Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Epiphany A,B,C (Wednesday, January 6 or Sunday January 3, 2016)

These texts are set for January 6 which in 2016 is on a Wednesday.  The ideas here could be incorporated into weeknight celebration that includes worship in a freer form than often followed on Sunday morning.  Also, they could be used on Sunday, January 3, by congregations who do not have a weeknight celebration but do not want to ignore Epiphany.  Actually I think these texts have much more to say to children and adults than do the texts for the Second Sunday of Christmas which are set for Jan 3 by the RCL.

God’s love of all people of all races, nationalities and cultures and the light that God shines on the world and calls on us to reflect out into the darkness around us are two themes that run through all of today’s texts.  With the current crises about immigration and police treatment of minority groups in the US, there is lots of very adult stuff to be explored.  Given that some of the suggestions for laying out these themes for children may seem a little “old hat.”  Their simplicity however speaks loudly to the children for whom they are “new” and reminds the adults that complicated issues may not be as complicated as we sometimes make them.  So even if you do some of them on World Communion Sunday or Pentecost, do them again today.  It is that important. 

The Texts

Isaiah 60: 1-6

Isaiah calls the people of Jerusalem to rise and shine because God’s glory is upon them for all the world to see.  Children heading back to school this week after soaking up God’s Christmas love and glory are ready to hear the call to shine also.  Verse 1 is their key verse.   Actually “Arise, shine!” is all they need.  Consider omitting verse 6 for the sake of the giggling children.  “May you be covered up with camels” is just too funny a mental picture!  The verse is included because of the reference to the gifts of the magi.  But, that is not important to many worshipers today. 

Verses 1 and 2 are filled with often used abstract descriptions of the mission of God’s people.  For the sake of the children identify specific activities your congregation undertakes for each of these phrases, e.g. children singing in a nursing home is one way of binding up the broken-hearted, food drives meet the needs of the oppressed.

One way to explain the symbol of light is to present children with several symbols, e.g. a national flag, a symbol for a sports team, and a cross.  As you present each symbol ask what it stands for and what it makes them think about.  Then tell them that the symbol for God is light.  Since we can’t make a picture of light, we use things that make light like a star, sun, candle, lamp.  Display a treetop star ornament that goes at the top of the Christmas or Chrismon tree and note its meaning.  Recall Christmas candle lighting services and note that we lit those candles to remind ourselves that God the light is with us.  Then, move to the discussion below of the candles in the worship center.  Or, name and explore other light symbols pondering how each reminds us of God.  Encourage the children (and other worshipers) to watch for light symbols scattered through the scriptures we read, the songs we sing and the prayers we pray today.

It is a good day to point out and explain your congregation’s use of candles during worship.  Many congregations light two candles on a central table.  The explanation that I grew up with was that one candle was “God is the light of the world” (John 8:12) and the other “we are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13)   (I know from the 2011 comments that others have different explanations.  That is fine.  It is more important to know one than to have a “right one.”)  An acolyte may light a taper from one of the candles before snuffing both at the conclusion of the service.  The acolyte often walks down the central aisle and out the back door to call worshipers to follow the light of God out into the world. 

“Arise, shine” is not about enjoying light.  It is a command to reflect and spread light.  Reread this several times pondering the difference in basking in light and shining out in the darkness.  Explore ways we can shine listing ways children can shine God’s love out at school, in the locker room, even when crowded in the back seat of a car as well as ways youth and adults can shine.  To encourage worshipers to shine, give each one a star sticker (glittery ones are the best!).  During a children’s message, stick a star on each child’s hand or forehead and say to each one, “Arise, shine.”  Or, pass baskets of star stickers to the entire congregations, instructing individuals to stick a star on the person at their side saying to them “arise, shine.”

Or, give each child a glow in the dark star sticker to put on the ceiling for their bedroom.  (Google “glow in the dark star stickers” for sources.)  These stars could serve as a reminder of Isaiah’s call to “arise and shine.”  Or, it could be connected to the gospel text as a reminder to follow God’s star as the magi did.

Light hymns children can sing at least parts of with understanding:
“I Want To Walk As A Child of Light”
“Let There Be Light” with lots of short phrases of hope for the coming year
“This Little Light of Mine” – a spiritual about our ability to be light as well as enjoy light

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Turn this psalm into a prayer for today’s leaders from all around the world. Begin by brainstorming a list of these leaders together.  Include political leaders of all persuasions, leaders in your community, coaches, teachers, and other leaders of children.  Then adapt the first few words of each line (mainly the pronouns) to make the psalm into a prayer for those leaders.  Groups 1 and 2 could be the two sides of the congregation or the congregation and the choir. 

A Prayer for Leaders Based on Psalm 72: 1-7

Group 1:     Give our leaders your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to their children.
Group 2:     May they judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
Group 1:     May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
Group 2:     May they defend the cause 
                          of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
Group 1:     May they live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon,
throughout all generations.
Group 2:     May they be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
Group 1:     In their days may righteousness flourish 
                         and peace abound,
until the moon is no more.
Group 2:     Amen
All:             Amen
                                                                  Based on NRSV


Ephesians 3:1-12

Children will not follow Paul’s story as it is told here.  But, it is a story they appreciate and need to hear.  They therefore depend on worship leaders to retell it for them.  The broad strokes of that story are that Paul grew up believing that his people, the Jewish people, were the only people God loved.  Nobody else mattered.  When he heard Jesus’ message that God loved all people, at first he really, really did not like it.  But, he finally got it.  And, then he spent the rest of his life telling people who were not Jewish that God and Jesus loved them.  What an amazing, wonderful change!  His work changed the whole church forever.  Tell this story in your own words, then challenge the children (and other worshipers) to listen for that story as you read it from the Bible.  Older children will catch significant phrases here and there.

Demonstrate Paul’s mystery that God loves people all around the world by including people of as many different racial and ethnic backgrounds in worship leadership.  Some might even come in native dress or speak/read in native languages.  Include music from many different cultures. 

Explore the mystery that God loves all people reading Whoever You Are, by Mem Fox.  It can be read through in 3 minutes easy, but you will probably want to stop along the way to point out things in the pictures or elaborate on some of statements, e.g. “their words may be very different from yours” may lead making a list of languages.  If you get carried away in this, reclaim time by stopping your reading with the hurts of the young that are just like yours and omitting the repeat of the pattern for grownups.

Pray your way around the world.  Display a globe.  Explain that remembering the mystery Paul discovered, i.e. that God loves all people all over the world, your prayers today will move around the globe.  You might use the continents as your outline, offering prayers for each continent followed by time for worshipers to add their own voiced or silent prayers for that continent. 

Present several pairs of portraits of people from different parts of the world asking which of these does God love.  This year Arabs and Westerners and people of all races are good pairs.  The answer of course is that God loves both of them.  Old National Geographic magazines are a good source.

If you celebrate Communion today, cover the table with a cloth from another country and serve a variety of breads from around the world.  Wonder aloud what Note why they are there.

Matthew 2:1-12

Tell the story of the three kings in your own words moving the kings from the crèche around the sanctuary as you talk.  Actually you will need three assistants, one to carry each king and perhaps a fourth to carry a shiny poster board star on a pole.  (You could even invite all the children to travel with you as follow the story around the sanctuary.)  Start in a far corner of the sanctuary telling about the beginning of the trip.  Stop in another corner to tell about the visit to Herod’s palace, then come to the mother and child figures.  (These figures might be in a prominent spot at the front of the sanctuary or in a nook off to a side.)  Finally tell about the warning not to return to Herod and accompany the king figures back to their homes following another path around the sanctuary.  (After the story you might want to return the kings to their positions around the mother and child figures.)

Create huge Magi puppets for a Three Kings processional.  Each head is a gallon jug inverted on the top of a dowel/broomstick.  Glue felt facial features and yarn hair in place.  Add crown or turban head dresses.  Tape a clothes hanger in place on the dowel to form shoulders under a drape of fabric that hangs down almost to the floor.  Leave a slit up the back for the hands of the carrier to reach the pole.  Use sturdy cardboard boxes with holes cut in the top (and maybe some sand in the bottom for ballast) for stands into which the puppets can be placed for display during the service.  The puppets could enter on the three verses of We Three Kings and/or walk through the gospel story as it is read.  A group of children who are often bored the week after Christmas could make these and rehearse carrying them in a morning or evening. 
Kc Warren sent these photos and said,
"You were right, able to find 8 stir-crazy youth who created 3 wise men
and a King Herod for Epiphany worship on the 7th."

John Stevens on Dollar Store Children’s Sermons takes the children on a star walk around the sanctuary to point out places we meet Jesus (including in the congregation).  I think walking to trace the Bible story makes more sense to children.  But, if it fits your overall Epiphany theme, John’s tour might be just what you need.   

He, Qi. Adoration of the Magi, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved December 4, 2014]. Original source:
Before reading the gospel display this painting of the three kings.  Ask first who they are.  If no one comes up with the answer immediately, suggest that they look at what the men are carrying (gifts).  Then, ask “do these men look scarier or wiser to you?”  Identify why that is so.  Briefly ponder why we are so frightened by people who are different from us.  Then read the gospel.

Since the magi were from Persia, sing the Farsi hymn “Children of the Light.”  View the YouTube video then check out the link to a web that provides Arabic and English words and a music transcription.  (Thanks to Natalie Sims of the “Singing from the Lectionary” blog for this suggestion.) 

Do a hymn study of “We three Kings of Orient, Are.”   Ask all worshipers to open their hymnals to the carol.  Walk through the verses explaining the significance of the three gifts.  Then sing the carol together.  This could be the outline for the day’s sermon or a fairly brief introduction to the hymn.

Interesting sidebar for children:  the carol is generally known as “We 3 Kings of Orient Are.”  Most children assume that Orient Are is the place the kings come from.  The truer to the meaning grammar for this verse would be:
We three kings of (the) Orient are bearing gifts.
We traverse afar, (over) field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.

Give each child a glow in the dark star sticker to put on the ceiling for their bedroom as a reminder to follow God’s star as the magi did.  (Google “glow in the dark star stickers” for sources.)  

Chalking the Door is an Epiphany ritual that can be done at church then repeated in the congregation’s homes.  It is basically a house blessing.  Using chalk, members of the congregation or household write on the door frame the year’s date and the letters C, B, and M (the initials of the three wise men).  Prayer is then offered asking that the door welcome many visitors during the coming year and that all who come through the doorway be blessed.  Write on the church doors (if there are more than one, chalk them all!) during the worship service.  Name some of the people who may come through the doors – parents bringing babies to be baptized, brides and grooms, people coming to remember those who have died, and lots of people coming to worship God each week.  Then encourage households to chalk the doors in their own homes.  Print a simple blessing for use at both church and home in the order of worship and give out small pieces of white chalk for home use.  Below is a sample blessing.

God of doors and homes, bless this home this year and every year.
Bless all who come and go through this door, both those who live here and those who visit.
May all who enter through this door come in peace and bring joy.
May all who come to this door find a welcome and love.
May the love and joy in this home overflow and spread into the community and the world.

Interesting tidbit:  I learned on another blog that C,M,B also stands for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, Latin for “May Christ Bless this House.”

The world is full of stories about people who were invited to go with the three kings, but declined for a variety of reasons all related to being too busy. In most of these stories this person later then decides to follow the kings, but is always too late and spends the rest of his/her life looking for the child.  The message in all the stories is to stay alert for signs of God at work in the world (like a star in the sky or an invitation) and to be ready to drop everything to respond.  The Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke, is a rather complicated long American version of this tale.   Two of the best of these stories for children are:

The Legend of Old Befana, by Tomie dePaola.  In this well-loved European folk tale, an Italian grandmother meets the kings, then spends the rest of her life leaving cakes and cookies for children during the night on January 6.  It could be used at least two ways in worship.

Read the first 13 pages ending with Befana telling the 3 kings that she has seen the star which kept her awake at night and that she had work to do. (approximately four minutes to read aloud)  Stop there to ponder the possibility of missing out on something wonderful because you were stuck in a grumpy rut.  Note that the new year has many possibilities.  Encourage worshipers to stay open enough to give them a chance. 

Or, instead of stopping read one more page.  Then, stop.  Ask listeners what Befana might have done next.  Read or tell what happened in the next 13 pages (approximately three minutes to read the rest of the book).  Compare Befana’s (grumpy) face in the pictures of her sweeping with her (happy) face on the last page.  Ponder what made the difference.

Baboushka, retold by Arthur Scholey, is a Russian folktale about another busy grandmother who meets the three kings and is invited to join them.  At first she declines with lots of busy excuses, then decides to follow, but never catches up.  An angel points out that the shepherds left immediately after the angels sang to them.  The kings followed the star as soon as it appeared.  She is simply too late.  She keeps searching, carrying with her toys that she leaves with sleeping children in case they are the Christ child.  (About ten minutes to read aloud) 

For what it is worth, I prefer The Legend of Old Befana because of the change in her attitude.  Also be aware that some women object to both of these stories as stereotypical of overworked women with limited vision.  While I work hard to avoid such stereotypes, I think either of these stories might be used.  The only other possible story making this point is Van Dyke’s The Fourth Wise Man which features a man who was slow to follow.  Unfortunately, this story in too long and its language too archaic to be read to children in worship today.  But, you could retell it in your own words.

Have a bright and glorious Epiphany!

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