Thursday, September 9, 2010

Year A - Christmas Eve or Day

There are three sets of readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day: some prophecies from Isaiah, Luke’s account of the shepherds, John’s poem about the incarnation, and some theological comments from the writer of Titus. For the children 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.

Christmas Carols for Children

Angels We Have Heard on High  
Even non-readers can be invited to sing all the fun to sing Gloria’s in the chorus

Away in the Manger
Older children consider this a baby song and are often embarrassed by being asked to sing it with other children in the sanctuary

Go Tell It on the Mountain
The chorus feels like an Epiphany message, but the verses tell the story of the shepherds. So, it can be sung on Christmas and again in Epiphany.

Infant holy, Infant Lowly
This less familiar carol has easy, concrete vocabulary. It would be a good choice to explore in a children’s time, then sing with the whole congregation.

O Come All Ye Faithful
This carol is sung so often that we count on children learning it by osmosis. But, singing it with understanding will probably not come until late childhood or adolescence.

Once in Royal David’s City
In many churches with children’s choir programs, it is the children’s job to sing the first verse of this carol to begin Christmas Eve worship. The rest of the congregation sings the remaining verses. Sometimes a whole choir sings, other times children are selected and consider this a great honor.
  • With its simple story of Jesus growing up, this is also a good opening hymn for worship on the Baptism of the Lord.
The First Nowell
This song is a good candidate for a children’s time in which the word “Nowell” and its other spelling “Noel” are defined as “good news!” The verses then describe good news for shepherds and for wisemen and finally for us. This might be especially good for December 26th this year when we are all trying to turn the corner from Christmas to more ordinary living.

Silent Night
For children (and even most adults) this carol is all about the feeling communicated in the music. The ideas in the words are not all that significant to children. They learn to sing the carol with adults they can tell both love the song and love singing it with them. Just watch the adults smile and draw their children close to sing this song together.

We Three Kings
Once you get past the silly “We 3 kings of OrientAre (perceived as the name of one place) tried to smoke a rubber cigar…” older children enjoy working through the significance of the gift each king brought. This is conversation can be a good children’s time for Epiphany.

For 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 characters move around the sanctuary. 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.

Isaiah 9’s “unto us a child is born…and his name shall be….” Is the Isaiah text that will mean most to children because it so clearly tied to the birth of the child story. Shorten it to Isaiah 9:2b, 6-7 to keep the attention of children.

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.

                             Luke 2:8-20 Reading Script

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

If you have been moving crèche figures around the sanctuary during Advent, tonight is the night to add the baby and move the shepherd, 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. An unbreakable crèche is a real asset on this night when “accidents are prone to happen.”

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 you 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.

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