From a Child's Point of View
Today's theme is joy. To children, it seems that Christmas joy is based on the parties, presents, decorations, and family visits. It will take work to help them identify and respond to the reasons for Christmas joy found in today's texts.
Old Testament: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11. The changes in speakers and poetic imagery make this passage difficult for children to follow. Older children will catch occasional phrases and, if the passage is read with joy, will hear its joyful feeling. However, all children will depend on the preacher to point out the source of Isaiah's joy.
Isaiah cites three reasons for our Christmas joy. First, God is on the side of the underdog (verses 1-4). This is happy news for children in a world controlled by older people. It is happier news to children who feel they are not as smart or athletic or popular as their peers. It is the happiest news to children who feel they are undervalued because of their race, economic standing, and so on.
Second, God loves justice or in children's words, fairness or fair play (vs. 8). Elementary children are extremely interested in fair rules for clubs and games, and they value adults whom they feel treat children fairly. Because even privileged children often feel that they are not fairly treated, knowing that God wants fairness is a cause for joy among children.
Third, God has saved us (verse 10). During Advent, that saving is illustrated by telling the story of God coming to live among us.
Psalm: Psalm 126 or Luke 1:47-55. (The psalm is preferred for this day. See the fourth Sunday of Advent for notes and ideas for Luke 1:47-55, which is preferred for that day.) Especially if it is read with feeling from The Good News Bible, children hear the joy in this psalm. Without knowing the historical context or unraveling the verses about planting and harvesting, they can understand that the psalmist's happiness is a response to something God has done. Children gain more by using verses 1-3 as their own response to what God did at Christmas, and what God does for us today, than by hearing explanations of the historical context and references.
Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24. Verses 16 through 18 are the easiest for children to understand and offer most for them to think about during the final days before Christmas. During a week that often includes participation in Christmas programs and parties at school and in organizations, it is easy for children to be swept up in selfish wants, and fears that they are being slighted. It is also easy to become tired and crabby. Paul urges children (and the rest of us) to remember what we are celebrating and to be thankful and happy. On this third Sunday of Advent, verses 23-24, especially as translated in the Good News Bible, may then invite the preacher to outline specific ways we can celebrate Christmas faultlessly and completely with spirit, soul, and body.
Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28. The key word for children in this text is witness. John responded to what God was doing through Jesus by becoming a witness. He talked to everyone who would listen. We are called to follow John's example and share the joy of God's Christmas activity with others. We can be joyful witnesses.
Do not call children to rejoice or speak about Christmas joy without citing specific reasons for such activities and feelings.
Children use the word fair before they use either just or justice. Point out that the words mean the same thing. Then use them interchangeably to help children learn the connection.
Witness means to see and tell what happened. At Christmas we are to witness to what God has done and is doing.
Let the Children Sing
Young readers can join in on the repeated "rejoices" in the chorus of "Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart."
The words of "There's a Song in the Air," while not familiar, are simple enough for older children to read as they sing this carol about the spread of Christmas joy.
Both "Joy to the World" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful" are filled with joy, but are also filled with long, difficult words. Children respond more to the music than to the words of these carols, so if you sing these, have the organist pull out all the stops and set an upbeat tempo.
Sing about witnessing Christmas joy with "Go Tell It on the Mountain."
The Liturgical Child
1. Light the first three candles of the Advent wreath, saying:
We lighted the first candle of the Advent wreath to remind ourselves to watch for God at work in our world. We lighted the second candle to remember the changes God wants us to make. And today, we happily light the third candle of the Advent wreath for joy. We light this candle because God loves us and takes care of us. We light it because God pays special attention to the people others ignore and overlook. We light it because God came to live among us as a tiny baby, who grew into a man who loved and taught and healed and died to save us. This is the candle of Christmas joy.
2. Invite older children or youths to pantomime the Gospel text as it is read. As verses 6-8 are read, "John" takes his place at the center of the chancel. The questioners enter on verse 19 and use their bodies and hands to emphasize their questions. John responds with his hands and body. All leave on verse 28. Simple costumes add a lot. One good practice session is essential.
3. Create a litany that expresses Christmas joy. The worship leader describes the joy of someone involved in the birth of Jesus (Mary, Elizabeth, the shepherds, wise men, and so forth) and the joy of people today. The congregation responds with the psalmist's words, "How we laughed, how we sang for joy!" For example:
Leader: Elizabeth was very old when she became pregnant with her son, John the Baptist. Mary was a poor girl living in a small town in an unimportant country when she was chosen by God to be Jesus' mother. Mary went to stay with Elizabeth while they waited for their sons to be born.
People: How we laughed, how we sang for joy!
4. Use 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 as the Charge and 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 as the Benediction. Read or recite from The Good News Bible.
1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Suess, is a book that has been turned into a yearly TV special. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge in Dickens' Christmas Carol, the Grinch is disgusted by Christmas. After attempting to stop it by stealing the presents and food on Christmas Eve, the Grinch discovers that Christmas joy is based on more than presents and parties.
2. Straighten out children's misconceptions about how several Christmas customs express our joy. Adult comments often lead children to conclude that we participate in such activities as caroling in nursing homes and gathering food and gifts for the poor in order to remind ourselves of our own security and health, and therefore to become more joyful. Children also get the idea that we give gifts to show how much we like and love one another, rather than to share our joy. The Christian gives a gift to say, "I am so happy about what God has done and is doing that I want to share that happiness. So here is a gift which I hope will give you happiness."
Adapted from Forbid Them Not: Involving Children in Sunday Worship © Abingdon Press