Children of the Lord

Include the Whole Family of God in Your Christmas Celebrations

The leaves were just beginning to change color a few years ago when I noticed the first displays of Christmas decorations in a local department store. It shouldn't have come as any surprise. In our highly commercialized society, shopping malls are known distorters of time and season: bathing suits and shorts appear in January, heavy winter coats in the midst of a major July heat wave.

But as I looked at those un-seasonal decorations, I found myself thinking about all the days, weeks, and months that we would have to listen to the stores hawk their wares. During that time we would see and hear numerous commercials and hear endless reminders of the dwindling number of shopping days until Christmas. It started me wondering once again about how—in a world filled with so many distractions, everything and everyone clamoring for attention—we can focus in a meaningful way on the liturgical season. How can we help our children understand what Christmas (as well as Easter and Pentecost and all the other church seasons) is all about?

That's a difficult question, one that nearly all congregations face at some point. So many different glittering media compete for the attention of children today. How can the church catch their attention—and keep it?

At Ann Arbor CRC we've discovered that our children and young people become most involved in our worship when we give them real responsibilities and treat them as an important part of the family of God. Faith, after all, is formed and nurtured gradually through meaningful participation.

Sometimes including younger members takes more planning and time on the part of adults, but it's worth it. Our children and young people design bulletin covers, sing regularly in the children's chorus, accompany our singing and provide special music with their instruments, greet people as they arrive in the sanctuary and usher them to their seats, and read Scripture lessons in special services and festivals.

During Advent our young people also play major roles in two special services. The senior high youth group leads us in a Festival of Lessons and Carols, and children and adults together plan and participate in a candlelight service. Through music and responses both of these services give us—"children" of all ages— time to pause in the sometimes frantic pace of December, to close off the steady stream of commercials and block out the shopping-mall glitter, and to redirect our thoughts to the true meaning of the season.

"The Cross in the Christmas Tree," a candlelight service we celebrated in 1987, is an excellent example of worship that involves members of all generations. Our preschoolers and kindergartners sang in the children's choir. First through sixth graders formed the youth choir, a group that had both singing and speaking roles. Our junior high students were the actors. They played the roles of Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, and so on during the nativity narration. High school and college students served as candle-bearers, ushers, and instrumentalists. And adults provided props, narration, and direction.

Charlotte Larsen is music director of Ann Arbor (Mich.) Christian Reformed Church.