Worship for Kids: New Year's Day

December 20th, 2011

From a Child's Point of View

The beginning of the new year is a good time to look at our world and our place in it. Ecclesiastes outlines the patterns in that world. The psalmist praises God's work in creation and ponders our place in the world God created. Jesus reminds us that we are called to make a difference in the world; then he tells us how to do that. And John promises that, even when it seems least so, God is in control.

Old Testament: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13. Children hear paraphrases of this passage regularly, even from Bible-illiterate parents, as they try to teach children that they cannot always do what they wish, but must live within established patterns "There is a time for playing and a time for doing your homework." Children both love and hate those patterns. They find security in following daily schedules at home and school. Just try to shorten the bedtime ritual in order to leave for a meeting and hear the howl of protest. And even the most rebellious child will admit that when bedtime is ignored too many nights in a row, trouble follows.

But like Qoheleth, children very much want to do what they want to do when they want to do it. They protest leaving a neighborhood basketball game just because it is dinnertime. They feel put upon when called to take care of a younger sibling instead of being allowed to play with their friends. Learning to live comfortably with patterns of daily life is a task for childhood and also a tension with which we live as adults. Those who view this passage pessimistically overlook the value of the patterns and the possibility that many of those patterns are part of God's good plan.

Children both understand and appreciate verses 1-8 as they are read, especially when read from the New Revised Standard Version. But they depend on the preacher to put the message of verses 9-13 into simpler words.

Psalm: 8. Like the psalmist, children often sense God's presence when observing the natural world. The power of the wind and water at the beach, the size of the world when viewed from a mountaintop or an airplane window, the delicate smallness of insects and flowers all lead them to ponder the vastness of the world and their place in it.

The Good News Bible presents the psalmist's response in language most children understand, but it speaks of humanity in exclusively male terms. The New Revised Standard Version, on the other hand, speaks of people in the third person plural. In worship, it is often effective to use the first person plural, so that worshipers can speak with the psalmist.

Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46. Children quickly understand Jesus' point that we are called to make a difference in this world (and in the new year). Though they hear that the crucial question is whether one has responded to the needs of "the least of these my brothers," many children will need help in identifying modern examples of "the least of these" in their homes, schools, and community.

Epistle: Revelation 21:1-6a. This picture of the new Jerusalem ("new place" or "promised land") toward which God is leading the whole world is filled with symbolic pictures too complex for children. But if the children are told that the voice that speaks is God's, and if they are directed to listen carefully to what the voice says, they can find the two chief messages: (verses 3b-4) God will be with us and will care for us; and (verses 5b-6a) just as God was at the beginning of the world, so God will be at its end. (Comparing alpha and omega to A and Z helps to clarify the second point.)

Watch Words

Speak about God's world, rather than creation or the natural order.

Speak about people, instead of humanity, mortals, or man. Talk specifically about what God calls men and women and boys and girls to do.

Let the Children Sing

Sing about God's world, using "All Things Bright and Beautiful," "I Sing the Mighty Power of God," "This Is My Father's World" (only if children already know it), or "For the Beauty of the Earth."

"Lord, I Want to Be a Christian" is a good commitment hymn for a new year. Consider making up a verse or two tailored to the worship theme. If it is familiar to your children, "Be Thou My Vision" is another way to enter the new year.

If you celebrate communion, sing "I Come with Joy." The tune is simple and catchy. Children understand many of the phrases the first time they sing them, then learn others with a few repetitions. This is a good communion hymn to add to the congregation's repertory.

The Liturgical Child

1. Line out Psalms 8, urging worshipers to match your tone and feeling as they repeat each phrase (emphasize the italicized words). For example:

O Lord, Our Lord. (with great conviction) Your greatness is seen in all the earth. (joyfully) Your praise reaches up to the heavens. (loudly) It is sung by children and babies. (softly)

2. When reading the Gospel lesson, take the role of Jesus. With your hands, direct the sheep to one side and the goats to the other. Then turn toward the sheep as you read the verses about them and toward the goats as you read the verses about them. Read with great expression, letting your voice show the surprise and fear of both the sheep and the goats when they hear Jesus' judgment of them.

3. Pray for the new year, identifying hopes and dreams for the year and asking for the help that will be needed. For example:

Lord God of the Universe, we stand on the edge of a new year. We are full of hopes and dreams. We dream of peace among friends and among countries. We dream of enough food and a comfortable home for everyone. Hear each of our dreams for the world in the new year. (PAUSE) God, our Father and Mother, all of us have our own personal hopes for the year ahead. We dream of learning new things, meeting new friends, going to wonderful places, and doing new interesting and fun things. Hear each of our dreams for the new year. (PAUSE)

Sermon Resources

1. Offer a version of Qoheleth's "times" that fits your congregation. Include some that ring true for children:

There's a time to play with your friends and a time to play with younger brother and sister.

There's a time to go to bed and a time to get up.

There's a time to play games and a time to help with chores.

2. Turn the sermon into a State of God's World speech. Introduce it by referring to the President's State of the Union address later this month. Then proceed to describe either the state of God's larger world or the state of your congregation. Identify specific ways in which the concerns of today's texts affect the coming year. Offer challenges. Be sure to include your hopes and dreams for activities in which children participate, and challenge children to undertake specific missions (especially to "the least of these") during the coming year.

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

About the Author

Carolyn C. Brown

Carolyn C. Brown is a certified Christian educator and children’s ministry consultant who believes children read more…
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