Worship for Kids: December 22, 2019

November 7th, 2019

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-25. Today's soap-opera-watching, worldly wise children can appreciate Joseph's dilemma, if the language about conception is rephrased into plain talk about pregnancy (i.e., after they were engaged, Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant; this was a problem because you are not supposed to be pregnant before you are married). Details about Jewish betrothal practices will interest older children and will add both to their understanding of the corner Joseph was in, and to their appreciation for his brave response to the angel's message. Boys, especially, benefit from exploring Joseph's important supportive role in the Christmas stories.

Elementary-school-age children are not mentally ready to enter the debates about the virgin birth. For them, it is amazing, but acceptable, that God chose to "be with us" by being born as a baby and living among us. Only after they develop the ability for abstract thought will the questions about the virgin birth make sense.

Epistle: Romans 1:1-7. Children will not understand this passage as it is read. It helps to introduce the literary form—that is, the greeting from the letter of introduction which announces Paul's visit to the Roman Christians. The complex sentences and ideas in this passage should be paraphrased. For example:

From Paul to the Christians in Rome: Let me introduce myself. I am a slave of Jesus Christ. God loves me, even though I do not deserve it. And God has given me a job to do. I am to tell the good news about Jesus to people everywhere and help them live as disciples. I plan to come to Rome to share God's good news with you soon. So in advance, I send you God's loving grace and peace.

Like Joseph, Paul knew that God was with him, loved him, and had given him important work to do. The "Emmanuel promise" is that God is also with us and working through us.

Old Testament: Isaiah 7:10-16. This passage presents images and vocabulary problems which scholars debate, so it is not surprising that children can make little sense of the passage as it is read. It does, however, offer children two important truths that will need to be dug out of the text during the sermon.

First, children can hear, with the frightened King Ahaz, that God is with us always—even when two strong kings (or neighborhood bullies or older siblings) are plotting against us. God will be with us when we are facing all sorts of difficult situations, and God will still be with us after even the worst situations have been resolved.

Second, they can hear the promise of a special Son whose name will be Emmanuel, because he will indeed be "God with us," and they can add the word Emmanuel to their vocabulary.

Psalm: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19. This prayer for deliverance is included among today's readings because of its reference to Joseph. Unfortunately, that reference, and most of the other images of this psalm, assume detailed knowledge of the Temple and Jewish tribes. Children, therefore, will make little sense of it. This one is for biblical scholars.

Watch Words

Use Emmanuel and God with us frequently and interchangeably. Avoid incarnation, a long, strange theological word which means the same thing.

Avoid conception, "that which was conceived in her," and Mary's virginity. Instead, talk about the fact that Mary was pregnant, and God was the father of her baby.

Let the Children Sing

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is a natural choice for this Sunday. While its vocabulary and images are difficult for children, they respond quickly to the change of mood between the verses and the chorus. Simply alert the congregation to the problems mentioned in the verses and the happy "Emmanuel promise" recalled in the chorus. Encourage children to sing the chorus, even if they cannot read all the words in the verses.

"Once in Royal David's City" speaks of God's presence with us in Jesus, in simple words that children can read and understand. The third verse of "Away in a Manger" also recalls the "Emmanuel promise."

If you focus on the work of Joseph and Paul, invite the children's choir or a children's class to sing "The Friendly Beasts," which notes the work each animal did when Jesus was born.

The Liturgical Child

1. Light the fourth candle of the Advent wreath for God's Emmanuel promise, "I will be with you":

God promised that one day a son would be born who would be named God With Us. Jesus' last words before he went back into heaven were, "Remember, I will be with you always." God promises that we will never be alone. Just as God was with us in Jesus, God is with us every day. So today, we light a candle for God's Emmanuel promise. God is wit us.

2. "Kum Ba Yah," which means "come by here" is known by many children. As a children's class or choir to sing it as a response to the congregation's prayers of petition and intercession. Or invite the whole congregation to sing the chorus, in response to each of a series of petition prayers. Be sure to point out its meaning before it is sung.

3. Children's Christmas excitement is probably at fever pitch this Sunday. Remember in the church's prayer their hopes for wonderful gifts, anticipation of visits with grandparents and cousins, and delight in other Christmas traditions. Also pray for kindness and patience in the days between now and Christmas.

Sermon Resources

1. Abandonment is one of the deepest fears of childhood. So tell stories about the feeling of being lost in a grocery or department store (remember that young children assume that it is the parent and not the child that has wandered off or gotten lost); of wondering whether your parents have forgotten you when you are the last to be picked up after some activity; of fearing, while waiting with a babysitter or staying alone for the first time, that your parents will never return. You may want to speak of the special fear of children whose parents have divorced—that the parent with whom they live will move out, as did the other parent. Use these stories to set the stage for exploring the value of God's promise to be with us.

2. Feature Joseph exploring his part in Jesus' birth and early childhood. Point out the importance of his quiet, behind-the-scenes role.

3. Explore Joseph's big decision about Mary and Jesus. Note Paul's self-introduction as a person God loves, and for whom God has a task. Point out the similarities in Paul's situation and Joseph's. Then challenge worshippers of all ages to see themselves as persons God loves, and for whom God has tasks.

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