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.