From a Child's Point of View
Old Testament: Isaiah 49:1-7. Within this complicated "servant song" are several themes that are important to children but which children will not recognize as the passage is read.
First, children need to explore the possibility that they (or their congregation) are the servants to whom God is speaking. They were chosen and named by God, who has a plan for them. Seeing themselves as well-polished weapons (or tools), cared for and hidden away by God until the right moment, builds children's self-esteem and contributes to their sense of identity and purpose, based on belonging to God and doing God's will.
When it is singled out for rereading and explanation, the conversation between God and the servant in verses 4-6 reassures children that though they, like the servant, often feel they are not doing anything great, God is using them. So often their daily activities and frustrations seem very insignificant. It seems that they will be forever "just kids." In the middle of winter, after Christmas and with a long way to go until Easter, it seems as if nothing exciting or important will ever happen. To them, as to the servant, God insists that they are important; they are light—not just for the neighborhood or school, but for the world!
Children begin to understand what it means to be the light of the world with their feelings, rather than their minds. Even the youngest can describe the difference between fearful, hard-to-get-around-in dark, and comfortable, easy light. Middle-elementary children can identify "dark" versus "light" feelings and experiences. Based on this, they can begin to understand that some actions and words bring dark, while others bring light. Many fifth- and sixth-graders can finally articulate what it means to bring light to the world and be light for the world.
Psalm: 40:1-11. This psalm is so rich with poetic images and references to the sacrificial worship of the Temple that it is all but incomprehensible to children. If it is introduced as the thanksgiving poem of a person who has been in deep trouble and gotten out, children will catch meaningful phrases here and there. Older children, if challenged, may be able to pick out the psalmist's promises to use his mouth to tell about God's love and power.
Epistle: I Corinthians 1:1-9. If you plan to emphasize the First Corinthians readings during the coming weeks, children will be interested in the letter format, especially in the greeting in verses 1-3. Knowing who wrote, and the church to whom the person wrote will bring the passages to life.
The prayer of thanksgiving in verses 4-9, however, is voiced in such abstract language that children cannot follow it in any translation. Its talk of gifts and waiting for the day of the Lord need such extensive explanation that children cannot get through the explanations to the message. Read this text for those with more mature minds.
Gospel: John 1:29-42. This text offers two examples of witnesses. John the Baptist was the kind of witness Isaiah's servant was called to be and that the psalmist promised to be. He simply and bravely told the crowds what he had seen and know to be true. God had promised that John would see the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descend on the One God was sending. When John saw the dove, he told everyone what had happened and pointed out who Jesus was. Andrew heard what John said, he followed Jesus, and he later took his brother to meet Jesus. Children are challenged to tell what they know, as John did. They are especially encouraged to be witnesses to their friends, as Andrew was to his brother.
Refer to courtrooms and news reports to describe what it means to be a witness. If local TV stations carry programs titled "Eyewitness News," use this as a familiar example of our use of witness.
Do not use the symbolic term light of the world without speaking in children's terms about what it means.
Let the Children Sing
Sing about witnessing to what happened at Christmas with "Go, Tell It on the Mountain." Children can sing the opening line of each verse and enjoy the spreading light in the chorus of "We've a Story to Tell to the nations." If children know "Pass It On," they can sing it with the congregation, or as a choir, to commit themselves to be witnesses.
The Liturgical Child
1. Light candles in the worship center as part of the Call to Worship. As the candles are lighted, have a worship leader read John 8:12 or a call to worship such as the following:
Isaiah said, "the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light." Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." We light this candle (these candles) to remind us of the light of God's love and presence with us. Let us worship God.
At the conclusion of worship, carry the light of the candles to the rear of the sanctuary as a charge is given. An acolyte may light the taper of a long-handled candlelighter, snuff the candles, then recess with the lighted taper held high. Or in a less formal setting, an appointed worship leader may simply rise and carry out a still-lighted worship-center candle.
Charge: Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
2. Explain the setting of, and the movement within, Psalm 40:1-11. Then offer a brief time in which worshipers may silently identify times when they were in deep trouble and were rescued. Finally, invite them to join the psalmist in thanksgiving. In the worship bulletin, print the words of the psalm in the following format:
People: (The psalmist speaks to the congregation.) verses 1-3
Leader: (The priest replies to the psalmist.) verse 4
People: (The psalmist speaks to God.) verses 5-11
1. Describe the functions of several kinds of light, then challenge worshipers to take on the function of one or more of these lights as they light up the world.
• airport searchlights that point the way home;
• lighthouse beacons that alert people to danger;
• fireplace or campfire lights where people laugh and tell stories and enjoy an evening together;
• detectives' flashlights used to find the truth of serious problems;
• night-lights that comfort people with troubles.
2. There are many references to tongues in today's texts. Tongues can get people of all ages into trouble. So preach about what we do with our tongues. Topics of interest to children include telling lies, twisting the truth to our advantage, tattling (telling "the truth" in order to get other people in trouble), blurting out things that hurt others (either in anger or on purpose), saying things we know will stir up trouble, and being quiet when we know we should speak.