Saturday, August 31, 2013

Year A - Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 22, 2013)

I suspect that on the fourth Sunday of Advent there are lots of congregations worshipping “away from the lectionary.”  So, what about sharing in the Comments what your congregation (and its children) is doing this fourth Sunday when Christmas is just three days off.  Names of cantatas, dramas, etc. that you think are child friendly AND appropriate to the congregation’s worship would be appreciated by all of us. We can’t use them this year – but next year is coming.

'''' For worship leaders this is probably either Joseph Sunday or Immanuel Sunday.  If it is Joseph Sunday go directly to the Matthew resources.  

Immanuel or Incarnation Sunday

If it is Immanuel Sunday, keep reading here because the theme is present in several of the texts.  In Isaiah the name Immanuel is defined and connected to God's promise to be with us.  In the gospel Joseph is instructed to name the baby Immanuel.  And, in Romans Paul introduces himself by telling how God has been with him and what he has done in response.  That is a lot for three days before Christmas – but it has possibilities, too.

'''' Avoid using incarnation, the term behind the name Immanuel, with children (maybe with everyone).  It is just too long and unfamiliar for this time of year.  Instead speak in more specific terms about the mysterious reality.

The name Joseph and Mary are to give this child is Immanuel, “God with us.”  When we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus.  Jesus once said, “If you have seen me, you have seen God.  What I say is what God says.  What I do is what God does.” 

Ask, “Who can think of one thing Jesus did or said?”  In response to their answers say, “yes, Jesus did that and God does too.”  (Be ready with a few hints to get it started, e.g. what did Jesus do with Zaccheus?  When people were sick, what did Jesus do?)

God is invisible.  Jesus when he lived on earth could be seen and heard and touched.  Jesus is God with skin and bones. 

God is more than we can understand.  But Jesus is like us.  He was born, grew up, told stories, and took care of the people around him.  I think that is one reason God became Jesus.  God wants us to know what God is like. 

For the purpose of this discussion, I’d not speak of Jesus as God’s son.  If children bring it up, note that many fathers and sons look and act alike.  Jesus and God are even more alike than human fathers and sons.  Jesus is God in human skin. 

If impossible-to-answer questions such as “when God was being Jesus, who was taking his place in heaven” come up, affirm them as good questions that everyone wonders about at times.  Most such questions have the same answer.  We don’t know how God does it because God is bigger and “more” than anything we can imagine.  It is mysterious.

'''' Using your fingers or book marks, turn to and read Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:21-23, and Matthew 28:20c (the last sentence in Matthew and Jesus’ last words: “remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”)  Insist that “I will be with you” is God’s promise to us always.  It was God’s promise for hundreds of years before Jesus was born, was God with us when Jesus was alive, and is God’s promise to us forever.  This could be part of the sermon, a children’s time, or the lighting of the Advent candles.

'''' Most Chrismon trees include a crèche ornament or a crèche on the floor beside it.  Point to yours noting that of all the ornaments on the tree this is the easiest to remember and understand.  Briefly tell the birth story.  Conclude that because this happened we know that God is with us.

'''' Move the crèche figures into place around the empty manger talking about how God was with each character as they headed for the stable.  Pray for God to be with us as we head toward celebrating Christmas.

'''' Build worship around Incarnation lessons and carols.  As you worship take time to explore all or parts of each carol.  Children will pick up on some of the following:

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
See the suggestion in the Isaiah material below.

“Away in the Manger” – especially verse 3
If you sing this remember that older children consider this a baby song and resent being asked to sing it with other children for the adults.  When the whole congregation sings it together, it becomes common property and OK.

“Once in Royal David’s City”
To explore incarnation without using the word, ask everyone to get out their hymnbooks and walk through the verses: 

Verse 1 simply gets the story started.  So just read it or ask one of the children to read it.

Verse 2 is pure incarnation.  After reading the words, make comments, “hey, did you hear that?  It says Jesus is God straight from heaven AND that Jesus who was God was born in a barn and lived among the poor people.  He didn’t have to do that.  He was GOD!  But he did.  Wow!”

Ask another child to read verse 3.  Note that this verse recalls Jesus’ childhood experiences to make the point that because he has lived through the same things we do, Jesus understands us.  He knows how we feel.

Read verse 4 using your voice to emphasize its message that even though Jesus was a child, just like us, he was also always God and Lord.  Ponder that, the lord of the whole universe understands us and loves us. 

Then, invite the congregation to sing the carol.

“What Child Is This”  - Identify specific things we see when God is with us. 

Verse 1: the baby, the angels and the shepherds,

Verse 2: explain that “Mean estate” is the stable,

Verse 3: the gift bearing magi, and Chorus: us bringing laud (another word for praise)

The Texts

Isaiah 7:10-16

'''' The key verse for children is verse 14, “a virgin (or young woman) shall bear a son.”  (Unless you do, the children will not get hung up in “virgin.”  For them the focus of the verse is on the name of the child.)  The Old Testament context is beyond them on the Sunday before Christmas.  They mainly want to know that this phrase is a promise in the Bible and to link this promise to the name Joseph is to give Jesus in the Matthew reading.  

'''' If you have not already sung “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” this season (or maybe even if you have), it is a good choice for today.  Before singing it talk about what the name Emmanuel means.  Point out that in sad times (like the music in the verses) God is With Us and in the happy times (like the music in the chorus) God is with us.

'''' Go to the section of this post on the Matthew reading for an idea for a children’s time in which parents come forward with the children and talk about the names they gave their children.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Especially on the Sunday before Christmas, this prayer for national restoration is going to fly past the children.  Let it go.

Romans 1:1-7

'''' On the Sunday before Christmas, few children (or other worshipers) are much interested in Paul’s self-introduction at the beginning of Romans.  Children will miss it entirely unless the preacher explains what it is and puts Paul’s self-introduction into simpler words.  With that understanding they can see that Paul was a lot like Joseph.  Both knew that God was with them.  Because he knew that, Joseph raised a son.  Because he knew that, Paul spent his life preaching.  Ask worshipers what they do because God is with them.  After working through this, challenge worshipers to listen for what each animal in the barn did because it knew God was with them before a children’s choir sings “The Friendly Beasts.”

Matthew 1:18-25

'''' Children are likely to miss the story as it is read from Matthew.  So, you may want to retell it in your own words with the children in mind.  If you told the story of Mary last week, this week recall Mary’s story and tell Joseph’s story.  Talk about all things Joseph did – search for a place to stay in Bethlehem, make the barn as comfortable as possible, even stay close to Mary when the shepherds showed up.  (Mary must have been surprised and a little frightened.)  Then imagine together some of the ways Joseph took care of Jesus as he grew up.  He taught him carpentry skills, told him Bible stories and taught him the Ten Commandments.  Children are curious about Joseph who gets much less attention than Mary. 

Illustration by Margaret Kyle
The Family Story Bible, p. 157
'''' If you did not tell Mary’s story last week, take more time telling the story of the couple.  Note Mary’s bravery in being willing to have a baby, even God’s baby, before she was married.  Note Joseph’s strength in being willing to marry her, even though she was pregnant.  Talk about how much they must have loved and trusted each other and how curious they must have been about this special baby.  Then light the fourth candle of the Advent wreath for the love and courage of Mary and Joseph and move the Mary and Joseph figures to the manger in the crèche.

'''' Jan Richardson explores her love for the son of the man she married to help us get into Joseph.  Children from blended families might appreciate some of what she has to say.  Go to The Advent Door and keep scrolling a really long time until you get down to “Advent 4: the Annunciation to Joseph.”  Do read the poem about the choices we make and who we love and listen to the audio recording of the song in which Joseph reflects on what is happening.

'''' Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has written one of the few carols about Joseph.  Her words about Joseph are set to the tune of “Gentle Mary Laid Her Child.”  Younger readers will have trouble with the words, but older elementary children will be able to sing along and be fascinated by the possibility of writing new words to old melodies.  First sing “Gentle Mary Laid Her Child” pointing out its general message, then sing “Joseph Heard the Troubling News.” Find the words at Hymns by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.

'''' The following plan for a children’s time comes from “Silent” on in 2010:  I invited parents to come up with the kids for the children's sermons and tell how they picked their children's names and what they meant (if they knew). I talked about how sometimes we just pick because we like something or it's a family name or it's in a baby name book or it's meaning. But Joseph (and Mary) know what to name Jesus because God tells them via Joseph's name. And that Jesus' name means something very important--he will save. It seemed to work okay.”

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