Worship for Kids: December 6, 2020

November 1st, 2020

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Isaiah 40:1-11. Children are confused by the profusion of poetic images in this familiar Advent prophecy and generally tune out before the end of the reading. They are more likely to hear and remember one or two phrases that are repeated in the liturgy than to recall the message of the passage.

The first two verses must be read in historical context and speak mainly to adults who have enough life experience to appreciate the promise of relief. Some older children find in the phrase," 'Comfort, O comfort my people,' says your God" reassurance that God cares for us.

The action called for in verses 3-5 sounds like a massive construction project to literal thinkers. They immediately picture bulldozers and cranes they have seen along the roads. So they depend on the preacher to give everyday examples of ways we are to build a highway for God.

The message of verses 6-11, especially verses 6-8, is beyond children's experience and understanding. (Consider omitting them to focus on verses 1-5.) The image of God as a caring shepherd in verse 11, however, assures older children that they can depend on God's love and care.

Psalm: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13. The poetic images of this passage strike children as strange. They tend to giggle at their mental pictures of two human forms named Righteousness and Peace kissing each other, and one named Faithfulness exploding up out of the ground. Explaining all this is more trouble than it is worth to either preachers or children. So read this for adults and trust that children will hear and appreciate it later in their lives.

Epistle: 2 Peter 3:8-15a. The adults in the early church were concerned about why Jesus had not yet returned in glory. Children, however, live very much in the present. The future return of Christ is significant to them only because of what it says about the present world. If that return is presented as a fearful judgment, children view the world as a dangerous place, under the control of a threatening God. If the return is presented by recalling that God was here in the beginning and that God also will be at the end of the world, children view the world as a safe place, under the care of a loving, powerful God. The difference is critical to their feelings about the world and their place in it.

As the year 2000 approaches, more and more end-of-the-world talk is likely. Children are particularly frightened by groups that set specific dates and make vivid claims about what will happen on that date. They need to be told to ignore all such claims. When specific claims are being touted in the community, children need to be assured that those claims are false. The Bible repeatedly insists that Jesus' return will surprise everyone.

Gospel: Mark 1:1-8. Children in congregations which practice mainly infant baptism need help in understanding the purpose of John's "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." Explain that it was a ceremony people carried out to show that they were going to make some changes in the way they lived. Underlying that baptism was, and is, the belief that we can change. Children often believe just the opposite. They feel trapped by what is demanded of them at home and school. They sense that both adults and peers expect them to behave in certain ways and would be suspicious of any changes, even for the better. They feel powerless to change their behavior or to resolve difficult situations that confront their families and friends.

In this passage, John insists that we can make changes. He baptized with water to call his listeners (and us) to make needed changes. He promised that "the One who comes" would give the people the power of Holy Spirit, so that they could make even greater changes. Help the children celebrate this power that has been given to them.

Watch Words

Repent may be a new word. Use change as it's synonym, to build understanding and familiarity with it. John wanted people to change their ways.

Avoid theological abstractions about confession and repentance. Speak instead about making changes in our lives, to live more like God's people.

Let the Children Sing

"Lord, I Want to Be a Christian" is the most child-accessible hymn about making changes. Focus on what "more" we can be. Consider creating new verses to match the changes suggested in today's sermon.

Sing about God's dependable care, with the hymn version of Psalm 23 that is most familiar. (Children understand paraphrases of the psalm more readily than the shepherd hymns filled with theological language about its meaning.)

The Liturgical Child

1. Open worship with John's call to prepare the way of the Lord. Begin with a trumpet fanfare from the back of the sanctuary. Then have Isaiah 40:3-5 either sung or read by a strong male voice, also from the back of the sanctuary. Worship leaders and choirs then process on a hymn such as "Come Christians, Join to Sing" (even nonreaders can join in on the Alleluias), or a musical setting of John's call (the musical "Godspell" offers a very effective one).

2. Light the first two candles of the Advent wreath, saying:

Last week we lit a candle to remind ourselves to watch for places where God is at work in the world. Because God is at work, we can light a candle this week for change. God calls us to make changes. God calls each of us to make some changes in what we do and say at home, at school, at work, and with our friends. And God calls us all to work together to change our world to make it more fair for everyone. Advent is a time for making changes for God.

3. If you sing the Gloria Patri regularly, feature "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be" today. Either,

A. point out the phrase, put it into your own words, and note that when we sing it, we, like Isaiah and the psalmist, say that God was God in the beginning and always will be God. Or,

B. use the phrase as a congregational response to a litany praising God, who creates and takes loving care of the world in the past, the present, and the future.

4. Have each section of the Isaiah lection read by a different reader, perhaps including readers of different ages. For example, an older adult reads verses 1-2, an older child reads verses 3-5, a mid-adult reads verses 6-8, and a teenager reads verses 9-11. All need to be standing near a microphone so that they can step up to it to read in quick succession.

Sermon Resources

1. One symbol for God's presence from the beginning through the end of history is the combined Alpha and Omega. Explain the meaning of the letters and point out any Alpha and Omega symbols among your Chrismons, on paraments, or carved or painted in your sanctuary. (Use a flashlight to highlight those that are out of reach.)

2. Recall children's questions about God:

If God made the world, who made God?
What was there before there was God?
What will God do after the world is over?

In responding to them, describe the attributes of God upon which we can depend.

3. Build the entire sermon around a comparison of the construction of a highway and "preparing the way of the Lord." Discuss deciding where to build the road, clearing the land, grading the road bed, paving for heavy traffic, and landscaping.

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

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