Worship for Kids: December 3, 2017

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Isaiah 64:1-9. The abstract theological language and poetic imagery of this passage are hard for children to understand. But its thought pattern is familiar: The writer begins to lash out at others, wishing that God would come in a dramatic display of power and set things right. But when he remembers that God has always come only to the righteous, he honestly admits that God has no reason to defend him and his people. Finally, he prays that God will love and protect them in spite of their failings.

Many angry children and adults go through the same process in praying about their frustrations with unjust people and situations.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19. For children, the format of this psalm is more significant than its content it is filled with poetic imagery and requires knowledge of the sweep of Old Testament history. In verses 1-2 and 4-6, a problem is described. The repeated response in verses 3 and 7 identifies God as the only one who can solve the problems. The format invites us to join the psalmist in describing the impossible situations we face and asking God to set them right. Some problems children describe include endless fighting in their family, addictions to drugs and alcohol, worries about having enough money for food and clothes, concern for the environment, and fears about war on the playground and in the world.

The response in verses 3, 7, and 19 needs to be paraphrased for young children: Rescue us, O God! Only you can lead us to peace and safety.

Gospel: Mark 13:24-37. Because children hear apocalyptic language literally, the dark sun, falling stars, and powerful quakes are frightening. When these vivid images are combined with the mini-parables, both of which need to be explained to children, young worshipers are overwhelmed by the diverse details. For them, the double message of the text is simply the promise that God will come (does come) and the warning to "stay awake!" This message may be best explored without direct reference to the specifics of the text or by focusing on only one subsection.

In its Advent context, the message is a reminder that God surprised people with Jesus and that God still surprises us by working among us today. We remember that God cares about the problems of the world and works to solve them. And we stay awake and on the job for God.

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9. Paul greets the Corinthians, and all Christians who watch for God, with promises of God's presence and gifts. He warns children with long Christmas wish-lists not to overlook the gifts that God has already given them. Paul's abstract list needs to be translated into specific, recognizable gifts. "Knowledge and utterances" refers to all we know and do because we are part of a church. "Spiritual gifts" include our abilities that help us to do God's work patience with younger children, ability to sing in the choir, and so on. God's strength is not so much to give us the power to do amazing feats as to give us the power to keep trying when we are discouraged. Paul insists that God has given each of us exactly what we need to "watch for God" and "work for God" effectively.

Watch Words

Advent means coming. During Advent we remember how people watched and waited for God to come in Jesus, and we watch and wait for God to come and work in our world and lives.

Several of today's texts speak of God's anger. Describe that anger as God's response to unfair, mean deeds. Differentiate between that and the violent anger some children experience at the hands of adults or older children.

Avoid iniquity, unclean, and transgressions, in favor of more common words such as sin and wrongs. When possible, speak of specific sins rather than sin in general.

Let the Children Sing

Though children have trouble following the meaning of the words of "Watchman Tell Us of the Night," they catch the sense of watching when they join in singing it responsively. One half of the congregation could sing the traveler's lines, with the other half singing the watchman's responses. Or the congregation could sing the traveler's lines to the choir or to a soloist taking the part of the watchman.

The imagery and vocabulary of "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" fit today's texts but are hard for children. To help children learn this traditional hymn, read the words of verse 2, put them into your own words, and relate them to today's theme before the hymn is sung. Children, who might otherwise give up on the whole hymn, can then focus on this one verse.

"Open My Eyes That I May See," though filled with abstract language, is a good prayer for people who watch for signs of God at work during Advent. Encourage younger children to sing at least the first phrase of each verse.

The Liturgical Child

1. Light the first candle of the Advent wreath, saying:

We light the first candle of the Advent wreath to remind ourselves to stay awake and watch for signs of God at work in our world. Mary and Joseph were ready to be parents to God's Son. The shepherds left their sheep to see the baby the angels told them about. The wise men took a long trip, following the star, to find Jesus. So stay awake! Keep on the job! God is at work today! Do not miss out!

2. With your voice, indicate the change from self-righteousness to honest reflection in verses 4-5 of Isaiah 64. Read verses 1-4 loudly, proudly calling down God's anger on those who deserve it. End verse 4 abruptly, caught by what you have said. Pause briefly, then read the phrases of verses 5-7 with thoughtful self-inspection. Pause again before the "Yet" of verse 8 to draw attention to the new prayer that grows from this reflection. The brief phrases of The New Jerusalem Bible emphasize the thought-progression in verses 5-7.

3. Base a prayer of petitions on the format of Psalms 80. A leader offers a series of prayers about current situations that need God's attention in families, communities, and the world. After each prayer, the congregation responds with Psalms 80:3, or a paraphrase of it. (Children and adults see many of the same problems in the world. Describing those problems in specific, concrete terms rather than long, abstract generalities enables children to share the prayers e.g., name the fears of the soldiers in two armies lined up against each other and pray for their leaders, rather than praying about "powers confronting each other with violence in the world.")

Sermon Resources

1. Begin by describing situations which you think only God could rectify. Include some that involve children. Then invite children to draw pictures, on the backs of bulletins or on other paper, of situations they wish God would fix. As children leave the sanctuary, speak to them briefly about what they have drawn. Consider posting their work.

2. To paraphrase Jesus' story about the servants left at work by the traveling master, tell about a child who was hired by neighbors to care for their cat while they were on vacation for two weeks. When the family returned earlier than planned, they found the cat's litter dirty, the food and water dishes empty, and several crushed drink cans that had been taken from the refrigerator. The hired child, who had not expected them to return so soon, was very embarrassed.


Adapted from Forbid Them Not: Involving Children in Sunday Worship © Abingdon Press

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