Friday, September 18, 2015

Year C - Christmas Eve or Day (2015)

There are three sets of texts for Christmas Eve/Day in the lectionary.  Since most of the time we have only Christmas Eve services, I have looked at all of the texts and make suggestions for those most interesting to children.   Mostly I am thinking about using them on Christmas Eve. But some of them would be more appropriate on Christmas Day or even the Sunday after Christmas.

* To get started on your planning, go to Why Children Need to Get to Church on Christmas Eve.  I’ll post it on the Facebook page shortly before Christmas for easy forwarding to young famlies.

* If you have been moving crèche figures around the sanctuary during Advent, tonight is the night to add the baby and move the shepherds, sheep and angels into place.  If you have not displayed a crèche, add one tonight.  During a children’s time have the children help you retell the story as together you move or place the figures.  An unbreakable crèche is a real asset on this night when “accidents are prone to happen.”

* Make a big deal of lighting the Christ Candle.

* Begin the service with Advent paraments (or at least the worship leaders’ stoles) in place.  Sing or read the first verse only of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.  Recall how quiet Bethlehem was that night.  Shepherds were taking care of sheep, travelers come to pay their taxes had settled into their hotel rooms – or if they were not lucky enough to find a room, into the stable out back.  King Herod was resting in his palace.  “The hopes and fears” that everyone worries about everyday were there.  It was a purple/blue night.  As this is said, someone lights the four Advent candles.  Then insist that this was about to change.  Read the Luke story, change the paraments to white, and light the Christ candle.

* Light the four Advent candles near the beginning of the service.  Then light the Christ Candle after the nativity story is read from the Bible – maybe even stopping in the middle of the story to light it immediately after “and she gave birth to her first born son…”  Insure that it will be noticed by stopping everything while an acolyte walks up the central aisle and lights the candle.  Then, either keep reading after the candle is lit.  Or, sing a praise carol, even passing the peace or passing Christmas joy.

* Fran Woodruff offers a simple children’s time during which Advent is reviewed and the Christ candle is lighted at  On the Chancel Steps.  Scroll Down to Christmas Eve lighting instructions.

* Christmas Eve is also a good night for reading a children’s Christmas story.  Check out my evolving list at Christmas Storybooks for Worship.

On I found two plans for child-focused Christmas Eve services or children’s times.  Though I have not experienced them, they looked worth sharing.

* “The ABCs of Christmas” at Interactive Christmas Eve Service builds an entire family service around telling the nativity story using the alphabet.  Be sure to follow the link in the first paragraph to the original version.

* Kathleen Sheets folded colored paper cranes to match the birds in The Birds of Bethlehem, by Tomie de Paola, and involve the children in telling the story.  Find her plan at Birds of Bethlehem

* And if you are concerned about the safety of children during a candle lighting service, consider Catherine MacDonald’s suggestion of using star glow sticks to wave while singing Silent Night.  She did this at a children’s service.  I am wondering if children in a congregation-wide service might be given the glow sticks while the adults light their candles. 

The Texts for Christmas Eve/Day

There are three sets of texts to choose from for Christmas Eve and Day.  Below find suggestions for most of them.  I chose one of the Isaiah texts and 2 of the psalms for children.

Isaiah 9:2-7

* This is the most child-friendly of the three Isaiah readings.  Unfortunately, it is so long that children get lost in the middle.  For their sake, edit it to Isaiah 9:2, 6-7.

Used by permission. Go to  Jan Richarson Images 
* Display Jan Richardson’s painting “Shines in the Darkness” telling worshipers you have a very unusual picture of Christmas to show them.  Point out that there is no baby, no barn, no shepherds….  Ask why you know it is a Christmas picture.  If no one else does, point to all the gold.  Ask what in the Christmas story it reminds you of – the star?  the angels?  Then point to all the dark paint and repeat the question.  Work around to the fact that the light did not totally end the darkness.  The dark is still there, but so is the light.  And, the light makes a big difference.  Imagine the painting without any gold.  Imagine a world without Jesus and God’s love.  Finally, reread Isaiah 9:2 and 6-7. 

This discussion might more easily take place on the Second Sunday after Christmas in connection with the light in John’s prologue. 

Psalm 98

* This is the best of the three Christmas 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 is probably better suited to Christmas Day, but could also be a psalm for Christmas Eve.

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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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Psalm 96

* The first three verses of this psalm make most sense to children.  Turn them into a responsive reading leading into the benediction.  (This might go better on Christmas Day or even the Sunday after Christmas.)

Psalm 96:1-3a

Leader:      O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.

People:      Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.

Leader:      Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.

People:      For great is the LORD, 
                    and greatly to be praised!

Leader:      the benediction


Luke: 2:1-20

* For the children on Christmas Eve, it is all about Luke’s story.  They are well served by services of lessons and carols that walk them through the story.  Do take care to select a few carols they likely know.  Go to Singing Christmas Carols in Worship with Children for an annotated list of carols from which to choose.

* For family oriented services, lessons and carols invite some visual drama to grab the attention of children hyped up on Christmas Eve.  As each lesson is read, costumed youth and adults move around the sanctuary as the stories are read.  (Christmas Eve excitement makes this not a good night for a children’s pageant.  Children do best watching the youth and adults who are the age of the originals walk through the story.  A child shepherding with a parent is one exception.)  Actors may speak or simply walk through their part as readers read.  Mary and Joseph walk up the center aisle leave out a side door.  Shepherds, angels and their reader may appear in the balcony.  The Magi may come one at the time bearing their gifts regally up the central aisle and bow in front until the end of the reading.  It is often easier not to build a final scene, but to have the characters leave the sanctuary after their reading.  This leaves space in the front for choirs, extra musicians, poinsettias, etc.  I have posted the script for such a service that was developed at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.  Find it at Family Friendly Christmas Eve Service of Lessons and Carols

* If you follow a more “standard” order of service, consider having the gospel read by several costumed shepherds.  They could be members of one family (families often stayed out together to care for the sheep) or a group of teens (bet they often got the overnight shift).  This version is set for three readers.  It could easily be adapted for more or fewer.  It would also be possible to have one reader read verses 1-7 about the birth, then let the shepherds take it from there.  The shepherds could read from the usual upfront Bible or around a microphone in an unexpected corner of the sanctuary.


Luke 2:1-20

Shepherd One:   In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Shepherd Two:   Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

Shepherd Three:  While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Shepherd One:  In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Shepherd Two: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,

Shepherd Three:  and they were terrified.

Shepherd Two:   But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.   This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Shepherd Three: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Shepherd One:  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,

Shepherd Two:  “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

Shepherd Three:   So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

Shepherd One:  When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

All shepherds: This is the Word of the Lord!

From The New Revised Version


John 1

* When to read John’s Prologue this season?!  It is listed in the lectionary for both Christmas Eve/Day and the Second Sunday After Christmas.  Luke’s story serves children better than John’s abstract poem on Christmas Eve.  But, there are ways to read John on Christmas Eve that will draw the children in.  For them, John is simply telling us who that little baby is and why we celebrate his birthday.

* Jesus, the Word is Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones’ presentation of this text.  It is wonderfully stated and beautifully illustrated.  It begins introducing the Word, then tells that Jesus was the Word and lists many of the things he did during his life.  It briefly recounts his death and resurrection and insists that he is still with us now.  The story is held together by the Word’s repeated promise, “I will set you free.  I won’t let you be anything by holy, good and free.”  Read it in worship to answer the questions “who was Jesus?” and “why was the baby Jesus so special?” Worshipers of all ages respond warmly to it.  It might be read and savored as either the sermon or a children’s sermon.  (Can be read aloud in just under 5 minutes)

* “Once in Royal David’s City” is a child friendly singing version of John’s poem.  The words and ideas are simple enough for most children to follow without introduction.  In many congregations it is the children’s job to sing the first verse with the congregation joining in or the remaining verses.  These children may be a choir or a class.  They need to be standing together rather than scattered through the sanctuary in the pews.

* 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)
Insist that on Christmas when Jesus was born God made good on all God’s promises and words and that everything God had ever told people was poured into Jesus of Nazareth.

Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)

* This 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).  Using the script below, one leader could put the lines of the song into his/her own words to clarify them for the children while reading the psalm. Or, one leader could read the psalm with a second leader offering explanations in response to each line.  Particularly if you chose the latter, it might be wise to reread the text uninterrupted afterwards.

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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

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Titus 2:11-14 and 3:4-7

* Titus’ call for sober, upright living is not going to grab the attention of worshipers of any age on Christmas Eve.  But, he unintentionally offers children an interesting comparison between Jesus and Santa.  Santa brings toys only to the good.  Jesus comes to love us not because of anything we have done to earn it but because God loves us.  That idea would however be more interesting to children “after” Christmas when Santa’s next visit is a year away. 

* The CEV makes more sense to children than the NRSV.  Rather than read the whole text to them, select key verses, e.g.

God our Savior showed us how good and kind he is.
He saved us because of his mercy,
    and not because of any good things that we have done. 
Jesus treated us much better than we deserve.” (CEV)

         Two Out of the Sanctuary Notes for Christmas Eve

* Providing child care for infants and toddlers on Christmas Eve allows parents to take their older children to worship.  Many families will decide to stay home rather than risk taking their youngest to the sanctuary and thus miss out on Christmas worship.  And, some families try to bring children who are too tired and off schedule to make it through the service without causing pain to all around them.  So, hiring child care workers at even twice their normal hourly wage is a significant gift to the entire congregation.  If your usual staff are made aware of this well in advance, many will gladly arrange their plans to be at the church and reap the extra financial reward.

  If you expect to provide overflow seating in another room, go to Thoughts About Overflow Seating and Children for ideas about making this area more worshipful for children (and adults too.)

Merry Christmas!

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