This Sunday is New Year’s Eve in the church year. We conclude the year remembering that Christ is the beginning and end of all life and remembering his story as we have followed it through the concluding year. Next Sunday we begin again. That makes this a good opportunity to take the long view of the church year.
Bring out all the seasonal paraments and drape them over the central table in order. Connect each one to its season.
|I would give this sketch to an artist in the congregation for "slicking up"|
Give the children a coloring sheet of the church year and crayons with which to color in the seasons adding important words and pictures that go with each season.
Devote the whole service or just the sermon to reviewing the year. Read a key text, talk about the main theme, pray a prayer, and sing a song from each season. Recall the ways your congregation has celebrated each season during the past year. Praise God for the journey through the seasons each year.
Put the focus on the life of the Lord of the seasons. Tell a story of Jesus and sing a song about Jesus for each season. Children who often do not connect all the stories about Jesus into a whole especially benefit from the chance to connect them all. Adults benefit from rehearsing the long arc of the story and placing it in both all of history and the cycle of the church year.
Christ the King
Go to Year C - Christ the King, Reign of Christ to read about how children understand kings and ideas based on the kind of king Jesus chose to be.
Christ the Cosmic Power
Children are intensely interested in power. They recognize early that they have very little and aspire to have more. The parents, teachers, and baby sitters have absolute power. The biggest and oldest among them have certain power within the group. They admire superheroes with super powers. This Sunday says to them that Jesus has all the power in the universe, always has had it and always will. But Jesus chose not to use that power to get all the good stuff for himself. Instead he used it to take care of and love people. He calls himself a shepherd king. And, he calls us to use our power in the same caring, loving way.
AUTHORITY DOMINION REIGN RULE POWER
Children need help with biblical power vocabulary. Authority, dominion , reign (sounds like a weather event to non-readers), even rule are unfamiliar terms. Choose one or two to use today. Make one or all of them into a POWER POSTER printing the words in big powerful fonts.
Christ, the Shepherd King
Sheep and shepherds appear in several of the day’s texts. At the beginning of worship give children strips of small sheep stickers and instruct them to listen for the sheep in the songs, stories, prayers and sermon and to place a sticker in their printed order of worship each time they hear one. (Younger readers will put their stickers anywhere on the page. More proficient readers can be encouraged to place them at the correct spot on the page – and thus become more familiar with the printed order.)
During a children’s time make shepherd’s crook crosses to take home as Bible bookmarks. Each child will need one pipe-cleaner to bend into the shepherd’s staff and a 2 inch piece of pipe cleaner to wrap around the staff forming the crossbar.
Few urban or suburban children know much about sheep or shepherding. For many a shepherd is a fierce guard dog and a staff is a group of people at the school or recreation center. So display a cuddly stuffed sheep and talk about real sheep who do not smell very good, can’t find their own food, wander off if not watched constantly and wade into water that can soak their wool and drown them. As you talk slowly move from cuddling the stuffed sheep to holding it at an arms distance with disgust. Talk with admiration about the shepherds and the job they do taking care of sheep. Then, sitting the sheep in a prominent place for the rest of the service, note with surprise that Jesus compared himself to a shepherd and us as his sheep. Ponder why that fits and point to a song or prayer you will use today that refers to Jesus as shepherd.
Sing “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” or your congregation’s favorite psalm 23 hymn rather than other shepherd hymns. Most of the images in them are too complex for children to understand.
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
I was struck by the difference it made when these verses are printed as poetry rather than prose. All the individual sheep images stand out more clearly. Go to Hedwyg's Blog to see it. Print it down the middle of a large sheet of paper leaving lots of marginal space. Read through it with children talking about the sheep and shepherds, then invite them to illustrate it during worship and post it on the rail at the front of the sanctuary or in some other designated place at the end of worship or at offertory time, if that is appropriate. Take time to look at and comment on any you see as children leave the sanctuary.
Matthew has Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats. Ezekiel has the shepherd separating the lean from the fat sheep. Children understand Ezekiel more readily. Talk about the ways we push each other around to be first in line or get a good seat on the bus or get to the cookie plate first. Take time to show where human flanks and butts are and how we use them against each other. Children are delighted that the word butt is in the Bible and will remember Ezekiel’s message as they engage such shoving matches in the future.
Turn the psalm into a congregational reading with many short lines that new as well as experienced readers can follow. (The two groups could be choir and congregation or two halves of the congregation.)
Leader: Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Group 1: Worship the Lord with gladness!
Group 2: Come into God’s presence with singing!
Leader: Know this! The Lord is God.
Group 1: Know this! We belong to the Lord who made us.
Group 2: Know this! We are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s
Leader: So, enter God’s gates with thanksgiving,
Group 1: Come into the holy courts with praise.
Group 2: Give thanks to God and bless God’s holy name.
Leader: For the Lord is good;
Group 1: God’s steadfast love endures forever,
Group 2: God’s faithfulness is for all generations.
Based on NRSV and Presbyterian Book of Common Worship
If you sing “All People That on Earth Do Dwell” in the USA on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, have a soloist or the choir line it out for the congregation. That is the way the pilgrims sang it.
Psalm 100 may be more familiar to the adults (or some of the adults), but this psalm is filled with simpler references from the created world that children more readily understand.
Paul insists that Christ is the most powerful force in the whole universe and that Christians can tap into Christ’s power. Christ, not monsters, evil leaders, bullies, scary storms, or anything else is the most powerful power there is. When we are connected to Christ and acting as Christ’s servants we also have great power. The CEV translation of verses 19 -23 makes this clearest to children.
Beatrice’s Goat, by Page McBrier, describes the impact one goat has on a family in central Africa. The goat gives the children milk to drink, extra milk to sell. The money enables them to put a tin roof on their little house and to pay for Beatrice to go to school. She excelled and won a scholarship to a New England prep school. The goat, from the Heifer Project, was probably purchased by a church or Sunday School class. Ponder the power of the gift these Christians gave.
To highlight the last phrase of the Lord’s Prayer and celebrate Christ’s power and glory, create a litany. Each entry reviews events or the theme of one of the seasons. The congregation responds, “Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever.” It could be an affirmation of faith following a sermon exploring Christ’s glory and power as seen in the seasons of the church year. Point out the format before inviting the congregation to join in reading it.
Because this is a rather long passage that can lose children in all the words, invite worshipers to join in reading it as a play. The worship leader sets it up and serves as Narrator. A second reader stands front and center as the King. The right half and the left half of the congregation read the appropriate parts.
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Narrator: When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne, and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the righteous people on his right and the others on his left. Then the King will say to the people on his right,
King: Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.
Narrator: The righteous will then answer him,
Right Side: When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?
King: I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me!’
Narrator: Then he will say to those on his left,
King: Away from me, you that are under God’s curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels! I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink; I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me.
Narrator: Then they will answer him,
Left Side: When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison,and would not help you?
King: I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.
Narrator: These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life.
The Good News Bible
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|Copyright: Jan Richardson|
Image available at
Methodist minster-artist Jan Richardson created Christ in the Scraps from scraps of paper she had tossed aside while working on other projects. Help the children find the face by looking first for the eyes, then the nose and mouth. Ponder how hard it can sometimes be to see Christ’s face in the world around us – especially when that face is found in the trashed, tossed aside, discounted people and places. For your own enjoyment and to fill out your understanding of this art, read Jan’s description of how she created this face on her blog The Painted Prayerbook.
Display photos of a grand variety of people from around the world. Select some that are inviting and others that are threatening. Ask worshipers “Can you see Christ here?” After discussing which pictures are harder for us to find Christ in, reread all or part of the king’s conversation with the sheep and the goats.
If you do this as a children’s time, guide the conversation carefully. It is easy to fall into children’s cute comments about culturally different people. Actually, this conversation is more powerful as part of the “real” sermon. Children realize that adults have trouble seeing Christ in some of the pictured people too and the adults can’t write the exercise off as something cute with the kids.