The key words for today are JOY and REJOICE! They show up in most of the scripture texts for the day and will probably be found throughout the liturgy. Children (and many older worshipers) need to be reminded of the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness can be fleeting, e.g. having your favorite food for supper. Joy is deeper, more important to you, and can’t be taken away. Joy is knowing that your parents love you and will take care of you – always. Joy is knowing that you love your parents and will do all sorts of things to love them back. Joy is knowing that God is in charge of the world and is taking care of it – even when things are going all wrong at the moment.
*** Present one or both of these words on a big poster as part of the Call to Worship. Define them and encourage children to listen for them and even to count them. Have wrapped hard candies in your pocket for any child who offers anything close to the number of times the words appear upon leaving the sanctuary.
*** During the sermon display a poster that says “Choose JOY.” Explore the possibility of deciding to be joy-full. Most children assume that feelings just are and only change when the situation around us changes. Suggest that we can decide even on bad days to remember all the reasons we have for joy and refuse to get mopey. Suggest that choosing JOY is a good way to prepare for Christmas.
*** Give children small posters featuring the word joy spelled in balloon letters. Invite them to fill the letters and the rest of the page with joyful decorations and to post their poster where they will see it every day between now and Christmas (refrigerator door, bathroom mirror…).
*** There is a variety of Advent songs and carols that feature joy.
- “I’ve Got a Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart” includes verses about what causes this joy, e.g. “the love of Jesus,” “the peace that passes understanding,” etc.
- “I’ve Got Peace Like a River”…”I’ve got joy like a fountain….”
- “Joy To the World” includes many calls for joy. Before singing it today, walk through the words of verses 1. Verse 1 begins with a call for joy. “The Lord is come” says why we should be joy-filled. The remaining phrases tell us how to respond.
- The sad sounding verses and happy chorus of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” reminds us that it is possible to know joy in sad times. Children will have trouble with some of the words. Before singing it, practice the chorus together and highlight the word “Rejoice!” Consider singing in responsively with congregation responding to the choir, or one side of the congregation responding to the other.
- “Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart” fits the Sunday to a tee. At the very least practice the chorus so that children can join in on all the Rejoices there. Or, take time to briefly walk through the verses putting them into your own words noting the presence of people of all ages.
- “Come Christians Join to Sing” is not an Advent hymn, but it is filled with Alleluias and Rejoices that children can sing. It also very simply names the main reason for our joy – Jesus! It will connect worshipers with Easter when this is often sung.
If you have an Alleluia banner/poster that you hide away during Lent and feature on Easter, bring it out today. Recall its use and claim Alleluia as a good word for Christmas as well as Easter.
- “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!” is another hymn usually sung later in the season, but possibly appropriate for today. Again the youngest can join in on the first line which is the same for every verse.
*** Some Advent wreaths feature one pink candle, the joy candle for the third week of Advent. Light it today during the singing of a rejoicing hymn. One candle might be lit on each rejoicing verse or chorus.
“O, Morning Star”
*** If you are using the O Antiphons, today’s title for Jesus is Morning Star. In the northern hemisphere many children are heading out to school in predawn light. Describe the color of the sky just before dawn –not night time black but almost day light. Some children may see a morning star if the sky in their area allows it. (If you use blue for Advent, note that the blue is not daylight sky blue, but just before dawn blue.) Compare that almost - but - not – quite - yet waiting for daylight with Mary waiting for Jesus to be born and with us waiting for God’s kingdom to really come. The prayer for day is “O morning star, come light up our world.”
The Texts for Today
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
*** The Roman Catholic lectionary includes only verses 1-2 and 10-11. This omits the exile references and keeps the focus on joy. It is also shorter which is always better for children.
*** If you are setting Old Testament texts BEFORE, DURING or AFTER Exile, read verses 1-2. Stop to note that this message is from DURING Exile. After reading verse 3 note that it is near the end of Exile and that good things lie ahead even though life is awful now.
*** This is a long reading with two voices speaking. To help all worshipers follow it, have it read by two readers – Isaiah and God.
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Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations
based on NRSV
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*** Verses 1 and 2 are filled with often used abstract descriptions of the mission of God’s people. For the sake of the children identify specific activities your congregation undertakes for each of these phrases, e.g. children singing in a nursing home is one way of binding up the broken hearted, food drives meet the needs of the oppressed.
*** Verses 8 and 9 provide an opportunity to explore the joy of being part of something bigger than yourself, in this case to be among God’s people living out their mission. With children start with the fun of being on a team caught up in a game. Describe the excitement of being part of something that is bigger than just you. Then, tell about a time you were caught up in something more important than a sporting event – maybe being present at the inauguration of a leader, or hearing an important speech (like Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech. Conclude about the joy of being part of God’s people, especially at festival time. (This may be the time to sing “Rejoice You Pure in Heart”)
*** Before reading this psalm clearly label it as AFTER Exile. Note that the psalmist is celebrating being back home.
*** Verse 2 says “our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy.” A friend’s three year old granddaughter in such joy told her on the phone last December, “Mimi, Daddy and I are going to bring a tree, a real tree, into the house today! And, Mama says it is OK! Can you believe it?!” Invite worshipers to remember places and times they have felt that kind of laughing joy – a starry night, running out into the first snow of the year, finally understanding or doing something really hard…. Use their experiences to define joy.
OR 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. Briefly tell the story leading up to Mary’s song, 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.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
*** During the last two weeks before Christmas, verses 16-18 speak most clearly to children. At this intense part of the holiday season it is easy for them to get jealous of what others are getting and to feel left out of festivities. Given this it is easy feel and act crabby. These verses remind them to think, pray, and act joyfully. Though Paul does not say it, you can add that we do this not because Santa is watching and will not bring crabby kids the stuff they want. We do it because we know God loves us all and came to live among us as Jesus.
*** Invite several children or a group of readers of several ages to stand with you to pronounce the Benediction. (I omitted vv 19-22 because commentators feel they are rather separate from the instructions in vv 16-18.)
Reader 1: Always be joyful.
Reader 2: Never stop praying
Reader 3: Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ.
This is what God wants you to do.
Pastor: I pray that God, who gives peace, will make you completely holy. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept healthy and faultless until our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 24 The one who chose you can be trusted, and he will do this.
Based on CEV
John 1:6-8. 19-28
*** If you did not do this last week with Mark’s gospel…. 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 John’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.
*** John the Baptist was the first to point people to Jesus. He is most often pictured either baptizing Jesus or pointing to him in the distance. Since I cannot find such a painting that is free of copyright restrictions, I’d suggest getting two men to pose one or both pictures. If you do both, pose the baptism of Jesus first and briefly remind people that John baptized Jesus. Then, pose John pointing to Jesus. Note that though John was the first to point others to Jesus, many others also did. For example, after they visited the stable on Christmas, the shepherds told everyone they met about what they had seen and heard. The Samaritan woman Jesus met at a well gathered all the people in her town to meet Jesus saying to them, “Come and See”… this man. The women returning from the empty tomb, say “We have seen the Lord.” From here invite worshipers to join all these folks pointing to Jesus.
*** John knew who he was not and who he was. He knew he was not the messiah nor was he Elijah come back to life. He knew he was the voice crying in the wilderness and that his job was to get people ready for Jesus. Point out to children that part of their job is to figure out who they are and who they are not. When I used to say to my father, “but all the other kids are…” he would reply, “But you are not all the other kids. You are a Carter girl and Carter girls….” If children are close at hand and not too numerous, conclude the conversation by blessing each child, saying “NAME, you are a child of God.”