears.  Then read the text aloud.  As you explore it remember that for children it says

  • God is as good as God’s word
  • God IS with us in action
  • In Jesus every promise (every word God ever spoke) God ever made comes true

After the sermon, use the text as a congregational affirmation of faith.

T  Christmas Eve is also a good night for reading a children’s Christmas story.  Check out the evolving list at Christmas Story Books for Worship.

Two Ideas For Christmas Day
(or Some Other Time)

T Christmas morning is the day to sing all the loud, praise-filled carols.  Children enjoy the bigness of the sound and can be invited to sing along on the repetitive choruses.  For a different kind of lessons and carols experience take the congregation on a Christmas Joy treasure hunt.  In the carol section of your hymnal, direct worshipers to praise carols.  Briefly highlight something about each one you sing.  As you go, collect praise words.  (To go all out have word banners (Rejoice!, Gloria!, Noel!, etc.)  that match the various songs processed in and displayed as their song is sung.)  Christmas praise carols that are easy for children to sing include:

Angels From the Realms of Glory
  • To “Worship” is to say this is the most important person or thing in the world
  • Point out the repetitive chorus before singing it
  • “Come and Worship, Come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King!”

O Come All Ye Faithful!
  • “Adore” is another word for worship.  It means I think this is so perfect, wonderful, amazing that I can hardly stop looking at or thinking about it
  • Point out the repetitive chorus to encourage non-readers to join in
Angels We Have Heard on High
  • Translate the Latin chorus (“Gloria in excelsis Deo” means Glory to God in the highest, to the greatest, to the max….) and connect it to the angels’ song to the shepherds, then
  • Practice the words together before singing.  Get a musician to help people really enjoy the prolonged Gloria’s and to sing them to God.
Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!
  • “Rejoice!” is the key word
  • Also point out the repeated phrase “Christ is born today!” that even non-readers can sing
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
  • “Hark” is an old word that means pay attention or listen to this
  • “Glory” means awesome, amazing, wonderful…  as in “Glory to the newborn King!”
The First Nowell/Noel
  • Define “Nowell/Noel” as Good News

If do the praise carols singing, read and explore the early Christmas carol found in Hebrews 1.  See the notes in the Texts section above.


T December 25th is Jesus’ Birthday.  Many congregations have a birthday party for Jesus with children earlier in the season when more children will be present.  But it is possible to plan a worship service for all ages around the birthday theme on THE DAY.  Include some or all of the following:

Isaiah 9:1, 6-7 is the birth announcement.  Print it as a birth announcement on the front of the printed order of worship handed to worshipers or as a card handed to them as they enter the sanctuary.

Tell the story of the day he was born using the crèche.  Invite the children forward to help you tell the story.  Hand each child one of the crèche figures, then tell the story in your own words helping the children add their figure at the appropriate time.

Turn the prayers of intercession into a collection of birthday wishes for the world Jesus was born to love and save.  For example, “Jesus you healed the sick and injured people you met, today we wish for…..” or “Jesus, you forgave even the people who killed you, today we wish forgiveness for everyone in our world.  Help….”  In an informal setting worshipers might offer their own birthday wishes for Jesus and for the world.

If there will be a fellowship hour, have a birthday cake with candles.  Have it in the sanctuary so that you can sing the traditional birthday song for Jesus.  Ask the children to come blow out the candles.  (Either cover the cake with candles or arrange candles into 2013.)

Even there will be no cake, find a moment in which to sing the birthday song for Jesus.


T  Out of the sanctuary note:  Providing child care for infants and toddlers on Christmas Eve allows parents to take their older children to worship.  Many families will decide to stay home rather than risk taking their youngest to the sanctuary and thus miss out on Christmas worship.  And, some families try to bring children who are too tired and off schedule to make it through the service without causing pain to all around them.  So, hiring child care workers at even twice their normal hourly wage is a significant gift to the entire congregation.  If your usual staff are made aware of this well in advance, many will gladly arrange their plans to be at the church and reap the extra financial reward.

Merry Christmas!

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