Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Year B Christmas Eve and Day (December 24 and 25, 2011)

It seems to me that these two services will have to planned together.  There are three sets of lections to be used on Christmas Eve/Day and they are the same every year.  Most congregations have Christmas Eve traditions that may or may not be lectionary based.  Christmas Day services will probably be less well attended than the Christmas Eve ones and will likely include fewer children.  The children are likely to be distracted - to put it mildly.  Still, those who come on Christmas Day need to be drawn into worship that recognizes their presence on this BIG DAY.

I see several overall options:
Ø  Focus on the stable and shepherd stories on Christmas Eve and the magi on Christmas Day.  (The calendar almost rules out celebrating Epiphany on a January Sunday morning this year.)
Ø  Tell the gospel stories on Christmas Eve and focus on praise carols and either the Prologue to John or the Hebrews text on Christmas Day
Ø  Tell the nativity stories on Christmas Eve and develop Christmas Day as a birthday celebration for Jesus (not just a child’s party, but a mature celebration of Jesus’ birth and life)

The Texts for These Services

Isaiah 9: 2-7 is the most child-friendly of the set Isaiah readings and 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 might be better suited to Christmas Day.

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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

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Luke 2 is central to both services.  Go to Year A - Christmas Eve for a script to be read by three costumed shepherds probably on Christmas Eve.

Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) 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).  Put the lines of the song into your own words to clarify them for the children. 

c c 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 a familiar prophet 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 c c

Today’s English Version divides this text after verse 3 leaving verse 4 as the introduction to the section about the angels.  It would be possible to walk through the latter section with children pointing out all the ways Jesus is better than even the beautiful Christmas angels who visited Mary and the shepherds.  Children enjoy the humor in the “did God ever say to the angels” conversations.  In spite of that, on Christmas morning I’d stick with verses 1-3.

John 1: 1-14.  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)

Consider giving children (or all worshipers) 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

Ø  God is as good as God’s word
Ø  God IS with us in action
Ø  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.

Christmas Eve

The Year A post for Christmas Eve/Christmas Day assumed the most likely service would be on Christmas Eve since Christmas Day would fall on a weekday and not often include worship services at the church.  So go to Year A - Christmas Eve or Day for ideas about using these texts on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day

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
       O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
       O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!
-    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

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


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 201l.)

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

Read Hebrews 1 as the proud parent speech.  Many parents tell their children how special they are and how proud they are of them on their birthdays.  The writer of Hebrews puts these words (even those of the early church hymn) in the mouth of God.  It sounds very much like a proud parents saying, "just look at ...." 

T The calendar this year puts the squeeze on congregations that celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday nearest it.  Epiphany falls on Friday January 6.  That means to celebrate it on a Sunday one would have to celebrate on Sunday January 1 (New Years Day) or on Sunday January 8 (The Baptism of the Lord).  Or, Christmas Eve could be devoted to the stories of the shepherds and stable and Christmas Day could be devoted to the visit of the Magi.  Go to Year A - Epiphany for ideas about how to explore this story with children in worship.

Merry Christmas!

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