Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Second Sunday after Christmas -Years A, B, C (January 4, 2015)

The big choice this week is whether to work with the texts for the Second Sunday of Christmas, the Epiphany texts, or even the New Years Day texts.  I’d be inclined to go with Epiphany because I think they offer more to children (and the rest of us) on what is probably the day before we all go back to school and work after the holidays.  The call to “Arise and Shine!” is powerful.  Go to the Epiphany post for ideas.  Or, if you plan to use Second Sunday of Christmas texts, keep reading.

The texts for the Second Sunday of Christmas share a common theme of praise and thanksgiving.  Jeremiah offers gratitude for the return of the Exiles even though he acknowledges that not all who left are alive to return and the experience of exile was bitter.  Psalm 147 calls on the citizens of Jerusalem to praise God for all the blessings of living in that city.  The writers of Ephesians and John list the blessings that are bestowed on us through Christ.  Together they offer an opportunity to look back over 2014 (which was about as mixed a blessing as the return of the Exiles) with both honesty and gratitude and to look ahead to the new year with hope that God’s larger good vision will prevail in spite of whatever immediate problems or joys come our way in 2015.

To praise God for Christ sing “When Morning Gilds the Skies.”  Challenge even non-readers to sing every “May Jesus Christ be praised!”

The Secret of Saying Thanks, by Douglas Wood, is a beautifully illustrated picture book.  It begins “Perhaps you’d like to know a secret…” and concludes
“The heart that gives thanks is a happy one,
    for we cannot feel
    thankful and unhappy 
    at the same time. 
The more we say thanks, 
    the more we find to be 
    thankful for. 
And the more we find to be thankful for, 
    the happier we become.
We don’t give thanks because we’re happy,
We are happy because we give thanks.”
The middle of the book is a collection of moments in which one finds oneself thankful for a variety of things.  Read all or parts of the book with a small group of children who can easily see the pictures as you read, and the willingness to believe the adults will enjoy and benefit from hearing it also (which they will).  Read this during a children’s time or during the sermon. 

This may be copied to use in worship.

Another way to explore this theme with children is to challenge them to write or draw thank you notes to God.  Prepare by talking together about blessings.  Identify some from the texts, from Christmas, and from life in general.  If you introduce this project during a children’s time or an announcement at the beginning of the service, children can work on their drawings/notes during the service and have them ready to drop into the offering plate as they are passed.  Below is a letter page to copy for their notes.

Today’s texts also provide a collection of wisdom texts tied to the gospel reading of the Prologue of John.  Some Sunday they might be an interesting group with which to explore the biblical concept of Wisdom.  On any Sunday this would be a challenge to explore with children.  But on the first Sunday in January, it might be un-wise.  People are preoccupied with settling back into “normal” after the holidays and so need to explore and pray about more immediate concerns.

Whichever themes you explore today pay attention to vocabulary.  Especially the texts are filled with big abstract words (adoption, redemption, the Word) that children will not catch as they are read.  The Old Testament readings are only a little easier to follow.  So, even more than usual children will count on worship leaders to restate the message for them.

The Texts

Jeremiah 31:7-14

This part of Jeremiah has been described as a Book of Consolations.  It is directed to Hebrews DURING Exile.  If you have been setting Old Testament readings from Advent as BEFORE, DURING or AFTER Exile, start by reading verse 8 and asking which this is.  Then start with verse 7 to read the whole passage.  If you have not been connecting passages to Exile in this way, simply name the Book of Consolations and describe it as a collection of promises from God to remember in bad times.  Read a few individual verses restating them in your own words as below.  Briefly consider how each might make you feel better on bad days.  Conclude simply by hugging the Bible you read from and saying how thankful you are that those promises are there and that God is with us even in the hard times.
8-9a               You won’t be prisoners of war in a foreign 
                      land forever
12c-13a         You will be as healthy as a well-watered
                      garden and will dance and be merry
13b                I will turn your sadness into joy

Sirach 24:1-12

To understand this readers need familiarity with the Old Testament figure of Wisdom.  Most children do not.  Since worship is not the easiest place to introduce this complex image, I’d skip this text with children.

Psalm 147:12-20

Three readers read the three sections of praises with props to make the content of their reason for praising God even clearer.  Have them stand in place with their props before the reading begins and pass a microphone from one to the other if a microphone is needed.  This group might be a collection of individuals or a family that has rehearsed at home during the holidays.  (At least one good rehearsal in the sanctuary is needed.)
Yes, there are a lot of male images for God here.  I could not find a more inclusive translation that is simple enough for children.  If you want to make it more inclusive replace some of the “hes” with “God” and/or “The Lord.”

J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J 

Psalm 147:12-20

Reader 1 (setting a map on an easel or a globe in place before reading)
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
He keeps your gates strong;
he blesses your people.
He keeps your borders safe
and satisfies you with the finest wheat.

Reader 2 (wearing a zipped up hooded parka and removing in on “the ice melts”)
He gives a command to the earth,
and what he says is quickly done.
He spreads snow like a blanket
and scatters frost like dust.
He sends hail like gravel;
no one can endure the cold he sends!
Then he gives a command, and the ice melts;
he sends the wind, and the water flows.

Reader 3 (carrying a large open Bible)
He gives his message to his people,
his instructions and laws to Israel.
He has not done this for other nations;
they do not know his laws.
All Readers
Praise the Lord! 

J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J ! J 

Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21

The one way to read this text today is in connection with the reading of Jesus the Word as suggested for the gospel.  Even then it will be a stretch for children.

Ephesians 1:3-14

This is seriously complex theological language.  The spiritual blessings this writer says that we gain through Jesus include adoption, redemption, and an inheritance in Christ.  If you must wade into this, remember that for children ADOPTION means God chose us for God’s very own.  REDEMPTION is better understood by children as forgiveness.  And, I think understanding of INHERITANCE will have to wait until they are old enough to understand the effect that having an inheritance that will come in the future has on life now and to make the abstract theological connection.  If any of you have ideas about how to explore this text more fully with children, I’ll be interested to hear it.

Paul’s theology is more useful to children as an invitation to connect the Christmas baby with the man he grew to be.  Do this with a hymn that traces the life of Jesus, e.g. “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem” or “Lord of the Dance.”  Before singing it walk through the verses summarizing what each one is telling us about Jesus.

If you are celebrating communion today,

Point to the phrase, “the gifts of God for the people of God.”  Take time to name together some of God’s gifts.  Insist that Jesus is God’s very best gift and that the bread and cup are reminders of that gift.  The bread reminds us of all the ways Jesus fed and took care of people – name a few.  The cup reminds us that because Jesus forgave and kept on loving the people who killed him on the cross, we can count on him to forgive us and keep loving us when we do not deserve it either.

Sing “I Come with Joy.”  Before singing it, direct worshipers to the first and last verses.  Briefly recall a few well known stories about Jesus (healing, forgiving, teaching) ending with the crucifixion (“his life laid down for me”) to expand on verse 1.  Then introduce the last verse as the “so what” verse.  The question is “so what are we going to do about what Jesus did.”  Only then invite worshipers to sing the entire song.

John 1: (1-9) 10-18

Light the Advent wreath one last time as the prologue is read.  Ask an older child to serve as the acolyte/candle lighter as the text is read by a teenager or adult.  Rehearse so the child knows exactly when to make each move.
- Hold the candle lighter high overhead as verses 1-5 are read.
- Light the four advent candles as verses 6-13 are read.
- Light the Christ candle as verse 14 is read.
- Either stop with verse 14 or read through verse 20 with the acolyte standing quietly in place beside the wreath.

Jesus, the Word is Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones’ presentation of this text.  It is wonderfully stated and beautifully illustrated.  Worshipers of all ages respond warmly to it.  It might be read and savored as either the sermon or a children’s sermon.  Stop as you go to comment.  If you project images in worship, scan the pages for projection so everyone can see them.  (I am told that if you do not share your scanned version with anyone, ever, this is not copyright infringement.)  If you do not project images simply read the book with gathered children so they can see the pictures. 

If you are exploring incarnation, go to Fourth Sunday in Advent (Yr A) for notes and ideas.  Be sure to consider using the directions for walking through “Once in Royal David’s City” with children.

To introduce the Word in John’s Prologue 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)

To focus on “the Word” (or incarnation) read the script below which deletes verses not directly related to the Word.  In it the male pronouns have been replaced by “the Word.”  It might even be worth printing this in the order of worship with “the word” in bold or a color for worshipers to follow as you read.  As you explore it remember that for children it says

God is as good as God’s word
God IS with us in action
In Jesus every promise (every word God ever spoke) comes true

   the Word * the Word * the Word * the Word 

John 1:1-4, 10-14, and 18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. the Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being. What has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

10 The Word was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.   Jesus the Word came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

                                             based on the NRSV

   the Word * the Word * the Word * the Word

After the sermon exploring the Word, use the text as a congregational affirmation of faith.

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