Worship for Kids: Epiphany Sunday

December 1st, 2018

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12. The details of this story are often missed in children's Christmas pageants, when wise men simply follow the star to the manger. The encounter with Herod is skipped. When the story of the wise men is the focus of the day, it is possible to mine from the story two themes that are important to children.

First, God went to some trouble (by providing the star) to announce Jesus' birth to people of another race and country. In other words, God loves all people everywhere. Jesus came to all people. Thus, as Jesus' followers, we are to be one family with all people everywhere. We are to exclude no one from God's church or from our family. Although this inclusiveness is to be extended to people in our own school and community, Matthew's account of the wise men focuses on God's insistence on racial, national, and cultural inclusiveness.

Elementary children get heavy doses of national and cultural pride in school, Scouts, and similar activities. This is a chance to balance that pride with deep appreciation for other nations and cultures. It is also an opportunity to explore the value of nations working together and of cultures sharing their ways of doing things.

Second, this is a story of palace intrigue in which God and several foreigners outwit an evil ruler. The wise men learn from Herod where to find Jesus, but do not give Herod the information he needs to kill the child. God is at work on the side of the powerless. This is one of the success stories in the struggle of the powerless. Invite children to celebrate the story.

Epistle: Ephesians 3:1-12. Paul's announcement of God's "secret plan" reminds us that all people are members of God's family. Therefore, the wise men, like the Gentiles, are not "foreigners" but "kin." Today most children have contact at school or in their communities with children of other nationalities, races, and cultures. Older children are aware of people in other countries who dress, eat, speak, and act differently fromthe way we do. Paul's secret is that all these people are part of God's family. We must, therefore, respect them and treat them lovingly.

Note: The compound/complex sentences in this text are hard for children to follow. You will need to put Paul's announcement into simpler statements.

Psalm: 72:1-7, 10-14. This is both a prayer for, and a description of, a ruler who is everything Herod is not. This king is God's ideal—fair, caring, and kind. Christians have interpreted the passage as a description of the king that Jesus would be. But it also can be instructive for team captains, class officers, Scout patrol leaders, and other young leaders.

Old Testament: Isaiah 60:1-6. This Old Testament prophecy is read today to point to the arrival of the wise men. The connection is too obscure for most children.

Watch Words

Our tendency to use the terms wise men, magi, and kings interchangeably can confuse children.

Stick with one of the terms, or explain your use of others.

Do not assume that the children recognize the word Epiphany and understand its significance.

Let the Children Sing

"We Three Kings of Orient Are" is an obvious choice, but it includes abstract vocabulary that needs detailed explanation before children can sing all the verses with understanding.

"Come, Christians, Join to Sing" praises Christ the King with a repeated chorus of "Alleluia, Amen!"—in which even nonreaders can join (a specific invitation helps!).

"Jesus Loves the Little Children" is a familiar children's song celebrating the worldwide family of God. Perhaps a young children's class could sing it for the congregation, or the entire congregation could sing it as a hymn or in response to a point within the sermon.

The Liturgical Child

1. Light the Christ candle in your Advent wreath once more today. Then use it to light any other candles in your worship center. Explain the significance of the candles as they are lit. For example, many congregations light two candles on the table to recall Jesus' "twin" statements that he is the light of the world and that we also are called to be the light of the world.

2. Psalm 72 is a combination of the good wishes (or prayers) and cheers of a crowd celebrating their good king. So have four readers read the psalm with enthusiasm:

Reader 1: Verse 1
Reader 2: Verse 2
Reader 3: Verse 3
Reader 4: Verse 4
Reader 1: Verse 5
Reader 2: Verse 6
Reader 3: Verse 7
Reader 4: Verse 11
Reader 1: Verse 12a
Reader 2: Verse 12b
Reader 3: Verse 13
Reader 4: Verse 14

After delivering a sermon on leadership, repeat this reading as a prayer for specific leaders in the world today.

3. Use the characteristics of a good king found in Psalm 72:1-4; 12-14 as the basis of a prayer for leaders of the world today—name presidents, governors, and local leaders. Be sure to include leaders of countries other than your own.

4. Include prayers and music from different cultures and branches of Christianity in today's worship to celebrate the worldwide family of God. Perhaps a choir can prepare a hymn from another culture as an anthem. Create a display of hats from around the world in your worship center. (An older children's class might be enlisted to gather such hats.)

5. Pray for people of different nations and cultures. Using weather as a format, note the different kinds of weather in which Christians are gathering to worship on this day; then move to deeper concerns for the worldwide family of God.

For example, in a northern-hemisphere congregation, we might say, "It is hard to remember that for some Christians, today is the middle of summer. We remember our brothers and sisters in South Africa who gather in hot buildings and summer clothes toworship you and to find ways for black and white Christians to live together as your children."

Sermon Resources

1. Many children and adults would like to be "king." Compare the kings in this story: grasping, jealous Herod; the three worshiping kings; and King Jesus, who would be a serving, sacrificing king. Illustrate with stories about leaders of all ages.

2. Build a sermon around the three strange gifts the wise men brought. Consider using the verses of "We Three Kings of Orient Are" as an outline. Ask worshipers to follow along in open hymnbooks. Some religious bookstores sell samples of frankincense and myrrh, which you could display in your worship center.

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