Thursday, November 13, 2014

Year B - The Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 21, 2014)

Christmas falls on Thursday this year.  Christmas Eve is not until Wednesday evening.  So there may still be folks around on Sunday who are taking a deep breath before they leave town or all the family descends on them.  Some of them will not be in church on Christmas Eve.  That makes it a great chance to worship around the Advent Christmas message.  Many congregations will build this service around a cantata or pageant.  The possibilities are endless. 

No matter what you plan excitement and expectation will be at a fever pitch among the children.  Let them know that the church knows that by remembering in the congregation’s prayers all the excitement about upcoming visits with friends and relatives and the hopes for presents.  Also pray for help dealing with selfishness and tired crabbiness that can get in the way of all the fun this week.

And, if you are working mainly with the texts for the day….

This is Mary’s Sunday.  Children need to hear the Annunciation Story before they hear the Magnificat.  And, they need to be introduced to the words “Annunciation” and “Magnificat” before they are used during the service. 

Because it is Mary’s Sunday, I am commenting on the Annunciation story and the Magnificat first, then turning to the Old Testament texts and the Epistle.

Invite teenage girls to light the Advent candles today.

The Texts for Today

Luke 1:26-38

This is a long story.  Help children listen by planning the reading carefully.

**** Bring the Mary crèche figure to the lectern before reading this story and the Magnificat.  Leave it there for the rest of the service.  Or, have the reader return it to the crèche after reading.

**** Have this story read by a teenage girl.

**** Invite a teenage girl to read Mary and an older man to read the angel while you read the narrator in the script below.

? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? !

Luke 1:26-38

Narrator:  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. He had a message for a young woman promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. Her name was Mary.  The angel came to her and said,

Angel:  Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!

Narrator:  Mary was deeply troubled by the angel’s message, and she wondered what his words meant.  The angel said to her,

Angel:  Don’t be afraid, Mary.  God has been gracious to you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!”

Mary: How can this happen?  I am not married.

Angel:  The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God.  Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. For there is nothing that God cannot do.

Mary:  I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.

Narrator:  The Word of the Lord

Based on the TEV and CEV combined for the most
child – friendly conception vocabulary for children.

? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? !

**** The challenge with children is to help them see Mary less as a passive, gentle, agreeable person and more as a prophet who saw God at work in her world and was willing to take big risks to be part of the action.  Sweet Christmas cards and years of children’s pageants make this a very real challenge.  Little girls are especially prone to over-sweeten Mary.  They need to hear stories of fights over who gets to be Mary in pageants embedded in thoughtful comments about what Mary might really have been like.  The story and the Magnificat insist that she was a strong, brave, active young woman who was aware of the realities of her world.  That’s a good role model for today’s children, especially today’s girls.

For an alternate portrayal of Mary, turn to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson: 
Since none of the Herdmans had ever gone to church or Sunday school or read the Bible or anything, they didn’t know how things were supposed to be.  Imogene, for instance didn’t know that Mary was supposed to be acted out in one certain way - sort of quiet and dreamy and out of this world.  The way Imogene did it, Mary was a lot like Mrs. Santoro at the Pizza Parlor.  Mrs. Santoro is a big fat lady with a little skinny husband and nine children and she yells and hollers and hugs her kids and slaps them around.  That’s how Imogene’s Mary was – loud and bossy.  “Get away from the baby!” she yelled at Ralph, who was Joseph.  And she made the Wise Men keep their distance.

**** Another thing about Mary that is important to children is that she is a nobody.  She was a poor girl living in a rural village in an occupied country.  Everyone around her discounted her.  But God did not.  This gives everyone else who feels like a nobody the assurance that God values them too.  God has work and a plan for them.  They have to be ready to do it.

**** To suggest to children that they like Mary are capable of doing amazing things for God tell stories of other brave, outspoken young people.  Malala Yousafzai who won the Nobel Peace Prize this year started a blog crusading for education for all children, especially girls, in her country of Pakistan.  Even when men tried to kill her, she (like Mary who had to run into the night with Jesus to escape Herod) did not stop.  Closer to home there are often stories in the papers this time of year of teenagers who spearhead food drives or gather gifts for children in need.

**** Mary said yes to the Angel’s request.  But she could have offered any of a number of excuses.  Children enjoy pondering them.  For example,

“But I am planning my wedding!  There is so much to do.  Can’t this wait?”

“What will people think of me?  Will they say and do really mean things?  I’m not sure I could take that.”

“My parents would be furious!  They’ll never believe this.  They will say I have ruined the family’s name.”

“What would Joseph say and do?  I don’t think he would believe me.”

“I really might not be a good mother for such a son.  I’m too young.  I don’t even babysit that much.  I don’t know what I am doing most of the time.”

**** Children tend to take the Virgin Birth literally.  Some have little grasp of conception yet.  Others are fully aware of what is involved.  Most giggle when words like “womb” are used.  It is also a fact that being born “out of wedlock” is not quite the big deal today it was when Gabriel visited Mary.  The simplest way to talk about it (if it comes up) is to refer to the phrase “Jesus was born of woman as is every child, yet born of God’s power as was no other child” (from “A Declaration of Faith” of the old Presbyterian Church in the United States).

**** Two hymns tell the annunciation story.  Read the story from the Bible first after alerting people to listen to this story because we are going to sing it after we hear it.

“The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” is shorter and includes a chorus which can be introduced and rehearsed for the sake of young readers before the congregation sings it.

“”To a Maid Engaged to Joseph” is longer and therefore offers more details. 

**** Other child friendly carols about Mary include “There’s A Song in the Air,’’ “Gentle Mary Laid Her Child” and “What Child Is This?” (Young readers can join in on the repeated chorus when that is suggested.)  

**** “Here I Am” is usually listed as a confirmation or ordination hymn.  But, today it is a perfect response to Mary’s story.  Instead of an affirmation of faith following the sermon, invite the congregation to sing the hymn as a way of stating their intent to respond to God at work in the world as Mary did.  It can be sung in unison or responsively with the choir or a soloist singing God’s verses and the congregation responding with the “Here I am” choruses.

**** According to tradition, Mary’s flower is the rose.  So somewhere among all the poinsettias find space a single rose in a vase today.  It could be put near the pulpit, the crèche, or on the central table paired with the crèche figure for Mary.  If you sing “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” walk through the words of the two short verses taking time to point out and explain some of the references to Mary.  If you have a rose Chrismon ornament on the tree, point it out.  GO THE COMMENTS TO MAKE SENSE OF THIS SUGGESTION AND BE REMINDED TO PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU KNOW.

Luke 1:46b – 55

**** The Magnificat is best read by a teenage girl.  To help her get into the mood of the song, tell her about a picture of Mary with her hair in braids, wearing a t shirt, rolled up jeans and high-top tennis shoes.  (The photo collage I saw is copyrighted, but you easily can imagine it.)  Practice with the reader to get the feisty reading the song implies.

Set the context before the reading by bringing the Mary figure from the crèche to the lectern.  If you have not already read the Annunciation story, briefly tell it.  Leave the figure on the lectern, and step aside for the young reader.   You may want to keep the figure there for the remainder of the service perhaps referring to it when appropriate during the sermon or plan for the reader to return it to the crèche after she reads.

**** When read today, this song is all about Mary’s joy.  Mary is not in a safe, happy situation.  She is an unwed teenage mother-to-be.  But, she is full of joy because she is doing something huge for God.  God has trusted her to be the mother of Jesus!  One paraphrase I read included two phrases children and youth will especially appreciate,

“God did not say, ’she is just a girl’.”  God took Mary seriously, trusted her, and put her to work.

“The rich, for all their wealth and status, can go suck lemons.”  The rich here would include anyone who thinks they are better than she is.  Mary was a poor nobody, but God chose her not someone rich and famous and important to be Jesus’ mother.  So, all those people who look down on her can just go suck lemons. 

**** All this leads me to wonder what Mary’s t shirt might have said.  It might be fun to play with the possibilities during the sermon and challenge worshipers to imagine, even design, t shirts for Mary to wear as she sings her joyful song.

**** Point out that Magnificat is Latin for “I praise God for.”  Read the poem and identify what Mary praised God for.  Then, give children a worship worksheet on which to create their own “I praise God for” poem or prayer. 

2 Samuel  7: 1-11, 16

**** Adults will enjoy the details of the play on the word “house” in this passage and will get it as it is read.  But, children who also enjoy riddles and word plays, will not get it without help from the worship leader.  So, point it out and explain it, then laugh together at God’s joke with David.  Then, read the text.

Help children get into word plays with a knock, knock joke such as….

Knock, Knock
Who’s there?
Apple  (repeat these lines 3 times)
Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Orange who?
Orange you glad I didn’t say apple again.

**** David was not to build a house for God because God is too big to be stuck in one little place.  Had David built God a house, everyone would assume that God lived only there, would know they could go there to talk to God, and would assume God wouldn’t bother them any place else.  We are getting a big lesson on how God moves around in the next weeks.  God becomes a human baby with a poor teenage mother.  God sends angels sing to shepherds working the fields.  Sages cross a desert to see the king God is raising up, but find him in a manger rather than in a palace.  So, we need to be looking for God moving around in the world today and join in God’s activity.

**** Send worshipers out of this “house”: At the end of the service point out all the Christmas decorations in the sanctuary, recall beautiful music you have heard and sung, then insist that we cannot stay here and God is not staying here.  God is way too big for this room and way too concerned for all the people who are not here.  God is going out into the world to find all the lonely, sad, trapped people in order to free them.  And, calls us to look for God there and help out.  So go out.  Watch for God at work and be ready to get involved.  And, the peace of God will be with you and with the whole world.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

On this Sunday this psalm requires for too much introduction and too many reminders of stories about David to catch and hold the attention of children.

Romans 16:25-27

**** Save lighting the Advent wreath this day for the benediction.  At benediction time go to the wreath, point out that we are almost to Christmas, Wednesday night we will light the Christ Candle.  Then while lighting the candles paraphrase Paul’s words something like….

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, let us give glory to God
Who gives us the strength to stand firm
Who has shown us and all the world the mystery that was once hidden.
In the baby in the manger, the teacher, the healer, the one who died on a cross and rose again we meet God.
To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever!  Amen.

(maybe with a happy grin)  See you on Christmas Eve!


  1. I hate to poke holes in what you have posted...but in the hymn "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," the rose symbol actually refers to Jesus, not Mary (at least in the words I am familiar with), so it could be confusing to combine these two. Maybe we have different verses than you?

    1. Katie, you did not just poke holes in what I posted, you upended my whole understanding of both the rose symbol and this particular carol. Who knew! I have "known" since childhood that the rose was for Mary and managed to sing the song and celebrate the rose for all these years never tumbling to what was before me. So thank you. Experiences like this are important reminders to pay attention to what we "know."


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