Worship for Kids: Christmas Eve/Day

September 2nd, 2021

Christmas Eve—Day

Note: The lectionary offers three sets of readings for Christmas Eve/Day. The readings are identical in each of the three cycles. In this series, Year A offers the second Christmas Proper (texts from the Roman Shepherd's Mass held at dawn on Christmas Day); Year B offers the third Christmas Proper (texts for later in the day or on the Sunday following Christmas); Year C offers the first Christmas Proper (the traditional texts for Christmas Eve). Any of the three is appropriate for use at any Christmas Eve or Day worship service.

The lessons of the Third Proper include no telling of the Christmas story, but only theological statements about its significance. While they are not the first choice for congregations which include large numbers of children, neither are they totally inaccessible to children. Children, though unable to appreciate the intellectual points of these texts, do respond to their awe in the face of God with us. Carefully planned liturgical presentation of the texts offers more to children than does the sermon. Review Years A and C for additional ideas for Christmas Eve/Day.

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel: John 1:1-14. Older children are interested in the fact that while Matthew and Luke begin their good news about Jesus with stories about his birth, Mark starts with Jesus as a man, and John introduces us to Jesus with a poem about who Jesus is. With this information, they are ready to listen for what John tells us about Jesus.

To understand what they hear, they need to be told that "the Word" was sort of a code word for Jesus. Everything the Word was or did, John said that Jesus was or did. Thus prepared, children can learn from the poem that Jesus was with God at Creation, that Jesus is the source of all life, that Jesus was not accepted by many people he met, and that Jesus makes us God's children. The most intriguing of these statements is that Jesus and God are one and that Jesus was at the beginning and will be at the end. On Christmas, children need to hear that no one understands how these things can be. They are mysteries truths that we know but cannot explain. The New Revised Standard Version offers the best translation of the Prologue for children.

Epistle: Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12). Verses 1-4 answer the question, "Why is Jesus important?" by stating that God spoke to us through Jesus. The writer notes that this was not the only time God had spoken and mentions prophets and angels as examples of God's other efforts. Children recognize that God speaks to us also through the Bible, through the beauty of the natural world, and through other people (often teachers). When they hear some of the things described that God told us through Jesus, they agree that God spoke to us most clearly in Jesus.

The comparison of Jesus to the angels is rather peripheral for Christmas Eve. But children are curious about angels, and if the optional verses are read dramatically, with pauses between the related quotes and careful inflection within the quotes, children grasp the writer's point. The Good News Bible is the easiest translation for children to understand.

Psalm: Psalms 98. Children will catch occasional phrases in this praise psalm. Particularly, they will hear the opening call to sing to God, who has done marvelous things; the familiar call to make a joyful noise (verse 4) with songs and instruments (verses 4-6); and the call for seas and hills to join in the praise (verses 7-8). These concrete praises are easy for children to own as their response to the events of Christmas.

Old Testament: Isaiah 52:7-10. This text is too complicated for children, especially on Christmas. Its images baffle concrete thinkers and require knowledge of the Exile and Return. This one is for the grown-ups.

Watch Words

For children, Word is simply a code word for Jesus. Christmas Eve or Day is not the time to use or introduce Logos.

Let the Children Sing

"Joy to the World!" (based on Psalms 98) , "O Come, All Ye Faithful," and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" express the triumph of Christ come to earth that is found in the texts. All three carols are, however, filled with long words exultation and strange phrases "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see." Because children generally learn Christmas carols by hearing them rather than by reading them, there are often misconceptions. Children respond more to the feel of the music than to the meaning of the words. So if you sing them, keep the tempo and sound bright and strong.

Even nonreaders can join in on the repeated lines of "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice."

The Liturgical Child

1. Since these lessons assume knowledge of the Christmas story, present the story in tableau before the service begins. Invite worshipers to arrive early enough to stop by a live nativity scene outside or to get a close look at a tableau in the chancel. If this is done in the sanctuary, replace the prelude with carol singing. Sing the first verse of story-telling carols that are familiar to children. Something to do while waiting for worship to begin is appreciated both by children, fueled with Christmas sugar and excitement, and by the adults who sit with them.

2. To set the mood of quiet wonder, begin with a soloist walking slowly down the center aisle (perhaps carrying a candle), singing "I Wonder as I Wander" or "What Child Is This?"

3. Light the four Advent candles and the Christ candle, saying:

Tonight we light the four candles of Advent waiting. We light one for the people who waited for hundreds of years for God's Messiah. We light one for Mary and Joseph waiting for Jesus to be born. We light one for all the waiting we have done getting ready for this night. We light one for all the people who are still waiting tonight for God's love and justice and peace. But tonight, we can finally light the Christ Candle. Jesus is born! The Messiah has come! So let us all say, "Merry Christmas!"

4. If you celebrate Holy Communion, introduce it as the feast table of King Jesus. Describe what people are wearing as they gather tonight in different climates. Name some of the different languages they are using to sing and pray. Then point out that all of them are worshiping the same King Jesus, who is Lord of the whole world. Identify the words of institution as words addressed to all these different people who love Jesus and are loved by Jesus.

5. Read Psalm 98 in the New Revised Standard Version as the Charge and Benediction. Conclude with, "Merry Christmas! Indeed!" or "Let all the people say,`Merry Christmas! Amen.' "

Sermon Resources

Remember that on Christmas Eve or Day, few children follow any sermon. They participate more fully in liturgy that is planned with their excitment and concerns in mind.

With several Chrismons, illustrate the nature of Christ as outlined in these texts. Point them out in their places on the tree with a flashlight beam. Alpha and Omega stand for Jesus' presence at both the beginning and the end of time. The stars stand for the light Jesus brought to the world. The crowns stand for Jesus' rule of the world. Crosses remind us that Jesus' rule is based on his forgiving love and death.

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

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