This year I wrote a four-week series of lessons for our children’s ministry at church. We’ve not had children’s Sunday school or children’s church since May, but we’re doing a four-week series in Advent with the theme of Preparation. I’m sharing it here, and you can feel free to use it for your church, or your family devotions. The scripture passages are the gospel readings for Advent, Year C, in the Revised Common Lectionary. If you want the whole "curriculum" including my craft suggestion and full children’s church routine, I can email it to you. Otherwise, here is the big picture with how I present it.
Advent Devotion, 2009
I’d like us to think about our time with the children as a time to pose questions, to lay before the children the symbols, the truth of the Bible. But I don’t want us as teachers to be chewing it and digesting it for them. These passages are hard and beautiful and FULL. Your pastor could preach all day on them without exhausting their meaning—let’s not try to reduce the passage to a kernel of truth and a craft for the kids. They’re (hopefully) going to live with these passages the rest of their lives.
It is like a feast, and our job is to prepare the most beautiful meal of the Gospel. But we can’t make them eat it. So try to resist the temptation to pare down the amazing imagery in these passages into something digestible. We’ll be amazed what they pull out, even if we don’t spoon feed them.
If the children ask you, “What does that mean?” please turn the question back to them, “Well, what you do think it means?” Ask a question, “I wonder what Jesus meant when he said…” or reflect with them, “I wonder why he said that.”
Week 1: Luke 21:25-36
Jesus is coming again. How does the Church prepare for the second coming?
Week 2: Luke 3:1-6
Jesus is coming again. How does each of us prepare?
Week 3: Luke 3:7-18
Jesus is coming this Christmas. How does the Church prepare?
Week 4: Luke 1:39-45(46-55)
Jesus is coming this Christmas. How does each one of us prepare?
My hope is to present the Gospel with a wide lens first, in light of the second coming. Jesus is coming for everyone. Sometime in our future, he is coming, and we have a chance to prepare, both as the Church, and as individuals. Week One’s scripture recognizes the distress in the world, that things are not as they should be—there is distress among nations, and fear. Children are in tune with that. They hear the news, they see their parents’ worry. Children have fear. But this week’s passage reminds us to be alert and to pray.
Week Two narrows down the lens: how do I prepare for the second coming? Well, I look at John the Baptist, who prepared for Jesus to come the first Christmas. He preached repentance and forgiveness, and those are God’s gifts to us even today. I, too, can teach others about repentance and forgiveness—and I can repent, and I can be forgiven (and I can forgive).
In Week Three’s passage, John again is addressing the crowds, for how to make room in their hearts for Jesus. He specifically tells them to get rid of greed, of the stuff in their lives that fills them up with what is not of God. He tells us to share what we have and be satisfied with what we’ve been given.
Week Three is tricky, because this message can so easily be boiled down into “Don’t make too long a list for Santa,” and, “Be grateful for the underwear you get from Aunt Ruth.” Instead, I hope we can see John’s exhortation to share as applying also to the Gospel—we are to share the Gospel, to share Jesus with the world around us.
Week Four is our chance to present the Gospel to the children directly. For this reason, it’s the culmination of the four weeks. Mary and Elizabeth meet, and the babe within Elizabeth leaps as Jesus—within Mary—approaches. Our hope is that each of us, as we prepare for Christmas, will make room in our lives for Jesus. We have prepared by being alert and praying (Week 1), repenting and receiving forgiveness (Week 2), and clearing out the idols and greed in our hearts (Week 3). Now we have room in our hearts and lives for Jesus. But rather than focusing on Mary, I want us to focus on Elizabeth. She (and John within her) recognized the Savior, even though they couldn’t see him inside Mary. And the children in our church, though they cannot see him directly, can see the signs of him all around. Our prayer is that they will recognize Jesus—hidden in all the trappings the world piles on top of this holy day—and rejoice, like John.