Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Year B - First Sunday after Christmas Day (Devember 28, 2014)

On the Sunday after Christmas children who come to worship (not unlike the adults who come to worship) will not be many in number and will be coming in many moods.  Some will be basking in the rosy glow of a happy Christmas.  Others will be deeply disappointed either because they did not get what they wanted or gatherings were less than peacefully cheerful.  Some will have landed with a thud in post-Christmas and are waiting for things to get back to normal.  Others are just tired – and maybe cranky.  Christmas is so very over and won’t come again for a year.  But, because numbers are low and expectations are not what they were for earlier December worship services, it is a relaxed Sunday with the possibility to try a few somewhat different ways of praising God and responding to the Christmas story.

Speaking of post-Christmas dumps, remember to pray about them specifically.  After weeks with parties and gifts to anticipate, there is nothing to look forward to – except maybe going back to school and that is probably a week off.  The week after Christmas can be BORING.  Children also may have not gotten the gifts they wanted or found what they thought they wanted was not all they expected.  And, in the northern hemisphere weather may keep them cooped up inside.

The first task in planning for the next two weeks is to sort through available texts.  There are four sets of readings for two Sundays: the First and Second Sundays after Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Epiphany.  Start by deciding which to use on January 4 when many families will be back and getting ready to return to school tomorrow.  It is a good day for both New Year’s Day and Epiphany.  People are ready for the New Year and the Epiphany call to “Rise and Shine.”  If you use one of them, you might want to use the Second Sunday of Christmas which includes John’s prolog on December 28.  Lots of good possibilities!

Some congregations devote this Sunday to an after-Christmas Day lessons and carol service.  Often before Christmas we focus on the details of the stories the carols tell.   Just after Christmas Day explore messages the carols give us to take into the year before Christmas comes again. 

Before singing “Good Christians Friends, Rejoice” point to the three reasons to rejoice in the last lines of the verses – “Christ is born today,” “Christ was born for this,” and “Christ was born to save.”

Interrupt the congregation’s singing of “Joy to the World” after the second verse.  Note that we know the first verse and the second is a simple call to sing our praises.  Then insist that we often stop paying attention to the words of the later verses in a song and walk worshipers through the last two verses.  Verse 3 is another task (harder than singing) for us – “No more let sins and sorrows grow.”  Verse 4 is a promise to us as we work on verse 3 – “He rules the world with truth…and wonders of his love.”  This done, invite everyone to sing the song from the beginning.

“Once in Royal David’s City” tells the big story in words that many elementary readers know.  Help them get the message by walking through the verses with open books (or the words on the screens). Verse 1 tells the story of Jesus’ birth.  Verse 2 reminds us that Jesus was God living among the poorest of us.  Verse 3 insists that because he was a child (and later a teenager and a grownup) he knows what we go through.  Verse 4 echoes verse 2 insisting that this little baby so like us is the Lord of the whole universe.  Connect this to the last verse of the Luke reading.

Sing “What Child Is This?” with one group singing the questions in the verses and another singing the answers in the chorus.  A choir could sing the verses with the congregation responding with the chorus.  Or especially if it is a choir-less Sunday, two halves of the congregation could be the two groups.

Direct children to the last verse of “In the Bleak Midwinter” that refers to the gifts the shepherds and magi brought Jesus and identifies the gift we can bring Jesus – “our hearts.”

The repeated chorus that even non-readers can join in on when invited makes “Angels from the Realms of Glory” a fun carol to sing loudly (following Isaiah’s instructions) as a Call to Worship or opening hymn.  If you have a crèche and very small numbers of children, give the angel to one child to carry (fly?) around the front of the sanctuary or down the center aisle and back up as the congregation sings verse 1.  Another child (or group if you have several shepherds) does the same with a shepherd/s on verse 2.  Three others do the honors for the sages in verse 3.  All these children stand with you at the front with hands raised above their heads on verse 4.

“O Sing to the Lord! O Sing God a New Song!” is not often thought of as a Christmas song, but it makes sense to sing it on the Sunday after Christmas to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  Drum and/or rattle accompaniment makes it even livelier.

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

All the poetic metaphors make this a hard text for children to follow.  For children I would read only verses 61:10-11 and put them into my own words as below. 

I will celebrate and shout to the Lord!
My whole being will praise my God!
God has dressed me with saving love
and covered me up with righteousness
In God’s clothes, I am as well dressed as a bridegroom and bride
wearing their very best clothes, jewels and flowers.
Just as the earth makes plants grow,
God makes justice and praise grow for all to see.

                          From Forbid Them Not, Year B

*  The Jacket I Wear in the Snow, by Shirley Neitzel, is a humorous, cumulative list of all the things a child wears to go out in the snow.  Like the Twelve Days of Christmas, each page relists all the other items. Storypath lists it as a companion for Isaiah’s talk of clothes.  Much as I enjoyed the book, I’m afraid it would be hard to get from laughing about the book to all the spiritual clothes God provides.  But it does make me wonder about bringing in a pile of all the clothes we wear to go outside in the wintery north or all the stuff we take to the beach in the summery south and then simply to say that Isaiah says that God gives us invisible clothes to add to these and name them.  Only older children will “get it.”  But, all children will have one more exposure to the poetic images that show up so often in the Bible.

Psalm 148

On the Sunday after Christmas recall the Christmas story, then imagine the psalm as a grand cheer for God yelled out to God by all God’s people of all times and ages.  Instead of having one reader, invite as many as possible in the sanctuary to get involved in this call to praiseSet the scene and encourage worshipers to use their outside voices to cheer for God as if they mean it.  It might help to practice the opening “Praise the Lord!” together a few times to get into the spirit of the psalm.  Below are two scripts.  In the first one, the lines are shorter and so easier for young readers.  The second version of the psalm follows the psalmist’s division of calls to those above the earth and those on the earth with one group reading each set of calls.   In either, Group 1 could be the choir and Group 2 the congregation.  Or, Group 1 could be the left side of the congregation and Group 2 the right side.   Invite children especially to join in the reading since the words are words they are likely to know.

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Psalm 148 – Let all praise God!

All:                  Praise the LORD!

Group 1:        Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise the LORD in the heights!

Group 2:        Praise the LORD, all you holy angels;
praise the LORD all host!

Group 1:        Praise the LORD, sun and moon;
praise the LORD, all you shining stars!

Group 2:        Praise the LORD, heaven of heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!

Group 1:        Let them praise the name of the LORD,
who commanded, and they were created.

Group 2:        the LORD made them stand fast forever and ever
And gave them a law which shall not pass away.

Group 1:        Praise the LORD from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,

Group 2:        fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind obeying God’s command!

Group 1:        Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!

Group 2:        Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!

Group 1:        Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!

Group 2:        Young men and women alike,
old and young together!

Group 1:        Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for the name of the LORD alone is exalted;
and the glory of the LORD is over earth and heaven.

Group 2:        the LORD has raised up strength for the chosen people,
And praise for all loyal servants,
for the people of Israel who are close to the LORD.

All:                  Praise the LORD!

Adapted from Book of Common Worship @1993 Westminster/John Knox Press and The New Revised Standard Version

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Psalm 148
Let All Above the Earth and On the Earth Praise God!

All:                  Praise the Lord!

Group 1:        Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise God in the heights!
Praise God, all you angels;
praise God, all the heavenly host!
            Praise God, sun and moon;
praise God, all you shining stars!
            Praise God, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
            Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for God commanded and they were created.
            God established them forever and ever;
and fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Group 2:        Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
            fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
            Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
            Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
            Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
            Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
            Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for God’s name alone is exalted;
God’s glory is above earth and heaven.
            God has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to God.
All:      Praise the Lord!
Adapted for more inclusive language from
The New Revised Standard Version

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Feel free to copy this for use in worship.

Give children a coloring page with words from the psalm calling all creatures on the earth to praise God printed in the middle.  Challenge them to draw around the “earth” things mentioned in the psalm and some ideas of their own. 

“All Creatures of Our God and King” sets the words of St. Francis of Assisi to music.  St. Francis was surely remembering Psalm 148 as he wrote it.  The repeated “Alleluias” are easy for even non-readers to sing and recall all the Christmas “alleluias.”  Other hymns based on this psalm are harder for children to sing.

Galatians 4:4-7

Paul’s theological words sail right past children today – and most days.  The image that makes most sense to children is that they are God’s children.  But, that fact is better presented in different texts on other days.  So, working with the other texts today is the way to go. 

Luke 2:22-40

JESUS MAFA. Presentation of Jesus in the temple,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
 a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved November 17, 2014].

Before reading this rather long story display this picture.  Point to the five people in it.  If the setting is relaxed let people guess who the people are.  Help them get started by asking who the baby might be.  Then, encourage children to listen for each of them in this story.  Who were these people and what did they do?

To help children separate the stories within this story, have it read by three readers.

Narrator (probably a worship leader): verses 22-24
Simeon (an elderly man – maybe the oldest in the church?): verses 25-35
Anna (an elderly woman – maybe 84 years old?): verses 36 - 38
Narrator: verses 39-40

Or, keep the Christmas pageant going.  Ask adults (and maybe one infant) of the appropriate ages to pantomime the story as it is read.  Simeon may take the baby from his parents and address his “Nunc Dimittis” to God before handing the baby back to the parents.  Anna comes near to see the baby the lifts her arms in praise.  This is one story that works better with adults rather than children doing the pantomiming.

If your congregation practices infant baptism or dedication, simply introduce this story as the story of the day Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple for a very similar ritual.

Most children have near magical relationships with their grandparents or with other older people who are almost like grandparents to them.  They often feel that these older folks know them or understand them better than their parents do.  So, especially if the holidays have included visits with such older folks, children are ready to believe that two old people “recognized” Jesus.  Anna and Simeon become “like grandparents” for Jesus. 

Light all the Advent candles and the Christ candle today for Anna and Simeon who saw what they had waited for all their lives.  After reading the gospel lesson, simply say,

(As the four candles are lighted) Anna and Simeon waited for more than four weeks.  They waited all their long lives to see the Christ.  And when they saw him he was a just a baby.  (Light the Christ candle)  But it was enough.  They knew that everything they had ever hoped about God acting in the world to put it right was coming true.  Thanks be to God!

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