Friday, December 30, 2011

Epiphany Sunday

Epiphany Sunday

Matthew 2:1-12
The Guiding Star

Good morning! And Happy New Year to you!

How many of you have ever looked up at the sky at night and seen stars?  They are beautiful, aren't they?  Sometimes there are lots and lots of stars, and other times not so many.  It depends on how cloudy the sky is and how many lights are on the ground where you are.   People in cities don't see as many stars as folks out in the country.  But on a clear night, almost everyone can see the North Star.  In fact, the North Star has been used by sailors to help them steer their ships in the direction they want to go.

There are scientists, called astronomers, who study the stars.  There have been astronomers for thousands of years--people have always been interested in studying the stars.  At the time Jesus was born, there were astronomers living far away from Bethlehem, studying the stars.  One night they were looking up at the night sky when they noticed something surprising--something they had never seen before.  It was a new star!  How amazing! 

These ancient astronomers believed that new stars didn't just show up for no reason.  They believed the new star they saw meant something important was happening in the world, so they decided to follow it.  They packed for a long journey across the desert sands.  They traveled for days and weeks and months, using the star to guide them.  Finally, the star stopped over a house in Bethlehem.  The men who had traveled so far for so long were filled with joy. 

When they entered the house, they found Jesus with Mary, his mother  The astronomers knew the baby was someone special--someone to be honored.  And so they immediately knelt down and worshipped him.  Then they opened the treasure chests they had packed and offered Jesus precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

Sometimes the astronomers who followed the star to Jesus are called Wise Men.  Some may think they were wise because they were scientists who understood about the stars.  I think they were wise because they knew to worship Jesus the minute they saw him.  They understood that he was no ordinary child, but was someone special sent by God to lead the people, like a king.

Let's pray together.

Dear God, thank-you for sending the star to lead the wise astronomers to Jesus.  Thank-you for sending Jesus into the world to lead all the people.  Help us to be wise and follow Jesus where He leads.  Amen.

Let's pray together.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Look who's waiting for a Christmas treat!  I hope your Christmas was filled with treats and blessings.  And remember, the season hasn't ended--it's just beginning!  Happy Christmastide!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Day

Christmas Day
Luke 2

Props: An assortment of tree ornaments, each representing a different aspect of Christmas, such as family, friends, Santa, special foods, etc. An ornament showing the Nativity.  Put the ornaments in a paper bag or box so the children cannot see them until you show them, one at a time.

Merry Christmas, everybody!  This is the day we've all been waiting for, isn't it?  The day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, also known as Christmas!!  It's finally here.

Christmas is such a special day in so many ways.  I brought some Christmas tree ornaments in with me to share with you as we think about Christmas and what it means to us.  (Use your ornaments to talk about the various aspects of Christmas.  For example, you might show a Santa ornament and say something like, "Here is an ornament of Santa Claus.  Christmas is a time of giving, isn't it?  Santa gives gifts to children, and we give gifts to each other.  Most of us also try to give what we can to people who are in need so that they might have a nice Christmas, too."  Go through your ornaments, saving the Nativity for last.

Finally, I want to show you this ornament.  Can you see what it is?  This is a tiny Nativity scene, isn't it?  Can you see Mary, and Joseph, and the baby Jesus?  This ornament is my very favorite, because it reminds us of what Christmas is all about!  Christmas is Jesus' birthday, and without that, there wouldn't be a celebration at all.  No Santa.  No Christmas cookies.  No special parties or family gatherings.  Without Jesus' birth, this would just be another day.  So, Happy Birthday, Jesus!  And a Merry Christmas to each and every one of you.

Let's Pray.
Dear God, we thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, into the world as a tiny baby.  We all came into this world as tiny babies, too.  Help us to be more like Jesus in every way.  In His name we pray, Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve
Away In A Manger
Prop: A Nativity Set, preferably made of something sturdy.  During the course of the story, you will distribute the nativity figures to the children, except for the magi.  Place the magi figures in the far east side of the sanctuary, on a window sill, on a small table, or being held by someone in the pew. 

Good evening, girls and boys!  I see by our Advent wreath that tonight is Christmas Eve!  All of the candles have been lit; even the white Christ candle in the middle.  I think this is the perfect time to tell the story of the very first Christmas--the night Jesus was born.  I'm going to ask for your help.  I'm going to give each of you one of the figures from the nativity set.  When we come to the part of the story that mentions the figure you are holding, will you please place it in the creche?  I'll help you know when, OK?  Alright.  Here we go.

Many, many years ago, the emperor Augustus required that all the people of his kingdom be registered in the town of their ancestors.  Joseph went with Mary to the town of Bethlehem, because that's where his family was from.  Mary was expecting a baby, who was due at any time.  When they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph tried to find a place to stay, but all of the inns, or motels, were filled with other travelers.  So they had to spend the night in a stable, (Point to the stable structure and invite the children holding the Joseph and Mary figures to set them in their places.)

It was a good thing Mary and Joseph had a roof over their heads, even if it was the place animals were kept. (If there is a donkey figure, invite the child holding it to add it to the creche.)  Yes, being inside was a very good thing because that very night, Mary's baby was born!  She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, which were strips of cloth that bundled the baby tightly, helping him feel snug and safe, and placed him gently in a manger.  (Add Jesus to the manger.)  She and Joseph named the baby Jesus.

Now while all of this was going on, there were some shepherds who were taking care of their sheep in the fields outside of town.  It was night, and so they were on the lookout for hungry animals or thieves who might try to steal the sheep in the dark.  Suddenly, the whole sky lit up and an angel of God appeared to the shepherds.  They were terrified, as you can imagine!  The angel said to the shepherds,

"Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good news
Of great joy which shall be for all the people.
For to you is born this day in the town of David
A Saviour who is God's Anointed.
This will be a sign to guide you:
You will find a baby in swaddling-clothes lying in a manger."

Then the angel was joined by many more angels, who all praised God together and sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace; good will to all."

The angels left the shepherds and returned to heaven.  The shepherds then looked at each other and said, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this wonderful thing that God has told us about."  So they went to town, where they found Mary and Joseph, and Jesus was lying in the manger, just like the angel said he would be.  (Add shepherds and sheep to the creche.)

As you know, there is another part to the Christmas story.  We have Mary, and Joseph, and the Baby Jesus in our creche.  We have shepherds and sheep and animals.  Who is missing?  Oh, the wise men! 

The book of Matthew tells us that wise men were studying the heavens and saw a new star in the night sky that they had never seen before.  They thought the star must mean something very important, so they decided to follow it.  Now, these men lived in a country far, far to the east of Bethlehem.  Does anyone know which direction is east?  The sun rises in the east, so that would be that way (point east).  Robert and Emily, could you please go to the east and see if you can find the star studiers, or magi?  If you have trouble finding them, I'm sure some of those nice eastern people sitting on that side of the sanctuary can help you.  Did you find them?  Great!  Now bring them back here, please, and place them in the creche.

And when the wise ones saw the baby Jesus, they knew that he was someone special sent from God.  They bowed down and worshipped the baby.  Then they opened their packs and gave him precious gifts of gold, francinsense and myrrh.

The Bible tells us that God loved the world so much, that God gave us the only son, so that anyone who believes in Jesus would not die, but enjoy everlasting life, or heaven.  Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men were the first people to hear this Good News.  And now we have heard it, too.  Thanks be to God!  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Prayer

If you're still working on your Christmas Eve bulletin, here is a prayer you might like for your family-friendly service:

Christmas Prayer                            
     Loving God,
     We thank you for the blessings of the season:
      For the chance to come together as a church family and celebrate this night;
For the Christmas story, and its message of your amazing love;
For carols to sing and the voices with which to sing them;
For the festive fun that fills our hearts with joy;
For the opportunity to share what we have with those who have less;
For generosity of spirit seen in the giving and receiving of gifts;
And most of all, for the greatest gift the world has ever known —
      the gift of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, AMEN.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year B
Luke 1:26-31; 2:8-12

Good morning, boys and girls!  Look at the Advent wreath today!  All four of the candles around the circle are lit.  Only the white candle in the middle is left to light on Christmas Eve.  Jesus' birthday is getting close, isn't it!

One of the many fun things about the holiday season is hearing from friends and family we haven't spoken with in a long time.  Sometimes people who have moved away come back to town to visit.  Every once in a while an old friend will surprise us with a phone call.  Emails, text messages, Facebook posts and tweets on Twitter often contain "Merry Christmas" greetings. 

The traditional way to send a Christmas message is with a Christmas card.  Has your family received any Christmas cards this year?  Maybe you made a Christmas card in school or at home to give to someone special.  Christmas cards are a lovely way to let people know you're thinking about them and that you hope they have a Merry Christmas.

I received this card from my old friends, Jim and Carol.  If we open it up, we can see that it says, "_______________________."  (Show card and read the message.)  Can you see what is on the front of the card?  Exactly right.  It's an angel.

In the weeks and months before Jesus was born that first Christmas, God needed to send a message to several different people.  God needed to let them know something spectacular was happening in the world.  God didn't mail a card or make a phone call, post on Facebook or use smoke signals, or telegrams or carrier pigeons.  God sent angels to deliver his most important message.

The Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.  At first she was frightened, but the angel reassured her saying, "Do not be afraid, Mary, because God is very happy with you."  Then the angel told Mary that God had chosen her to be the mother of a very special son.  She was told to name him Jesus, and that he would be great, holy, the Son of God.  Mary agreed, and the angel left.

Later on in the story, after Jesus was born, God sent another angel with a message, this time to shepherds who were out in a field, taking care of their sheep.  Suddenly, an angel appeared to them.  They were frightened, like Mary was.  The angel told the shepherds, "Do not be afraid, because I bring you the happiest news, for you and all people.  This very day, a most special baby was born to be your Savior.  You will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

There is more to the story, but I'll save that for Christmas Eve.  The point I want to make today is how important angels were as messengers to get out the good news of Jesus coming into the world.

We can serve as God's messengers, too.  We can tell people the Good News that Jesus is coming!  Merry Christmas!  Jesus is coming!  Merry Christmas!  Can you say that with me?  Jesus is coming!  Merry Christmas!

Let's pray together.
Dear God, Thank-you for sending angels to share such an important message--that Jesus is coming!  Help us to share the Good News today and every day.  Amen.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent, Year B
John 1:6-8
The Light of the World

Hi, Everybody!  I hope you are doing well this morning, as we continue our Countdown to Christmas this Advent season.  Let's look at the Advent wreath and see how many candles are lit this morning.  How many lighted candles do you see?  Three!  That must mean this is the Third Sunday in Advent!

The Advent wreath is just one place we see candles at Christmastime.  Many people set out pretty red, green, white or gold candles to help decorate and light their homes this time of year.  In the country of Germany, the tradition is to put real candles on the Christmas trees and light them.  Those trees look beautiful, all lit up with the glow of the candles, but it is kind of dangerous.  People always have a bucket of water nearby, just in case the tree catches fire!  I think most people use the safer electric lights on their trees these days.

Many people also decorate the outside of their homes with strings of Christmas lights.  Some are white, some are different colors.  Some blink on and off, and some drip down like icicles.  Some houses have just a few lights, and some have so many, it looks like daytime even after the sun goes down.

There is a reason people fill their homes with candles and lights during Advent and Christmas.  We use these special decorations to welcome Jesus, who is the Light of the World.

The Bible tells us about a man named John.  "John was sent by God to point out the way to the Light.  He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in.  John himself was not the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light." (The Message)  That Light was Jesus.  Jesus is called the Light of the World because he came to light the path and show us the way to God.  His teachings and his actions--Jesus' whole life shone with God's love for all people.  Because of Jesus, we know that God loves and cares for us.  Let's thank God for Jesus, the Light of the world right now.

All-Loving God, We thank-you for sending Jesus into the world to be our Light so that we  may find the way to You.  Thank-you for loving us completely.  Help us to share your love with others this holiday season and all year long.  In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent, Year B
Mark 1:1-8

Prop: A Christmas decoration, such as a wreath, a string of lights or a garland

Good morning, girls and boys!  Today is the Second Sunday in Advent!  Advent is the weeks before Christmas--time we spend waiting for Jesus' Birthday.  We've already waited one week--one week down, and because Christmas is on a Sunday this year, four weeks to go.  Advent is a time of waiting.  It is also a time of preparation, or getting ready for Christmas.  During Advent, we prepare our church, our homes and our hearts for the coming of Jesus.

The Deacons (or property committee, or whoever is responsible), have been busy getting the church ready for Christmas, haven't they?  And we thank them for all of their hard work!  We talked about the Advent wreath last week.  The Advent wreath is something special that we use only during Advent.  The colors of the paraments--the cloths hanging from the pulpit--and the pastor's stole are royal purple (or blue)--the color of Advent.  (Continue to describe changes made tot he sanctuary and church building for the season.)  During Advent, we prepare our church for Christmas.

We also get our homes ready for Christmas, don't we?  When I get home from church today, I'm going to hang this pretty wreath on my front door.  It will show everyone who comes to visit, "Christmas is coming!"  Sometime during Advent, many people will set up and decorate a Christmas tree.  If you drive around town after dark, you can already see lots of pretty Christmas lights shining brightly.  During Advent, we prepare our homes for Christmas.

The most important preparations we need to make during Advent is getting our hearts ready to welcome Jesus.  How do we prepare our hearts?  We sing special songs during Advent.  Listen to the words of the hymns sung in church and Sunday School, and you'll see that they speak of hope and promise and Jesus coming into the world.  We read Bible stories that tell us about God's promises to send the world a Savior--someone who will show the way to God and teach us about God's love and forgiveness.  We can prepare our hearts by sharing with people in need.  We can get ready by showing kindness to others.  We can also prepare our hearts through prayer.  Let's start preparing our hearts of Christmas by praying together now.

Dear God, We thank-you for this special time of waiting and preparation.  Help us to prepare our church, our homes, and most especially our hearts to welcome Jesus this Christmas and every day.  Amen.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

First Sunday in Advent, Year B

First Sunday in Advent, Year B

Print a copy of the photo below and keep out of sight until time to display it during the story, or show on the screen at the appropriate time but not before.

Good morning, boys and girls!  Today we're going to talk about waiting.  We all need to wait sometimes, don't we?  We stop at the corner and wait for the light to turn green before crossing the street.  We wait our turn in line at the store or when playing a game.  If we want to ask a question in school, we raise our hands and wait for the teacher to call on us before we speak.

Some things are harder to wait for than others.  It can be very hard to wait for a vacation to Disneyland or a trip to Grandma's house.  Sometimes it seems like forever until our birthday gets here and we get to eat cake and open presents.

This is a picture of someone who is waiting for something.  (Show picture.)  This dog's name is Merlin.  Can you see what he's waiting to receive?  What's that perched on his nose?  That's right--a treat!  Merlin has been trained to wait for his owner to say, "OK!"  Only then does he flip the biscuit off of his nose, catch it in his mouth and eat it.  Can you imagine how hard it is for him to wait, and how long the wait must seem to a little dog?

Merlin Patiently Waits
Today begins a new season in the church year.  It is a time of waiting and getting ready for. . . Christmas!  Church leaders understand how hard it is to wait for something as wonderful as Christmas.  And so, during Advent, there are all kinds of special traditions and activities that help us wait and get ready for the Big Day.  (You might want to mention traditions of your own church, such as the children's pageant or the congregational Christmas dinner as examples.)
One tradition is the Advent wreath.  You can see that there are four candles arranged in a circle, and one candle in the middle.  We will light a new candle each week between now and Christmas.  The center candle is called the Christ Candle.  It is lit on Christmas Eve.  So, when you come to worship and see all of the candles lit, you will know that the next day is Christmas and the time of waiting will finally be over.
Let's pray together.
Dear God, We thank you for this special time of the year.  Help us to be patient during Advent, and bless us as we wait for Jesus' birthday, Christmas.  Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Something To Do While We're Waiting

Do you remember Mr. Rogers' song, Let's Think of Something To Do While We're Waiting?  The first lines go like this:

Let's think of something to do while we're waiting
While we're waiting for something new to do.
Let's try to think up a song while we're waiting
That's liberating and will be true to you.

Fred Rogers wrote the music and lyrics to the song and he sang it on almost every episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood because he understood how hard it was for young children to wait.  This is never more true than during the Advent season.  Signs of the season surround us all and they come earlier and earlier each year, so that the wait seems longer and longer to children who have a poor concept of time to begin with!  Advent calendars are an excellent way to help children count down the days until Christmas.  Best are the devices that help children wait constructively--offering suggestions of activities and pose questions to think about, thus giving meaning to the waiting that is Advent.  One such instrument is an Advent Chain.

Below, see sample strips of an Advent Chain.  Print the strips in two different colors--red and green, purple and white, purple and blue--whatever you'd like.  (Copy and paste the text for the strips into a separate document. All of the odd-numbered strips should fit on one sheet; the even numbered strips on a second sheet of paper.) Cut the strips apart on the lines, one strip at a time.  Bring the ends around to form a loop and staple, glue or tape to fasten.  Alternate the strips from the two colored pages and link before fastening to create a festive chain.  (The strips are numbered to help keep them in order.  Cutting one strip away from the sheet at a time also helps keep the sequence straight. The Scripture readings are based on the New Common Lectionary and relate to specific Sundays.)  You might want to edit the content to include church activities on specific days. 

These chains could be made by the children at church school or at home.  Younger children may need some help. Have fun making the chains with your boys and girls as they find something to do while they're waiting.

1. Sunday, November 27, 2011 – The First Sunday in Advent - Make this Advent Chain and hang it in your home.  Use it to count the days until Jesus’ Birthday.

3.  Tuesday, November 29, 2011 – Spread peanut butter on a pine cone and roll in bird seed.  Hang outside and share the generosity of Christmas with the wild birds.

5.  Thursday, December 1, 2011 – Ask an older member of your family to share with you one of their favorite Advent traditions.

7.  Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011 – Clean out your toy box and give those toys you no longer use to someone who would enjoy them.  Put the toys you want to keep away neatly.

9.  Monday, Dec. 5, 2011 – Read the story of John the Baptist in the Bible again (Mark 1:1-8).  Draw a picture of John the Baptist in his rough camelhair robe and leather belt.

11.  Wednesday, December 7, 2011 – Ask a grownup to share with you a Christmas story or tradition from a culture other than your own.

13.  Friday, December 9, 2011 – Share the love of Christmas.  Give a hug to someone in your family today.  Wish them a Happy Advent!

15.  Sunday, December 11, 2011 – Read Psalm 126:3.  Share something great that God has done for you today.  Thank-you, God!

17. Tuesday, December 13, 2011 – Ask what you can do to help get your home ready for Christmas, then do it!

19. Thurs., Dec. 15, 2011 – Take a walk or a drive with your family after dark and look at all of the Christmas lights.  Your neighborhood is getting ready for Christmas, too!

21. Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011 – Make and mail a Christmas card to someone you love who lives far away.  Say, “Merry Christmas!”

23. Monday, December 19, 2011 – Listen to some Christmas music.  Sing along if you know the words, or make up your own song about getting ready for Christmas.

25. Wednesday, December 21, 2011 – Make a Christmas ornament or decoration and hang it on your tree or in your home. 

27. Friday, December 23, 2011 – Take a Christmas treat to a neighbor or friend and wish them a Merry Christmas!

29. Sunday, December 25, 2011 – The long wait is over!!  Happy Birthday, Jesus, and Merry, Merry Christmas!!

2. Mon., Nov. 28, 2011 – Psalm 80:1 says, Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!  There are many shepherds in the Bible. In this verse, God is called a shepherd because God leads the people like a shepherd leads the flock of sheep.

4. Wed., Nov. 30, 2011 – Advent means “coming.” The season of Advent is the time we get ready for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. Name one thing you can do to get ready for Christmas.

6. Friday, December 2, 2011 – Make a wish list of gifts you’d like to GIVE this Christmas. What gift would you give the baby Jesus if you had been at the manger that first Christmas?

8. Sunday, December 4, 2011 – Read Mark 1:1-8. The next time you’re at church, ask your pastor to show you the baptismal font or baptistery where people are baptized in your church.

10. Tuesday, December 6, 2011 – Think about the things that make you the happiest. Do something nice for a member of your family to share the joy of Christmas.

12. Thursday, December 8, 2011 – Call a relative or friend that lives far away on the phone and tell them what you’re doing while you wait for Christmas. Ask for a grown-up’s help if you need it.

14. Saturday, December 10, 2011 – Make Christmas cookies and take some of them to your local fire or police station to thank those who serve your community and wish them a Merry Christmas.

16. Monday, December 12, 2011 – Gather up some canned food and donate it to your local food bank so that everyone will have enough to eat this Christmas.

18. Wed., Dec. 14, 2011 – Look at a picture of a shepherd. What is the shepherd holding? What Christmas candy does the shepherd’s crook look like? Thank God for shepherds & candy canes!

20. Friday, December 16, 2011 – What is your favorite Christmas movie? Watch a Christmas movie with your family.

22. Sun., Dec. 18, 2011 – The Bible tells us that God sent angels to tell Mary and Joseph that Jesus was coming, and to the shepherds to tell them that Jesus was born. Draw a picture of an angel and thank God for Good News!

24. Tuesday, December 20, 2011 – There were animals in the stable where Jesus was born. What kinds of animals do you imagine were there? Can you make the animals’ sounds?

26. Thursday, December 22, 2011 – Read a Christmas storybook with someone you love. Ask that person what his or her favorite part of the book is.

28. Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011 – Read Luke 2. If you can, go to Christmas Eve church services and thank God for the gift of Jesus.  Christmas is almost here!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Children's Sermons Today Begins!

Children's Sermons Today Begins!

Over twenty years ago, I wrote a series of books of children's sermons entitled A Time With Our Children: Stories for Use in Worship. published by the United Church Press.  I have shared and listened to hundreds of children's sermons since that time, and the tenets I expressed in the Introductions then remain true to me today.

First, children's sermons must be for the children, and not used as entertainment for, or an additional chance to drive home a point to the adults in the congregation.  This means using story-telling methods that relate to the age range of the children involved.  It also means not setting children up to be embarrassed.

Second, providing a specific time with our children within the context of congregational worship does not let planners off the hook for the remainder of the service.  Children should be considered and included in all aspects of worship.  Further, children should be invited to share their gifts of leadership on a regular basis, and not just on Youth Sunday once a year.

Some church leaders have expressed concern regarding whether or not children's sermons are effective or appropriate in the context of worship.  Some have said that at worst, they can even be harmful to our children's experience and understanding of God and the church.  (See William Willimon's Blog, for example.)

I agree that children's sermons can be poor, as can any sermon.  My preaching practicum teacher, Rev. Warren Lee, used to tell his students, "You can always preach your worst sermon."  How true!  Of course, who is to say that with proper preparation and an ear for the stirrings of the Spirit, that the next homily you deliver won't be a true reflection of God's Word to the people of God?  Likewise, with proper preparation and God's grace-filled guidance, I believe children's sermons can be a useful tool to nurture the youngest among us in Christian faith and practice.

The purpose of this blog is to offer help to those blessed with the ministry of sharing A Time with Our Children, whether it be for one Sunday or on a regular basis.  It will include children's sermons, tips and general ideas for children and worship.  Use the stories as a starting point to develop your own ideas.  Adapt them to your own congregation and the needs of the children of your church.  Have fun!  And please share your experiences in the comments section of this blog. 

God bless you and the children you serve.