Worship for Kids: December 5, 2021

September 2nd, 2021

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Malachi 3:1-4. Malachi spoke harshly to people who expected God to endorse whatever they were doing. He warned of the coming of a messenger who would bring "strong soap" and "refiner's fire." Today's soap (except some shampoo) seldom burns, and few children have experience with refiner's fires. But children do know that hurting is sometimes part of healing and that discipline leads to strength. Medicine that stings, painful therapy for a broken bone, and sports disciplines teach them this. Still, Malachi's idea that God may come as a demanding coach or teacher, rather than as a supportive, somewhat indulgent parent, may be new to children. So explain that Malachi's message means that to be fully God's people, they must be disciplined and obedient to God. Point out specific disciplines such as attending worship and church school, obeying God's rules, practicing peacemaking, and seeking justice every day. Challenge the children to choose an Advent discipline.

Gospel: Luke 3:1-6. Child-development experts have found that children cannot interpret symbolic imagery until late childhood or even early adolescence. This means that calls to fill in the valleys, bring the hills low, and make crooked paths straight can sound like calls to massive construction projects. Even children who sense that these calls are not to be taken literally need help to convert them into sensible calls to repentance. One way to help is to provide parallel examples from everyday life (e.g., straighten out your life, live by God's rules, treat others more kindly).

Epistle: Philippians 1:3-11. While John the Baptist and Malachi speak harshly to people who need to repent, Paul writes to encourage people who are repenting. Paul gives repentance a good name and feel. He indicates that all Christians are always repenting, and he offers those who repent his love and support in their efforts. Use this passage to help children understand repentance as a positive, lifelong activity for Christians, as individuals and as congregations.

Today's Psalm: Luke 1:68-79. Children's interest in this prayer is based more on context than content. They are curious about the old priest who did not believe the angel who promised him and his elderly wife a baby and consequently was struck speechless until the promised child was born. They can imagine his silent excitement as he waited for the birth of the two special babies in his family and appreciate his burst of praise when John was born and his speech returned. They do have trouble following Zechariah's praises, filled with abstract words and Old Testament images. When they know Zechariah's story and are urged to listen for prayers about Jesus and about John, older children can catch occasional phrases.

Watch Words

The key word is repent. Be sure the children understand the difference being being sorry about something and repenting. We can be sorry about failing a spelling test because we did not study. But when we repent, we make time to study so we can pass the test next week. It is easy to be sorry we cannot get along with a difficult person at school or at work. But when we repent, we work to improve our relationship with that person.

Let the Children Sing

A good choice is "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian."

"Open My Eyes, That I May See," and "Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated" have some difficult vocabulary. But their references to "using our bodies to repent" make them understandable to children.

The Liturgical Child

1. Bring these Scriptures to life with very dramatic readings. Let Malachi and John the Baptist thunder in your best street-corner-preacher stgyle. Shake your fist and point your finger for emphasis. Take the role of Zechariah as he praised God and rejoiced over the birth of his son John. (Ask an older man to come in costume, carrying a doll or an infant, to recite Zechariah's prayer.) In reading Paul's letter, imagine yourself in prison writing to friends you love and miss. Let that love show in your voice.

2. To give a personal twist to Paul's message, suggest that worshipers listen as if Paul were speaking to them individually and/or to the congregation.

3. Challenge children (and adults) to write about or draw a picture of some repenting they want to do during Advent. Invite them to place their paper in the offering plate as an Advent commitment to God. Instruct ushers to respect the privacy of those notes and prayers.

4. Lead corporate prayer, with pauses for individual prayer about repenting.

Lord, we hear John and Malachi call us to repent, but we think they must be talking to someone else. We do not often stop to think about the repenting we need to do. Help us to look honestly at ourselves.
We know we need to repent in our families. It is strange but true that we often treat members of our families with less care than we give strangers. We expect others in our family to accept us when we feel cross and tired, but we are not so ready to put up with them when they are fussy. Help us see the changes we need to make in our families. (Pause)
And we know we are not always kind and loving at school or at work. We want things done our way. We become angry when our work or our ideas are criticized or when we get bad grades. There are people we need to forgive, but we do not. Help us make some changes, God. (Pause)
Lord, we are all members of groups. We are Scouts, Jaycees, Women's Leaguers, Virginians, and Americans (adapt to fit your congregation). We enjoy these groups, but we know we are to work in them for your peace and justice. Sometimes it is easier to go along with the others than to stand up for your ways. Help us change the groups to which we belong. (Pause)
God, be with us during Advent as we repent. Help us see the changes we need to make, and give us the courage and power to make them; for we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Sermon Resource

The movie Karate Kid, which many children and parents have seen, provides a current example of Malachi's "strong soap" or "refiner's fire." After agreeing to teach him karate, the old master puts the boy to work—washing and polishing cars, then sanding and painting a long wooden fence. After a while the boy objects that this is not what he came to do. The wise teacher then demonstrates that the work has strengthened his muscles and made certain crucial moves second nature. If you have not seen this fine movie/ video, do so now as sermon preparation—and for a treat!

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