** The Feast of Saint Nicholas is on December 6th (the Saturday before these texts are read this year). Saint Nicholas was a wealthy boy who dedicated his life to caring for others. There are all sorts of colorful stories of his aiding groups of people who then adopted him as their patron saint. In one connected to Christmas he saved three sisters from being sold because their family could not afford dowries for them. Nicholas threw three bags of gold through their windows at night. Saint Nicholas, by Ann Tompert, is a picture book with a child-friendly telling of many of the stories about Nicholas. An Author’s Note at the end details how he morphed over the centuries into Santa Claus. The book is much too long to be read as a whole in worship. Either read one or two stories about Nicholas from it or use it as background to tell about Saint Nicholas in your own words. However you present his story, today is a good opportunity to connect the real Santa Claus to the Advent teachings about God’s work for justice.
Give each child (or each worshiper) a small mesh sack of chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil with the challenge to give coins to people in honor of Saint Nicholas. Suggest that they might give some to family and friends, but could also do like Saint Nicholas and give some of them to people who will be happily surprised that someone cares about them. (Check local discount stores or Google “chocolate coins.”)
** Build a Call to Worship on Isaiah’s and John the Baptist’s calls: Begin with a trumpet fanfare. A male soloist then says or sings Isaiah 40:3-5. A processional hymn, maybe “Joy to the World,” follows. (Children will not understand every word of this carol, but will respond to the pageantry and be able to join on the repeated phrases in the chorus.)
** The Mark and John readings both call us to get to work with God. Emphasize this with the lighting of the Advent Wreath.
If the congregation regularly says an affirmation of faith during worship, choose one about God at work in the world. Light the first two candles of the wreath as the congregation says it together.
Or, tie the lighting of the wreath to the offering. Invite all worshipers to tear off a corner of their bulletin and write their name on it. As the offering plates are passed, urge them to drop both their money gift and their name into the plate as a sign to God that they are willing and ready to join God at work in the world. Light the candles as the offering baskets are presented at the front.
|Used by permission. Go to|
** Isaiah and Mark both call us to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Help children grasp this image by exploring the art Blessing the Way. After briefly pondering what the phrase means, point out the stepping stones in the picture. Suggest that they might be “the way of the Lord.” Imagine that they began way behind us and are going into the future. People who lived before us (like some we read about in the Bible) walked on this way years ago. We are called to walk on it today. Imagine all the places the path has already been and wonder where it may be heading. Name some of the places you see the path going today (through the soup kitchens, etc.) Challenge children to do things to prepare the way of the Lord between now and Christmas.
** The call to work for justice while waiting for God is all through today’s texts. The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate, by Janice Cohn, tells the true story about the townspeople of Billings, Montana who put drawings of menorahs in their windows in response to a hate group which had thrown a rock through the menorah decorated bedroom window of a Jewish boy. The story is told from the perspective of the boy and the young Christian friends who rally around him. The book takes way too long to read in worship. But, it would be a great story to tell in your own words during the sermon.
The Texts for Today
** The Roman Catholic lectionary omits verse 6-8. Not a bad idea. The remaining verses are shorter and more focused. Something to consider.
** This is a DURING Exile reading, actually near the very end of the Exile. Remind listeners of the BEFORE, DURING, AFTER Exile context for Advent prophecies. Stop after reading verses 1 and 2 to ask whether this is BEFORE, DURING, or AFTER Exile. Point out that is DURING but at the very end and looking forward to going home. Then encourage listeners to hear the remaining verse imagining how it felt to hear those words after years of being forced to live a hard life in a foreign country.
** This is God’s call to Second Isaiah. Basically God says that Isaiah is to speak a word of comfort to people who feel they are worthless and that God has abandoned them. The language of the NRSV is difficult for children, but important to older worshipers. (Other translations just don’t “sound right.”) Help the children follow the NRSV by presenting it as the conversation it is with three readers. (I have followed the suggestion of several commentators who feel that the quotation marks in the NRSV are in the wrong places.)
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Isaiah 40:1-11 is a conversation between God and Isaiah. It was Isaiah’s call to be a prophet, but it also speaks to us today. Hear the word of the Lord.
Comfort, O comfort my people.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Narrator: A voice says,
God: “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.”
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
Based on NRSV
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** “Comfort, Comfort You My People” is one way to sing this text. Simply point this fact out and sing it immediately after reading it. For added impact have verse 2 sung by a male soloist who takes the role of the herald (or John the Baptist?)
** Literal thinking children will hear verses 3-5 as a call for a massive construction project. They depend on the worship leaders to identify very specific ways we can prepare the way of the Lord today. Cite examples from the congregations ministries being sure to include some in which children participate.
** The verse 11 image of God tending the people like a good shepherd tends a flock offers two good Advent connections for children.
1. Pick up one of the shepherds in the creche. Talk about what shepherds do to take care of sheep. Then read verse 11. Describe the shepherd-like ways God takes care of us, i.e. provides food, walks with us in the dangerous places, rescues us when we get into trouble, etc. This could be a children’s time or could be done at some point in the Sermon.
2. Read verse 11, briefly identifying ways God cares for us like a shepherd cares for sheep. Then display one of the shepherd’s crook crosses from the Chrismon Tree. You might even give all children (or all worshipers) white or gold pipe cleaners (one about 10-12 inches long, one about 3 inches for the cross piece) with which to twist an ornament to put on their tree at home.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
** Introduce the poetry of personification as talking about something invisible as if it were a person. Read verse 10 (“steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss”). Laugh a little at the mental picture this produces – or simply refuses to produce. Then, explain that the psalmist’s word pictures are telling us what God does. Do this at the beginning of the sermon. Then, assign sermon seatwork. Challenge the children to draw pictures of steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, or peace. Show them a picture you have drawn of your family and explain how it is a picture of steadfast love. Brainstorm briefly about other pictures – e.g. a dog for faithfulness, a picture of a family doing something together you all love to do for peace, even a picture of bringing food for the food drive for righteousness. As you preach, at some point make a reference to the assigned task perhaps saying, “now that is a picture of ….” Invite children to post their work on a bulletin board nearby, tape it to a rail at the front, or lay it on the floor around the Advent Wreath. Post the one you drew there as a starter.
2 Peter 3:8-15a
** Behind many of the Advent texts is a call to understand time in God’s expansive terms rather than our own human terms. The older we get the faster time seems to fly. But, children have experienced only a few years. So short times seem huge to them. The time since last Christmas or even the beginning of school feels enormous. As they wait for Christmas during Advent, it seems Christmas will never come. They are fascinated by verse 8’s puzzling claim “with the Lord a thousand years is like one day and one day is like a thousand years.” Explore time with questions like “which is longer an hour spent doing really hard homework or an hour spent playing a video game?” (This is not an easy question for elementary school children to sort out!) Talk about the value of spending an hour playing with your little brother so your parent can cook supper for the whole family. (That food will keep the whole family going for hours and the fun around the table will make the family closer and happier for an even longer time.) The Advent texts call us to measure time in God’s terms.
** There is no way to read Just a Second, by Steve Jenkins, in worship. But spending a few minutes with it on your own will set you up for a discussion with young worshipers about time. Pages depict what happens in a second, a minute, an hour…. At the end there are interesting charts. I would use one depicting lifespsans ranging from a mayfly that lives 30 minutes to a Bristlecone pine that is 4,800 years old to talk about God’s view of time and ours.
** The Alpha and Omega symbol insists that God is at the beginning and the end of all time. In kid words, God was before anything and when everything is totally over, God will still be there. Point the symbol out wherever it appears in your sanctuary or on the paraments. If you have a Chrismon tree, display the Alpha-Omega ornament or point it out on the tree.
** The remainder of this passage deals with waiting for the Day of the Lord. One preacher humorously titled his sermon “God is Coming! Look Busy!” During the month when children are totally caught up in waiting for Santa or at least in “what will I get?” it is almost impossible for them not to get Peter’s urging to be “good” while waiting confused with all the “Santa is watching” talk. There is no way to explain the difference in the two that makes sense at their age. So, I’d suggest skipping it with children.
** Go to Advent 1 (Year B) for ideas about singing “O Come, O Come Emanuel” or “Watchman Tell Us of the Night.”
** Mama Miti, by Donna Jo Napoli, tells the story of Wangari, a woman in Kenya, who responded to every woman who came to her with a problem by giving her seedings for a specific kind of tree to plant. As they grew the trees would help solve her problem. Slowly Kenya was covered with trees as it had been and people learned to live in peace with nature. Wangari was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. It takes 7 minutes to read the entire book aloud. An alternative would be to read the beginning, one or two of the women with problems and the end. Or read the book and refer to Wangari in your own words.
** To tell the story of John the Baptist, point out that there is one person who though he was not at the stable should probably be in the nativity set, but never is. Pick up one of the shepherd figures in the crèche. Explain that the shepherds probably looked most like John. Describe his way of dress and his food. Then tell his story fleshing out the details in Mark’s account. For the rest of the day display the figure on or near the baptismal font. Key parts of the story for children include:
- John was Jesus’ cousin
- How John dressed and ate
- John told people they had forgotten how to live like God’s people and needed to make changes
- John baptized people who heard him and wanted to make those changes
- John promised that someone was coming from God who was going to be very Important
- John baptized Jesus – I’d use this as the stopping point noting that we’ll hear that story on Jan 8, after Christmas.
** The people who heard John preach did not find him in the Temple in town. They had to leave the city and go out to the river at the edge of the wilderness. The wise ones who were looking for the baby Jesus did not find him at the palace. Jesus was born in a stable and slept in a manger. Pick up the manger in the crèche and discuss the surprising places we find God at work. Encourage people to look for God is surprising places this week. Then either display the manger on the central table for the remainder of the service or add a small cactus plant to the crèche area to remind us of the surprising places God comes to us.
** If you project video clips during worship, show the section of The Lion King in which Raffiki, the baboon who is a prophet, seeks out Simba who has run away in guilt after his father was killed trying to save him in a stampede. Raffiki insists that Simba has forgotten who is he and leads him back home. In many ways Raffiki is like John the Baptist who preached to the people that they had forgotten that they were God’s people and urged them to change their ways and to get ready for the great thing God was about to do. (Thanks to Ann at Mustard Seeds.)
REPENT = CHANGE
** If you are going to be talking about repenting, make a big poster defining repent as change. Point out that John wanted people to change the way they were living. He wanted them to follow God’s law. Especially if the children in your congregation witness more infant than youth or adult baptisms, insist that people who asked John to baptize them were promising to make the changes John wanted. Even children find it hard to believe that they or anyone can change. John told people that they could change and that Jesus would give them even more power to make even bigger changes.