Advent/Christmas Readings with Congregational Participation

Interactive Advent/Christmas Readings –

These are two congregational interactive readings, designed to involve the congregation in scripture. These readings can fit services through the Christmas, one covering the annunciation to Mary in Luke 1:26-38, and the other John’s introduction to his gospel, in John 1:1-18. We did these readings for our carol service and we were quite surprised how involved people got. Instead of a passive listening experience it was heartening to hear Christians engaging and interacting with scripture. We found it worked effectively with the music group leading the various sections as required.

 Luke 1:26-38 The Annunciation to Mary –

Reader: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said,

MEN: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you”

Reader: But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her,

WOMEN: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,

ALL: and you will name him Jesus.

WOMEN: He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.

MEN: He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

Reader: Mary said to the angel,

WOMEN: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

Reader: The angel said to her

MEN: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,

WOMEN: and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;

MEN: therefore the child to be born will be holy;

WOMEN: he will be called Son of God.

Reader: And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.

ALL: For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Reader: Then Mary said,

ALL: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Reader: Then the angel departed from her.

Reading John 1:1-18 The Word –

 Reader 1: In the beginning was

Reader 2: the Word, and the Word was

Reader 3: with God,

Readers1, 2 & 3: and the Word was God.

R1: He was in the beginning

R3: with God.

R1: All things came into being

Rs1,2&3: All things came into being

ALL: All things came into being

R2: through him,

R1: and without him not one thing came into being.

Rs1,2&3: without him not one thing came into being.

ALL : without him not one thing came into being.

R3: What has come into being in him was life,

R2: Life

R1: Life

ALL: Life, and the life was the light of all people.

Rs1,2&3: The light shines

ALL: in the darkness, the darkness, and the darkness, the darkness

R2: did not overcome it.

R1: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

ALL: True light into the world.

R3: He was in the world, and the world came into being through him;

ALL: yet the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

R3: But to all who received him, who believed in his name,

ALL: he gave power to become children of God,

R1: who were born,

R2: not of blood

R3: or of the will of the flesh

R2: or of the will of man,

ALL: but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us,

and we have seen his glory,

R3: the glory as of a father’s only son,

ALL: full of grace and truth.

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Two Advent Children’s Sermons

TWO ADVENT CHILDREN’S SERMONS

Advent Children’s Sermon 1:

A Picture of Baby Jesus’ Friends

by Rev. Neil MacQueen

I love this children’s sermon! Years ago on vacation my kids had a great time playing in front of a PAINTED horizontal mirror in a restaurant playground. On the mirror were painted crazy hair-dos and beards that the kids could walk up to and position themselves so they looked like they were wearing them.” My kids loved it.

(Ever since, I’ve always wanted to put a LONG MIRROR in a hallway of my Sunday School with the same effect, only this time with costumes/hair/beards and titles of Bible heroes, …so they could “see themselves in the picture” and realize that “they were the Bible heroes the world needed now.”)

All I’ve done so far is turn the mirror into a children’s sermon, which the kids loved. We did hang the mirror in the hallway at kids’ height. Always wondered what a WALL of mirrors would have been like where even the adults could “see themselves” in the story. I call this idea a “LIVING MURAL.”)

So here’s the children’s sermon:

One Sunday in Advent, after preparing it, wrap up a long rectangular picture mirror, —one of those non-glass ones you can buy for the back of your kids’ bedroom door.

Paint some crazy hairdos and beards on it, and some titles like “Bible Hero”. Wrap it in Xmas paper and ask the kids to guess what it is. After some preliminary guesses, tell them that it is a PICTURE that’s hidden in this wrapping, OF BABY JESUS’ FRIENDS…. people who wanted to grow up just like he did and obey God, and change the world!

Let them unwrap the mirror and have fun letting them ‘try on’ the hairdos and beards. Turn it around so the congregation can see it too. Walk up to old Mr. So-and-So and say, “Look, Mr. ____is a friend of Baby Jesus too!”

Point to Make: God came into the world as Jesus at Christmas so that we might be saved and made into the FRIENDS of Jesus, …people who started out as a baby just like he did, people who grow up just like he did, people who love God as he did, and are willing to try and change the world just like he was willing. I’ll leave it at that. Feel free to word-monger to suit your needs.

Note: In one church I used to go to, I ‘gave’ this children’s sermon to a pastor to do with the kids. He pulled out a PLAIN HAND MIRROR and showed the kids their reflection. The kids were unimpressed.

 

Advent Children’s Sermon 2:

What Would Jesus Give our Sunday School for Christmas?

by Rev. Neil MacQueen

This Advent children’s sermon could be a one-off, or an Advent series (which is how I originally did it).

In brief: The children “unwrap” several things for their Sunday School that Jesus has given THEM for Christmas. Kids (and adults) love the anticipation, the humor, and the poignancy. After each gift is unwrapped by the kids and passed around, the pastor asks, “Why would Jesus give us THIS for Christmas?” The setup up is that some of the things are mundane and merely useful. Markers and toilet paper, how thoughtful of Jesus! (Point: Jesus cares about our every need. Nothing is too little for Jesus.)

On the third Sunday in this “What Would Jesus Give?” Advent series, I gave the kids a small gift “from Jesus”. We had found these inexpensive “Jesus dog tags” in a catalog (back when wearing dog-tags were trendy). We talked about “who Jesus belonged to” (his parents, to God, the world), and who we belong to.

On the fourth Sunday in Advent, Jesus gave the kids a new popcorn machine. Then I brought in a big box with a really important gift: a teenager who was volunteering to help teach in January. Great gift! At that point we had THAT TEEN start wrapping up one of the kids in wrapping paper. As the fun unfolded, I asked, “What are you doing?”

And the teen replied, “Jesus wants us to GIVE THE GIFT OF OURSELVES…to be here and learn about his life and teachings.” Quite effective!

THE POINT: Think of things your kids and program might appreciate or you want to highlight, and turn it into a message.

A few Misc things Jesus would give your kids:

-markers

-toilet paper!

-new Bible picture book (because Jesus wants us to learn more about him than just about his birth)

-a new Bible video series for January classes

-a framed “frig photo magnet” of your welcoming church/congregation for each child (take it the week before with everyone smiling and raising their hands).

-a teenage helper who we brought in wrapped in a box (wonderful! see note above)

-MONEY. What would Jesus want us to do with money during this season?

Buy more presents? (offer to mission!) (I once did this “give them money” bit

as a different children’s sermon. Every single kid put their money in the offering basket after I showed them some pictures of kids in need.

A Family-Friendly Christmas Eve Worship

A Family-Friendly idea for this Christmas Eve Worship

The Rev. Dr. Sarah Travis

Canadian Ministries, The Presbyterian Church in Canada –

This energetic worship service – a service meant for small children that would accommodate, rather than problematize, the high energy and joyful excitement of children on Christmas Eve.

The service retells the story of Jesus’ birth, but using rhythm and rhyme to capture the attention of young children. We advertised it as a service for parents who wanted to introduce their children to Christian rituals on Christmas Eve but were anxious about bringing their children into a traditional worship space. It was held at 5:00 p.m. The service lasted about half an hour in order to accommodate the short attention spans of young children. It was a messy, noisy half-hour, but the children (and everyone else) were fully engaged.

Setting the Stage

Large cotton sheets were laid down at the front of the sanctuary, and covered with hay. A wooden manger held a doll representing the baby Jesus. The worship leaders dressed in simple costumes. At the beginning of the service, the children were invited to come and find a spot to sit around the manger.

The children were literally in the story, seated in the stable with the baby Jesus. As the service progressed, the children played different roles. They became donkeys when they put on a pair of donkey ears, and sheep when they were given a sheep mask. They were given strips of cloth to help swaddle the baby. (These props can be customized, and they can be created in the weeks before Christmas by volunteers or by church school classes.)

A narrator recited the story in rhyme, interspersed with single verses of well-known Christmas hymns. A soloist sang “Little Donkey” while she knelt among the children in the stable.

At the end of the service, we gathered the corners of the sheets and lifted the mess right out of the sanctuary so it was ready for the next service. A quick run of the vacuum cleaner picked up the stray bits of straw.

Materials

  • sheets or tarps
  • one bale of hay (and a vacuumcleaner!)
  • a cradle
  • a doll
  • strips of cloth for swathing bands (enough for each child)
  • halos
  • donkey ears
  • sheep masks
  • small shepherds’ crooks
  • song lyrics for the congregation
  • costumes for adult worship leaders

Order of Worship

Welcome

Introduction

Song: Away in a Manger (children come into stable)

Story: Our Journey to Bethlehem

Solo: Little Donkey (give kids donkey ears)

Story: Jesus is Born (swaddling clothes)

Song: Silent Night

Story: The Shepherds

Song: While Shepherds Watched (give kids

Sheep masks and Shepherds’ crooks)

Story: The Angels

Song: Hark the Herald

Story: The First Christmas

Song: Joy to the World

Introduction

On a night long ago, in a place far away A baby was born on the first Christmas Day. His name was Jesus, a tiny wee king And he came to the world to change everything. Let’s go to Bethlehem and see The baby that came to love you and me. Come to the stable and gather around The manger where baby Jesus is found. Come all you children and hear this story of a tiny baby who would grow into a King of Glory.

Our Journey to Bethlehem – Mary and Joseph were tired and sore; They had travelled all day and then some more. Finally, they arrived in Bethlehem town only to find there was nowhere to lie down. The hotels were all full, there wasn’t a bed For Jesus’ poor mother to lay down her head. The baby was coming, and it was so late at night, Dirty and ragged, they made quite a sight. They asked a kind man if they could sleep in his hay, in the barn with the animals, where the cows lay. The man showed them a spot, it was warm and dry, and Mary and Joseph sat down with a sigh. And they slept, for a while, while the stars shone. And waited for morning, for night to be gone.

Jesus is Born – While it was still dark, Mary woke with a start; The baby was coming, she knew in her heart. So it was in that barn, on that cold, dark night That Jesus was born, and then wrapped up tight. As he lay in the manger where the animals eat, A sheep came and nuzzled his tiny wee feet. And even the smallest creatures gathered around. While the tiny new baby made small little sounds. And the dark, dark night wasn’t dark anymore. As the light of a star shone through the stable door.

The Shepherds – There were shepherds whose job was to care for the sheep; It was very late and they were fast asleep. But they didn’t sleep for long that night because the star and the angels were shining bright. The shepherds were scared – they weren’t quite awake But the angels said “it’s good news, for heaven’s sake.” A baby is born, get up! Come and see, This news is the best, the very best that can be. So the shepherds ran off, and their sheep came too And they saw for themselves that the good news was true.

The Angels – When angels appear, the good news is clear The beautiful little savior of the world is here. They shouted out loud that the new babe was found In a manger, with his family gathered around. The angels sang songs which gave God all the Glory, Because God is the beginning and end of our story.

The First Christmas – No one slept on that first Christmas Eve; The child was so special, no one wanted to leave. They sang praises to God, for sending such joy In the form of a new and perfect baby boy. The star kept on shining so the whole world could see That God loves everyone, including you and me! Tonight is a time to sing and to say Thank you to God for what happened that day. Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, The little lord Jesus laid down his sweet head. The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

Church Child Protection Policy – Do we have one? Are we enforcing it?

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By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning

It’s hard to imagine but there are still churches that have no child protection policies in place (I know, I ask). That’s just a tragedy waiting to happen. Another issue is that while some congregations have adopted child protection policies they fail to ensure oversight for compliance. In the press of circumstances it’s often too easy to lean toward what is convenient rather than what is right.

Does your church have a child protection policy? If you don’t know, ask. If the answer is “yes,” then ask about how well the policy is enforced and monitored. Sometimes, a change in staff leads to things falling by the wayside. A new staff member or committee chair may not be as diligent as a previous leader in monitoring for compliance. Also, as with all policies, a change in institutional development often calls for a change in policy. It is worth revisiting the church child protection policies periodically.

Years ago, when my church created its child protection policy there were few resources or examples available to help guide the process of crafting such a policy. Like anything “new” in a congregation there was a lot of resistance, with all sorts of reasons given as to why our church didn’t need one. One thing that helped get some folks past the resistance was inviting a representative of our church insurance agency to educate our congregational members about the importance of having such a policy and about the consequences of not having the policy in place. That was a huge step in helping people get past irresponsible notions tied to emotionality. Today there are ample resources available to churches to educate members about the importance of a child protection policy, and how to go about developing and implementing one.

If you haven’t checked, ask, “Are we enforcing our church child protection policy?”  Now’s a good time to check, before the year’s children’s and youth programming schedules start. And if your church doesn’t have one, here are some on-line resources:

Your Church Needs A Child Protection Policy,”  from e-ssortment

First Presbyterian Church, Greensboro, NC

Kentucky Baptist Convention

Model Policies for the Protection of Children and Youth from Abuse

The Gospel Coalition 

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans

Tips for Connecting with Family on Thanksgiving

Ten Tips for Connecting the Family on Thanksgiving

These ideas come from Parent Further, a Search Institute resource for families.

1. Discuss likes and dislikes
As a family, talk about what you like and dislike about Thanksgiving. Your kids may surprise you: some really enjoy annual traditions while others get bored with them. Get ideas for starting fun family traditions here.

2. Importance of Traditions
Discuss with your kids the importance of traditions and why certain customs are important to pass down through the generations. The trick, however, is to balance meaningful traditions and new activities.

[Related: Read blogger Marie Williams’ take on the importance of family traditions here.]

3. Choose a game or activity
Ask your children what they would enjoy doing with the adults after the meal. Some enjoy playing card or board games. Some like to do puzzles or art projects. Some want to get outside and play. A 15-minute game of catch or tag can invigorate a Thanksgiving get-together. Get more family activity ideas here.

4. Name your thanksgivings
Plan an activity where each person present names something he or she is thankful for in the past year. It could be the birth of a new family member, moving to a new house, starting school, or getting well after being sick.

5. Model gratitude
Show and teach your child how to be thankful for what others have done. Even if your kids think Thanksgiving is dumb, point out all the hard work someone put into cooking and creating traditions.

[Related: Wish You Weren’t Here: Dealing with Extended Family During the Holidays]

6. Bring your sense of humor
Some kids and teens are more willing to participate in family events if they sense fun and humor. If you’re not sure how to do this, ask everyone at the table what the worst Thanksgiving was and why. As long as you’re not bringing up old wounds, it can be interesting and fun to hear individuals reveal their most embarrassing moments.

7. Invite children to showcase talents
If your child plays an instrument well, is an artist, or enjoys writing, consider having her perform a musical selection, show others his or her art, or write letters to family members who cannot attend.

8. Volunteer and serve
Consider spending part of your Thanksgiving (or Thanksgiving weekend) helping others by doing a family service project. Get ideas here.

9. Capture it on film
Consider taking annual photos of the people who attend your Thanksgiving. Create and album and share it with family at your next gathering. Or consider videotaping an interview with the oldest person there.

10. Download the family meals toolkit
Spending Thanksgiving at home this year? Make the most of your family mealtime with our downloadable Table Time! family meals toolkit. Download it here.


Parent Further is a Search Institute resource for families.

Thanksgiving Activities for Church and Families

Thanksgiving Activities for Church and Families

ThanksgivingIn the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated by people of every religion and background – that is part of what makes it such a wonderful holiday! For those looking to integrate some Christian traditions into Thanksgiving, here are several suggestions to use at church and/or home. 

Act it out
Read the story of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). Remind your children that Jesus was pleased with the one man who returned to give thanks for being healed. Provide rags for bandages and let your children play the roles of the lepers and Jesus.

Make some noise
Look up the story of the Israelites’ celebration after the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt (Nehemiah 12:27-46). Talk about the instruments they used and the two great choirs that marched atop the walls to the temple; a joyous, active “thanksgiving” that could be heard “far away” (Nehemiah 12:43b). Put together a home grown band using real or handmade instruments. Practice joyful praise songs and march around the “walls”.

Read a book
Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place teaches a great lesson in thankfulness. Share Corrie’s story, pointing out her struggle to be “thankful in all things.” She even thanked God for fleas in her barracks. She later learned that the fleas kept the guards away and allowed Corrie and others to study the Bible undisturbed.

Create a chain reaction
Make a God is Good chain. Gather scissors, stickers, pencils, crayons, glue and construction paper. Cut the paper in strips and ask your kids to think about the many ways God is good. Have them write or draw these attributes on the strips, then connect them to form a chain and hang it in a place where it will remind your family of God’s goodness.

Make a blessing basket
Place a pretty fall basket containing a pencil and pad of paper in an easy-to-reach location. Throughout the month, encourage family members to jot down ways God has blessed them. Younger children can draw or cut out pictures from magazines. Read these together and give God thanks each day or set aside some time on Thanksgiving Day.

Trim a tree of thanks
Draw and cut out a large paper tree with lots of loose leaves in autumn colors. Mount the tree in a prominent place and put the leaves nearby in a box with glue and markers. Ask your family to write things they are thankful for on the leaves, filling the tree by the end of the month. Consider the following question: “If I could keep only the gifts I’ve thanked God for today, what would I have?” Ask younger children: “What do you want to thank God for today?” Encourage your family to add to the tree daily.

Find your seat
Have the children make a place card for each place setting on the Thanksgiving table. On one side, write names of guests and family; on the other, type a Scripture verse about being thankful. Let each person read a verse before the blessing.

Encourage sharing
Place a paper leaf at each place with an “assignment” written on it. Each person adds to the festivities by completing their assignment. Assignments might include:

  • Read Psalm 100.
  • Share a Thanksgiving memory (use this on several paper leaves).
  • Sing a Thanksgiving song (good for preschoolers).
  • Lead the group in a praise chorus (have copies of the lyrics available).
  • Say the blessing for our meal.

Set the mood
Give an unlit votive candle to each person. Begin by lighting your own candle and thanking God for specific blessings. Then, continue the process around the table until all the candles are lit, making sure to keep the flames away from small children. Lead your family in a candlelight service of thanksgiving.


Sharon Ely Pearson is an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated (CPI). She is the author/editor of several books, most recently The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook (Morehouse, 2013) and forthcoming Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Theologies of Confirmation for the 21st Century (Morehouse, 2014). When not traveling for work or pleasure, she enjoys tossing tennis balls to her year old black lab, Chobe.