From a Child's Point of View
All of us, both children and adults, are always growing. To the delight of children, today's readings ask adults to follow the example of two growing children, rather than ask that children follow the examples of adults.
Old Testament: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26. This story offers two important messages for children. First, Samuel wore "the sacred linen apron." That is, he had an important job at the Temple. He wasn't just watching the grown-ups work. (What mission and worship work do the children of your congregation do?) Second, while Samuel was growing up, he was respected by people of all ages and by God. Remind the children that their gifts and ideas also are appreciated and respected now.
Warning: Even though Samuel was not living with his parents, they continued to love and care for him. They were proud of his special place at the Temple. God did not ask Samuel's parents to abandon Samuel, nor will God ask the children's parents to give them away. It is easy for children to miss this truth.
Psalm: 148. This is a call to praise that children appreciate. Younger children, who still attribute human capabilities to all parts of creation, take the psalm literally and enjoy hearing the poet call on animals, weather, and plants to join in praising God. Older children who realize that inanimate objects cannot praise in the same way humans do, but who do not yet grasp the poetry of mountains or wind praising God, are more comfortable in calling on a variety of groups of people to do the praising. The simple words and familiar vocabulary enable middle-elementary children to read with the congregation.
Epistle: Colossians 3:12-17. These verses can be viewed as Paul's guidelines for growing up as a Christian. Paul informs us that how we do our growing-up work is important. Whether we are learning to ride a bicycle, struggling to learn math at school, or trying to cope with a neighborhood bully, we are to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and so forth. If we do this, we will grow in wisdom and favor with God and with people—just as Samuel and Jesus did.
Gospel: Luke 2:41-52. This story about Jesus at age twelve echoes that of young Samuel. Again, the child is respected in the congregation. In this story, Jesus' qwuestion and ideas are taken seriously. So adults are called to listen to children and talk with them about our faith, and children are called to learn all they can about God and to ask all their questions—even the ones that may sound odd.
Speak simply of the everyday business of growing up.
Let the Children Sing
"O Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Joy to the World!" are appropriate for the Sunday after Christmas and are known by most children. The words to "O Come, All Ye Faithful" are easier for children to understand.
"O Sing a Song of Bethlehm" traces Jesus' growing up with simple words and a singable tune.
"All Creatures of Our God and King" parallels the praises of Psalm 148. Even nonreaders can join in on the Alleluias.
The Liturgical Child
1. Invite a twelve-year-old to read the story of Jesus in the Temple. Practice with the reader in the sanctuary, using microphones if they are used on Sunday, until the child can read the text comfortably, at an appropriate speed, and with good inflection. (The sixth-grade Sunday school teacher can help identify a child who reads well and would be comfortable reading in the sanctuary.)
2. Pray your way through Paul's instructions in Colossians:
Lord, you have called us your people. You have loved us and chosen us for your own. In return, you have asked us to be compassionate, kind, gentle, and patient. None of that comes easy for us. We try to ignore people who need our help. Hear our confessions about our lack of compassion. (Pause)
We do not say the kind words friends need to hear and avoid doing gentle deeds that would make others happy. Hear our confessions about our failures to be kind and gentle. (Pause)
And we all want to do what we want to do when we want to do it. Having patience with those who are slower than we are or who want to do things another way is not easy. Hear our prayers for patience. (Pause)
Lord, You have asked us to tolerate others. Hear our prayers about the people we need to tolerate at home, at school, and at work. (Pause)
You have asked us to forgive one another. Hear our prayers about people we are trying to forgive. (Pause)
Be with us. Give us your peace and love to guide us; for we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
3. Remember to include in the days' prayers the week-after-Christmas concerns of children: being tired and bored with nothing to look forward to; broken or disappointing toys; weather that keeps them cooped up indoors.
4. Turn Paul's instructions in Colossians into a pre-benediction charge by pausing after each phrase for the congregation to respond, "With God's help, we will try."
1. The text about Samuel is sketchy when it comes to details which children need in order to understand what was going on. "Small Boy Leaves Home," in The Children's Bible in 365 Stories by Mary Batchelor, supplies those details in a warm, human way. Use the author's ideas or read her short account in its entirety, either as part of the sermon or as a second reading immediately following the biblical text.
2. Celebrate growing up with lots of everyday examples—going to school for the first time, getting a driver's license, learning to be a good husband or wife, learning how to live alone after a spouse leaves or dies. Share with children and remind older worshipers that we are never "grown-up" but are always facing new tasks that call us to grow even more. Remember that Jesus also grew up just as we do—being a big brother, learning new games from friends, and accepting new responsibilities.
3. Recall Peter Pan and the lost boys who refused to grow up. They preferred to play, be dirty, and do what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it. Wendy and her brothers, on the other hand, enjoyed their childhood stories and games but also knew that growing up is part of life and were unwilling to stay children forever in Never Never Land.
4. Stress the importance of asking questions and talking together about God to keep us growing as God's people. This is a chance to push Christian education for all ages.