When our worship committee selected Peter Hoytema’s series “Six Biblical Characters, Six Traditions of Faith” (RW 65) for the 2002 Advent season, I scrambled to find a series of children’s messages that would complement the services. Unable to find what I was looking for, I turned to Hoytema’s article to see what I could glean for use with the children of our congregation.
Hoytema wrote the series of Advent services in response to Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water, which identifies six great traditions of faith. Hoytema matched the traditions with six biblical characters from the Christmas story. Since each of the characters he used were familiar to children, I adapted his sermon-building ideas to fit children’s messages for the four Sundays of Advent, Christmas Day, and the Sunday following. In each of these messages—with the goal of helping children better understand what it means to live as a Christian—I explained a tradition of faith, showed how it was played out in a familiar character’s life, and sent the children home with an idea for a related activity.
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Helping Others: John the Baptist (The Life of Social Justice)
Let’s think about the people in this world who don’t know Jesus, or those who don’t have enough food and shelter. We need the congregation to help us understand.
Let’s pretend the congregation is all the people in the world. Would these people please stand on this side. (Have about one-third of the congregation stand, since approximately 30 percent of the world is Christian.) Only the people standing would know Jesus. Only that many people are Christian. Look at all the people sitting. They don’t know that Jesus died for them. (Ask those standing to be seated.)
Now, would this side of the congregation please stand up. (Have half of the congregation stand—since 50 percent of the world’s people suffer from malnutrition.) If our congregation was all the people in the world, the ones standing would be the ones who cannot get enough food. In fact, they get so little food that their bodies are actually sick and hurting because of it.
Would these people also stand as well. (Have a little over half of the second side stand—since 80 percent of the world’s people live in substandard housing.) If this were all the people in the world, the ones standing up would live in houses that don’t keep out the wind and rain and snow. Do your houses keep you warm and dry? Then you are like one of the few people still sitting. God wants us to help people who don’t have enough food to eat or good homes to live in.
That’s what John the Baptist told people during the time he preached on earth. He told them they needed to get ready for Jesus to come—and that they should do that by helping other people. John said that if you have lots of clothes, you should share them with people who don’t have enough. If you have lots of food, you should share some with people who are hungry.
Our job is the same today as it was when John the Baptist was on earth. We are supposed to help each other—especially those who are suffering.
Soon you will be celebrating Christmas and maybe getting new toys and clothes. Please take some time this week to choose some of your clothes or toys to give to a child who doesn’t have enough. There will be a box in church next week for your donations. Even better, your mom and dad can help you deliver them in person to (give information about an agency in your community).
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Paying Attention: Mary
(The Contemplative Life)
Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
What do you know about Mary? Can you tell me about her? Yes, she was Jesus’ mother. And she wasn’t very old. Do you remember how she found out she was going to be Jesus’ mother? Yes, an angel came to her. Can you imagine that—an angel? That might be pretty scary! And being Jesus’ mother, that’s a big job—especially for such a young person.
When the angel came to tell Mary she was going to be Jesus’ mother, she was shocked. But even though she was surprised and maybe a bit scared, she realized what an important job God wanted her to do. She responded by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant.” She wanted to do God’s work. She rejoiced that God had a great plan for her life. Then she prayed to God.
The Bible tells us what she said in her prayer. She was excited that God wanted her to be Jesus’ mother, and she wanted to stay very close to God. She paid attention to what God did and what God had in mind for her to do.
God wants us to pay attention to him too. God knows us, sees us, and has a special job for each of us. Although most of us won’t have an angel visit us like Mary did, we can still listen and look for God’s plan for us. Mary stayed close to God by praying to him. God wants us to do the same.
Choose a special time each day for the next week— either when you first wake up or when you go to bed at night—and pray to God. You can pray something like this: “Dear Lord, Thank you for caring for me. Please help me to pay attention to you. Amen.”
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Doing Right: Joseph
(The Holy Life)
Last week we talked about how an angel visited Mary and told her God’s plan. Do you remember what Mary said to the angel? “I am the Lord’s servant.” Then she prayed to God.
Today we’re are going to talk about Joseph. Do you know how Joseph found out that he was going to be Jesus’ father on earth? An angel came to him too! An angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him that Mary would have God’s Son and they should name him Jesus.
The Bible never tells us one word that Joseph spoke. It only tells us what he did. The Bible tells us that when Joseph awoke from his dream, he did what the angel of the Lord told him to do: he became Mary’s husband and the earthly father of Jesus.
Last week we talked about how important it was to pay attention to God and pray to him. This week I want you to think about how important the things you do are. God wants us to be like Joseph and to do what God asks us to do. We can’t do everything right. But God wants us to try to make our actions show that we believe and trust in him.
Everything that Jesus did was holy—the right thing. God wants us to try to be holy—right—in all that we do too. That’s a big job.
Is it hard for you not to fight with your brother or sister? Do you have a hard time obeying your mom or dad? Choose one thing that you will practice doing right this week. Instead of arguing or talking back, use your actions to show that you want to do what is right.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Excitement: The Shepherds
(The Charismatic Life)
Very soon—maybe some of you have done it already—you will be opening Christmas gifts. What do you do when you get a great present? Do you get excited? Do you jump around and show everyone? Look Mom! Look what I got! Do you want everyone to know about the gift you got?
There are some people in the Christmas story who got really excited about their gift. The shepherds were in a quiet field one night when suddenly the sky was lit with angels and singing filled the air. An angel announced that a very precious gift had just come for them—baby Jesus. They were so excited that they left their sheep—their job—and went right to Bethlehem to find Jesus. They praised God and wanted to tell others about their special gift.
Jesus is our special gift too. God sent Jesus to earth for the shepherds, for you, for me, and for everyone else. But lots of people don’t know about the gift of Jesus. So God wants us to be like the shepherds. God wants us to come to church excited and ready to sing praises and worship. God wants us to get really excited about Jesus—so excited that we stop what we’re doing and show and tell everyone about Jesus.
Send a card, letter, or picture to someone who doesn’t know Jesus was born and died for them. Share your excitement about God’s precious gift. You or your mom or dad could write, “I’m so excited to celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas. He was born to save you and me!”
Jesus Was a Kid Too: Jesus Christ (The Sacramental Life)
(Ask children of different ages and sizes to stand for the others to see.)
Look at all the different-sized kids we have that come up for the children’s message. Some are tall, some are shorter. We have kids of lots of different ages too. (Go around the circle, asking children their ages.)
Today is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We remember that Jesus was a little baby. He lived in this world and did the things that you do. He was once three years old like _____, then he was four like ____, . . . He was once as tall as ____, and then he grew and was as tall as ____. He once played with toys and other kids, just like you!
Jesus did a lot of things the same as you, but he was different too. Do you know how he was different? Yes, Jesus was perfect. He didn’t do anything wrong. He was God’s own Son and he was able to live without sinning.
We can’t live without sin like Jesus did—not on this earth. But the good news is that God forgives us when we do wrong things! Do you know why? Because Jesus was born on Christmas Day, lived a life without any sin, and died on the cross for us. Jesus volunteered to be punished instead of us even though he obeyed God perfectly. Jesus did that because he loves us. And because of what Jesus did, God forgives every one of us who trust him.
Wow! Did you ever have a friend who volunteered to be punished instead of you? Does your brother or sister ever admit to doing something bad that you actually did? If someone did that for me, I would be very grateful. And we should be grateful for what Jesus did for us and show that we are thankful by trying to be good. God wants us to do good things and stay away from bad things.
And God promises to be with us and help us when we try to live the way he wants us to live. God is with us at school, bedtime, bath time, breakfast; when we are playing with other people, opening presents, or cleaning up . . . God is with us during all these times and more. God wants us to do our best. When we do, we are praising God and saying thank you to Jesus!
The next time your mom or dad asks you to pick up your toys don’t moan or groan or get upset. Think about how you can say thank you to God by doing the right thing. Think about God being with you, helping you to do the right thing.
Learning About God: The Magi
(The Evangelical Life)
We celebrated Christmas, the birth of Jesus, this past week. Sometime after Jesus was born and after the shepherds came to see him, some other men came to see him too.
Do you remember the story of the wise men? How did they find Jesus? Yes, first they saw the star and knew it must be something special, so they followed it. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they started asking about the star. The Jews in Jerusalem told them that the star was talked about in the Bible. They said the star would mark the coming of a king. The prophet Micah wrote that the king would be born in Bethlehem. So the wise men followed the star to Bethlehem. There they met Jesus.
That’s a pretty amazing story. How did the wise men find Jesus? First, they saw a star, a part of God’s creation. They saw that it was so special it must mean something great and important. When they got to Jerusalem, they learned about the Bible and what it says. Then they met Jesus and got to know him. Amazing.
Like the wise men, we can look out at the stars at night and see how great they are, and know that God, who made them, must be great too. We can look at lots of things in nature and see how great God is. Think about our bodies and how they work, or all the different kinds of plants and animals, or how huge the mountains are—it takes a great God to make these things.
Then, we can learn about God and God’s plan in the Bible, just like the wise men did when they got to Jerusalem. We can read the Bible and learn that God sent Jesus for us, and that Isaiah and Micah prophesied about it. We can learn a lot about God from the Bible.
And even though we can’t go to Bethlehem and meet Jesus the way the wise men did, we can still get to know him. We can pray to Jesus, talk with him, and ask him to be in our hearts.
God wants us to be like the wise men—to look around us and see his greatness in creation. God wants us to study the Bible and learn things from it. And God wants us to get to know Jesus better, to find out about the work he did here on earth.
Go outside when it’s dark and the stars are bright. Try to count the stars. Can you? Now, try to imagine that you could drive to the nearest star. If you got in your car and drove as fast as you could without stopping, it would take you seven million years to get to a star. Praise God for his greatness! God is mighty!
The wooden figures pictured on page 19 were developed for the Children and Worship program, based on Young Children and Worship, by Sonja Steward and Jerome Berryman. For more information on this program that offers a worship time for young children (ages four to seven), as well as ordering information for biblical stories, songs, wooden figures, and training centers for this program, see www.FaithAliveResources.org or call 1-800-333-8300.