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    Worship Items



    Silent Night: a special Advent reading

    by John Stewart Ballenger

    Center stage is a stereo cued to Mannheim Steamroller's 'Silent Night.' A small child enters from the side going over his or her Christmas list: 'I want this and this and this and that and'' (The list should be contemporary and age-specific.) The child takes his/her place and stops speaking, as a group of carolers enters from the rear and makes its way down to the front. The carolers take their place at the front and stop singing as someone enters from a side, going over his/her Christmas plans. You can add other people coming in as wanted: shopping lists, flight plans, chores to be done, etc. When all are at the front, they all begin again at the same time. Into this noise comes one who goes to the front and listens to each group carefully before going to the stereo and starting the music, at which point everyone becomes silent. Working with the lights is also a possibility, depending on your location and facilities. It would be nice to fade the lights when the music starts. Speaker should be 'miked.'

    Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way: in those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be taxed. Familiar words, no?'In between all the words, do you hear the silence? Listen for it'fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God, and will now conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name him Jesus. Silence.

    Fear not, Joseph, Son of David, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Silence.

    Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy for all people. Silence.

    The silence of hope that has not expected fulfillment and is now filled with wild wondering. The silence of scarcely daring to believe that that dream from the most you part of you might not just be met'but exceeded to unimaginable extent. Do you hear the silence? When Mary begins to feel life swell inside her? Feels a word being made flesh? Do you hear the silence? When the possibility of life swelling inside you is felt, do you feel the silence? The silence of the shepherds'twisting their robes'gripping their staffs because they have no idea what to say'because they stand before their deepest dream'the one that is, at heart'who you are'who you are meant to be. People like you and like me'beginning to wonder if it can be different'if there is another way'if there is perhaps a power to fill us'to fill the way we live'to fill what is with what should be. Do you hear the silence? Do you hear your silence? Listen.

    And then'into the silence'the cry of God newborn'the squall of God incarnate'the wail of the Word made flesh'the incredible new song of hope and possibility'of God working through what is toward what can be'what should be'a melody never heard before in such fullness'reaching deep'into yearning hearts'aching hearts'filling silence'with music. Do you hear? Do you hear echoes? Do you hear individual voices joyfully echoing the song they've looked for all their lives'the unique sound of who they are now finally, truly heard and celebrated in the song of God. Do you hear the heart sung yes that can only follow silence?

    In the silent darkness a star rises'a new star'be still'fear not'listen'to the Word made music'singing your silence'filling your emptiness with the sound of the one who made you to be full of the sound of God, and to ring'to resound'to resonate'to echo'to be flesh for God's word'to sound the note of God's joy amidst pain'to offer warmth in the cold'for the light shines in the darkness. Will you echo? Will you echo light in the darkness'the music of the star'calling those with eyes to see, to see the advent of holiness? Will you echo a shout in the silence'the music of deep fulfillment? An echo saying nothing will ever be the same'I will never be the same'you don't have to be the same. Will you?

    Inside, in the warmth, the sound of the wind is pleasant; inside, in the warmth, the sound of the wind magnifies our warmth; inside, in the warmth, the sound of the wind is unconnected from the feel of the wind; inside, in the warmth, cold is an abstraction; inside, in the warmth, sleigh bells are the sound of movement from warmth to warmth.

    But under starlit skies'outside'in the howling cold'the sound of bells is the echo of God'music still made flesh'do you hear?

    John Ballenger, at this writing, was a minister in Waco, Texas, and is now pastoring in Baltimore, Maryland. He has served as the drama and poetry editor for Seeds of Hope since 1991. This and the other three meditations like it were originally used as introductions to four evenings of Advent music. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent, 1998.


    Magnificat: an interpretation of Luke 1:46-55

    by Katie Cook

    My soul overflows with songs
    of the enormity
    and power
    and mystery
    of God;
    My spirit is full of joy
    because God will be my redemption;
    God has looked around the world of assorted humans
    and found a poor woman,
    a peasant,
    a serf;
    God has given that woman a noble, majestic quest'
    to participate in the act of creation;
    to bring a new life to humanity;
    throughout history people will speak of this quest
    and say,
    What joy she must have felt!
    God is holy and filled with power;
    God has done wonderful things just for me;
    I am overflowing with joyful words.

    God does take care of those
    who remember the original instructions;
    God is sometimes overpowering
    to confuse those
    who think power is theirs,
    who think they know what power is,
    who think that people can be ranked according to worth.
    Their own arrogance will cause them
    to be scattered upon the earth.
    God takes those in positions of earthly power
    and watches them destroy their own structures,
    their thrones,
    and those things that they hoard;
    they will be stripped of this earthly power,
    and their toys of destruction and exclusion
    will be useless.
    Those who are now thought
    to be of little worth
    will be in power.

    Thus the hungry will be fed at last,
    and those who had been greedy
    are sent away
    without their material securities.
    God never forgot the promises
    made to Abraham and Sarah;
    They have been kept,
    and will be kept forever.

    Katie Cook is the editor of Hunger News & Hope and Sacred Seasons, publications of Seeds of Hope, and Baptist Peacemaker, a publication of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The above was first printed in Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 1998.


    the packing around my hopes

    by dorisanne cooper

    it's hard to hope. i mean to really hope for something'
    whether it be the answer to a problem,
    or the solution to a difficult situation.
    i use the word often and rather casually, too;
    but even so,
    i still feel i must pad my hopes
    with all kinds of alternative outcomes:
    'i hope this will work out...but something might interfere.'
    'i hope this is right...but i'm not really sure.'
    i pack in all the possibilities so airtight
    that i don't leave room for surprise.
    i think i do this partly for protection,
    protection from being disappointed or embarrassed or wrong.
    i say i'm just being realistic.
    but realism can only take me so far.
    surely mysticism can play a part as well.
    but it's harder to plan for that.
    thinking realistically... how believable is it
    that the birth of a child in a stable could change the world?
    well, i believe it now; but
    i can't help wondering, if i had lived then,
    whether that would have been on my list of possibilities.
    somehow i doubt it.
    this season reminds me...
    it reminds me that if i hold too tightly
    to my list of possibilities,
    i may overlook an answer that's staring me in the face.
    it reminds me of the many ways
    in which hopes can be fulfilled.
    it reminds me to relax...
    not relax my hopes,
    but the packing around them.
    i need to leave room for God in my hopes.
    not just now, but all through the year.
    who knows?
    i might even witness a miracle.

    Dorisanne Cooper is senior pastor of Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. At this writing she was a newly ordained minister in Greensboro, North Carolina. The art on this page was created by Erin Kennedy Mayer. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 1998.


    Responsive Call to Hope

    PEOPLE: Blessed are they who believe the promise of God.
    LEADER: In the Word was life, and that life was the light for us all.
    PEOPLE: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it.
    LEADER: Even that which is barren will spring forth in hope.
    PEOPLE: For with God nothing is impossible.
    LEADER: And Mary said to the messenger, 'Let it be with me as you have said.'
    PEOPLE: Blessed is she who believed that God's promise would be fulfilled.
    LEADER: For to us is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.
    PEOPLE: And our eyes have beheld the salvation of God.
    LEADER: May each of us have the courage to say, 'Let it be with me as you have said.'
    PEOPLE: May God's promise be borne in us today.

    written by David Tatum, Debbie Lester, and Katie Cook. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 1998. Art by Erin Kennedy Mayer.


    The fact is that Mary

    The fact is that Mary
    is not simply
    Mary, the Mother
    of God.
    The Mother of God is
    Mary, the
    independent woman;
    Mary, the
    unmarried mother;
    Mary, the
    homeless woman;
    Mary, the
    political refugee;
    Mary, the
    Third World woman;
    Mary, the mother
    of the condemned;
    Mary, the widow
    who outlives
    her child;
    Mary, the woman
    of all time
    who shares
    in the divine
    plan of salvation;
    Mary, the
    bearer of Christ.

    Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB


    Season for Peace

    by Katie Cook

    This is a season for peace, they say.
    But all around us are wars and talk of wars.
    We wish for the nations to join hands in peace.
    But then we watch, in our living rooms,
    the cities of the world being ravaged
    by bombs and paralyzed by terrorists;
    We follow the news in dread
    as blood flows ever more freely in Jerusalem;
    We watch in shock as whole populations fall
    to the ravages of AIDS;
    And we wring our hands at the continued holocaust of hunger.

    We long for peace in the lands where we live.
    But we sense fear throughout our cities,
    dogging our steps through the streets;
    We see unchecked greed in the marketplaces;
    We watch ethnic groups, political parties, and religious communities
    fling poisoned barbs of prejudice toward one another;
    We see the slow slaughter of the poor
    through the atrocities of greed and denial.

    We ache for peace among friends and families.
    But something within us builds walls to keep the love out;
    Something within us holds us back from the embrace that might heal us;
    And we remain in our brokenness.

    Most of all, we want'we need'peace within our hearts.
    But we rush about in our busyness
    and never give the peace a chance to enter our lives;
    Or we have our hearts so heavily guarded
    that peace cannot penetrate the fortress.

    We look this time of year toward that child
    whose coming was to bring peace.
    But, if we are honest, we are not sure what that means,
    and we are confused by the chaos around us.

    O Prince of Peace, still our minds and hearts
    and plant hope in our heavy hearts.
    Show us what you meant when you spoke of peace.
    Take down the walls around our hearts, drive away the dragons,
    and drain the moats.
    Help us to build bridges between ourselves and our communities,
    between ourselves and our world,
    between ourselves and you.

    Katie Cook is the editor of Hunger News & Hope and Sacred Seasons, publications of Seeds of Hope, and Baptist Peacemaker, a publication of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The above is adapted from a litany printed in the 1999 Advent packet of Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers.


    Another Prayer for Peace

    by Katie Cook

    Lord, show us how to become instruments of your peace'
    Help us to want to love,
    instead of wanting to be loved;
    Help us to love even those who hate us;
    Help us to forgive
    and release
    those who have hurt us'
    to heal those places of hurt
    in others
    and in ourselves;
    Help us to embrace our own doubt
    in order to believe'
    to take that first step
    into the darkness before us;
    Help us to invite hope into the lives of others,
    and allow it in our own hearts.
    Cause your light to shine
    into the dark corners
    of our lives
    And make us a source of light to others.
    Help us to allow our joy to enter our being,
    so that we can dispel the sadness
    around us
    and within us.

    Mercy, peace, hope, light, joy, and love'
    Make us into vessels to carry those things
    into our broken world.
    Bring to us today the peace that cannot be understood,
    and cause us to pour it out on our sisters and brothers,
    in spite of our earthen natures.

    In the name of the Prince of Peace,

    Katie Cook is the editor of Hunger News & Hope and Sacred Seasons, both Seeds of Hope publications, and Baptist Peacemaker, a publication of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The above was printed in Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 1998.


    New Heavens and Earth

    For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
    the former things shall not
    be remembered or come to mind.
    But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
    for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
    and its people as a delight.
    I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in my people;
    no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
    or the cry of distress.
    Nor more shall there be in it an infant
    that lives but a few days,
    or an old person who does not
    live out a lifetime.
    They shall build houses
    and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards
    and eat their fruit.
    they shall not build
    and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant
    and another eat...
    They shall not labor in vain,
    or bear children for sudden terror;
    for they shall be offspring
    blessed by the Lord...
    Before they call I will answer,
    while they are speaking I will hear...

    Isaiah 65:17-23

    From the cover of Seeds Magazine, December 1994, Vol 16 , No 12. Art by John Richardson


    God with us

    a youth-led reading for advent
    by Jackie Saxon and Katie Cook

    Authors' note: This reading (taken from Job 23, Psalm 139, and Isaiah 7) calls for a small vocal ensemble of about four people, a vocal soloist around the age of seven (or younger), and two readers. The readers are standing (possibly at lecterns) on either side of the platform area. The vocal ensemble is behind the congregation, if possible. The child is sitting (very still) on the floor in the middle of the platform, with arms around his or her knees. The lighting should be muted; if you can, cast a light so that the congregation can see the child's silhouette.

    (As always, please adapt these readings and settings and incorporate your own ideas until it fits your congregation's needs.)

    Before the reading begins, the ensemble begins to sing slowly, a cappella, 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel:'

    O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here, until the son of God appear.

    After the ensemble complete the first verse (not the chorus), the readers begin. The ensemble continues humming quietly through the chorus and into the next verses.

    First Reader: Today I will bitterly complain because I cannot find God. God, your hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.

    Second Reader: O God, where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

    First Reader: Oh, that I knew where I might find God, that I might come even to the holy dwelling.

    Second Reader: If I ascend to heaven you are there; if I make my bed in the realm of the dead, you are there.

    First Reader: If I go forward, you are not there; or backward, I cannot find you.

    Second Reader: If I take the wings of the morning, and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and hold me fast.

    First Reader: On the left you hide, and I cannot behold your presence. I turn to the right, but I cannot see you.

    Second Reader: Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

    First Reader: God spoke to me and said that I should ask for a sign, be it deep as Sheol or as high as heaven. But I am afraid to ask for a sign.

    Second Reader: Hear then, O House of David, God is giving you a sign anyway: Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which is to say, 'God is with us.'

    At this point, the child soloist stands and sings the chorus slowly into the quiet:

    Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel
    shall come to thee, O Israel!

    Jackie Saxon is a pastor in Austin, Texas. Katie Cook is the Seeds of Hope editor and lives in Waco, Texas. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 2000



    an advent reading for two people
    by Katie Cook

    Rejoice, I say: rejoice!

    What? Are you talking to me?

    Yes! Rejoice! This is the happiest time of the year!

    It usually is, yes. I really like Advent and all of the wonderful Christmas feelings. Usually. But this year I don't much feel like rejoicing. It's been kind of a hard year...you know?

    Yes. I know. I have felt your pain. But you can still rejoice. Have joy in all things.

    How? How can I rejoice when I don't feel like it? You know that this is also the most difficult time of year for some people.

    Yes. I know I feel their loneliness, their pain, their loss.

    Well, then, why are you telling me to rejoice? Even if I had no loss myself, these other ones are all around me. Do you expect me to dance a jig?

    Not all joy is boisterous. You know that.

    Yes. I do. But'

    And you know that deep within you, in the silence, even in the tears, you have an undercurrent of peace. And you know that this Christ Child came for just this purpose'to become one with us in our pain.

    Yes. I know that.

    Isn't that cause for hope? And what is hope but the expectation of joy?

    But how can I hope for joy when I am bleeding and broken?

    You are not alone in your pain. You wonder sometimes if life is worth the aching and the bleeding. But you are not alone.

    So, it is. It is worth it. So I can rejoice, just knowing that. I can raise my face, wet with tears, toward heaven and laugh. Out loud! And welcome this Christ Child, who joins me in my pain. Welcome!

    O gentle Child of Bethlehem, help us to see beyond the sentimental pictures of Your birth, to the real and holy purpose of Your coming. Help us to know the hope that is the expectation of joy, even in our sorrow. Help us to celebrate the light, even in our seasons of darkness. To You, the one who joins us in our pain, we pray. Amen.

    Katie Cook is the editor of Hunger News & Hope and Sacred Seasons, publications of Seeds of Hope, and Baptist Peacemaker, a publication of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The above is from Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 2000.


    the scandal of salvation

    a meditation for advent in three parts
    by Chris P. Jones

    The yuletide log burns brightly and the voice of Nat King Cole fills the air.

    The lamplight flickers and the constant lowing of cattle disturbs the newborn baby.

    Friends and relatives visit wearing their holiday best.

    Shepherds come wearing simple clothes tarnished with the marks of a hard week's work.

    The enticing aroma of a perfectly cooked turkey drifts in from the kitchen mixed with the scent of freshly baked bread.

    The stench of manure from the dirty animals mixes with the odor of the decomposing, mildewed wood of the barn.

    Two different scenarios'one inviting, the other unenticing'but both pointing to one familiar event. In the original affair in which the filthy was to be juxtaposed alongside the holy, the supposed husband of a pregnant teenager asks for a room at the inn.

    The innkeeper, who by asking a few direct questions and performing simple mathematics, could probably determine that Joseph and Mary may have put the familial cart before the donkey. In the appearance of generosity, he makes another sheckel off of them by allowing them to have the 4th class honeymoon suite. Joseph and Mary would have the luxury of bedding on the straw that formed a prickly shield underneath them, reproaching the cold earth.

    Undoubtedly, the innkeeper casually spread the word around to the other occupants that there was a young couple, great with child, renting the resort's last resort that night. There would be nothing like a little juicy gossip spoken with the demeanor of sharing a prayer request to spice up the evening'a little scandal to justify their own personal evils.

    Have we, then, whitewashed this shameful story into something that barely resembles the actual event? By representing the original cast with expensive porcelain figures that are safe and immune from the flies, the elements, and the hay fever, are we, in effect, personalizing, trivializing, or even sanctifying the coming of the savior?

    By choosing the Christmas parties which we are to attend based on the stature of the hosts, the d'cor of their house, and the lavishness of the food, do we forget that many will celebrate Christmas in the conditions of the firsthand players-disgraced, uncomfortable, hungry, and unkempt?

    But let us not judge ourselves too harshly. Perhaps we have discovered how to extract true beauty from something that is seemingly unattractive. In so doing, we are enjoying the same experience as the shepherds did on that day so long ago. Underneath the sweat and the dirt, behind the stench and the discomfort, resided the sweetness and pleasantness that is intrinsic to the discovery of something great.

    The shepherds found it, and so have we. Before we go tearing down our cathedrals and canceling the holiday events that we enjoy, let us remember that we have extracted the beauty of an event, choosing to associate it with what is pleasing, what is joyful.

    But let us not lose the mystery of our grimy gospel. The scandal of salvation is truly mysterious, the juxtaposition of the holy and the defiled, the reconciliation of what is perceived and what is reality. It is up to us to determine the motives of our hearts, to confess where we find the beauty in this pageant. Is it in the costumes, or is it in the message?

    Regardless of where we focus our remembrance, let us not separate the one from the other, struggling with the difficulties and celebrating the joys of this remarkable event.

    The freedom marchers came from the North to the South as saving angels or scandalous interlopers, depending on whose side one's allegiances fell. As the civil rights movement took hold in the 1960s, many on the side of oppression rejected the move for equality, claiming that the northerners were trying to change the southerner's way of life.

    As we look back on a generation gone by and judge them from where we stand today, we think self-righteously that anyone should be willing to give up a little of the way that they enjoy living for the sake of justice for the many. Surely, if we were alive or old enough to make a difference, we would have stood on the side of the oppressed, decrying the injustices that prevailed.

    Hindsight is always 20/20, and the mistakes that we make today aren't so evident until we have a number of years to reflect upon the actions of the present. Quite frequently, those who lie by the wayside, battered and bruised, robbed and left for dead, come to us as obstacles rather than as opportunities. How hard it is to change the steps of our day! We only leave the confines or our safe and comfortable homes to attend to time-constrained business and pleasure.

    Consequentially, the man with the broken-down car on the side of the road and the pregnant woman begging on the street corner remain in their current state of being, desperately hoping for a good Samaritan to make an appearance. Bringing hope and justice is always so inconvenient! The 'let them fend for themselves' approach justifies our lifestyle as it is'our arrogance leads us to keep things the way they are, and wasn't that the problem during the 1960s? Hasn't that been the problem of the ages?

    What were we expecting, really? As believers, we usually focus exclusively on the importance of the sacrifice that Jesus made in offering his life as the atonement for sinful humanity. Could it be, though, that we are not giving another sacrifice, of equal importance, its due? Choosing to experience human death, although painful, was a release from a lesser state of being, acting as a form of relief for Jesus as he reclaimed what was rightfully his. Choosing to experience human life, though, was no less painful as a decision.

    Before embarking on his earthly mission, Jesus, the Word, was with God'he even was God, but he did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. So he emptied himself, leaving the heavenly kingdom where he was royalty and took the form of baby in a kingdom where he had no inherent clout. He gave up riches, power, and glory in exchange for poverty, weakness, and rejection. He opened himself to the possibility of contracting diseases, experiencing hunger, and feeling sadness. He knew the job description before he accepted the position, yet he changed his way of life so that God would be just in crediting filthy humanity with heavenly righteousness through the gift of faith.

    If the Son of God voluntarily chose to change his standard of living to save the lowly, then should we expect to be required to do anything less? Jesus does not mince words:

    'Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.'

    'Go and sell all that you possess and give to the poor.'

    'If you love me, feed my lambs....tend my sheep.'

    Contrary to what we hope, changing the channel to avoid the sight of famished children does not eliminate starvation, and giving a handful of pocket change to a poor child does not alleviate her poverty. To attack the problem head on, we have no other choice than to voluntarily change our way of life. To unconditionally offer our time, our money, and our resources'the very things that determine the way in which we live'is the only way to understand the mysterious joy that would cause a king to leave his kingdom'to trade strength for weakness'to change his way of life so that we would know to change ours.

    In an insignificant instant, everything changed. The rules did not change, per se, but the interpretation thereof. A poor baby was born, one who could not speak but would eventually explain to us the true meaning of the law. Contained within the diminutive body of a newborn was the key, the trump card, the final word on the way things were to be. Those who knew and believed in the significance of this child could only eagerly anticipate the profound expressions that would one day come from these tiny lips.

    And when those lips would begin to move and express the thoughts, truths, and commands from above, very few chose to continue to believe, to follow. 'Peace I bring to you'love your neighbor as yourself'do not neglect justice and mercy and faithfulness.'

    'Yes, Jesus, we hear you, but what about the details of the law, and what about those who oppress us? How is God going to set the chosen people free? Peace'love'justice and mercy and faithfulness.'

    In the mind of modern culture, peace, love, and justice have been associated as the pursuits of free lovin', dope smokin' hippies. Surely, nobody with such unseemly appearance and disreputable behavior could possibly bring a needed message. The peace love and justice that they preach is certainly a self-serving pursuit cloaked in holy language.

    However, where are the orderly, the shipshape, the tidy when it comes to speaking out on these issues? Where are their radical works? Where are they seen in pursuit of justice and in opposition to oppression? Where are the marchers, the demonstrators, the protesters? Could it be that the rocks are crying out because of the silence of the saints? Would God be so scandalous to use those who do not acknowledge God's own name to carry out the desires of God's own heart?

    Those who held, cuddled, and poked this little baby had little-to-no idea of what was in store. They just knew that he was coming to receive the throne of David, to reign over the house of Jacob, to rule a kingdom with no end. They had no idea that this baby would have no place to lay his head, be rejected by his own people, and die a painful and lonely death'all for the truth that resided within him, the truth that they held so close to their breast. And it was better that way, for the scandal of redemption earned its dishonor by coming not with the face of an innocent child, but through the image of a dirty, homeless hippie.

    Chris Jones, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, works as a videographer in Waco, Texas. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 2000.

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    bah humbug
    bah'animals lowing nearby
    hum'the night is still
    Baby born
    unto us
    God's grace gasped!

    Dawn Darwin Weaks
    From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 2000


    A Multi-Media Christmas Pageant Extravaganza

    by Katie Cook

    We've all been involved, in one way or another, in one of those wire-hanger-angel, bathrobe-shepherd Christmas pageants. Some churches, opting for more sophisticated Advent and Christmas programs, have given up the old pageants without much regret. Others have held on to the belief that taking an active part in a dramatic presentation is the best way for children to learn about the Infancy Narratives.

    The last time I was involved in a children's Advent performance was in a small, rural church with kids whose parents allowed them to be involved in our programs, but didn't really participate themselves. The pastor and I, therefore, with the occasional help of a townsperson who felt compassion for us, did our best to produce and direct your basic typical Christmas pageant. I had put on pageants in the inner city and in extremely remote country churches. I could do this. Or so I thought.

    The evening of the pageant was more like a South American military coup than a church service. Our shepherds made the Herdmans of The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever look pretty tame. The angels revolted during the middle of the arrival of the Magi. The pastor considered locking herself in a closet and not coming out for a decade or so. I, the associate pastor, had a hard time finding any redeeming value in what had taken place.

    The next year, when Advent planning time came around, I balked. I swore I would never be involved in a Christmas pageant, ever again. And yet, I believed firmly in the concept of active learning, and I believed that there had to be a way to allow the kids this learning experience without violence or chaos. And it struck me. We could do a slide-show pageant! (This was a few years ago. Now you could probably do a video or Power Point presentation more easily, but I still like slides better.) The pastor thought I might be missing a screw or two. But she was still a little shell-shocked from the previous year, so she was willing to try something different.

    It was maybe a little more time-consuming, okay; it was quite a bit more time-consuming. But it was peaceful, manageable, enjoyable, and successful. The parents loved it, and the kids themselves were able to watch the play unfold. Here's what we did.

    We cast the major roles, and then we scheduled 'shoots' on different Saturdays beginning in November. We used the same flowing clothing and drapings of Mediterranean-looking fabric that had been used the year before. The beauty of this plan was that the clothing had to stay on the child a much shorter time, and we only had to keep up with a few actors at a time.

    The cast was, in order of appearance:
    Mary of Nazareth,
    Gabriel (played by a girl),
    Shepherds in the Field (twelve eight-to-ten-year-old boys),
    Angel with Tidings,
    Heavenly Host (eight elementary-age girls),
    Shepherds at Manger (we didn't round them all up twice; there were three this time, the three least boisterous ones, as I recall),
    Astrologers (three boys), and
    Herod (a girl).

    For the script we used the narrative from the musical Celebrate Life by Buryl Red and Regan Courtney. We recruited four teenagers to read the four parts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John on the evening of 'The Big Show.' We began looking through musical recordings to choose appropriate songs.

    We put Gabriel and Mary in a room that looked like it might have been Mary's home. We took the Holy Family out to a barn. (The bitter cold made the acting more authentic.) During the scene with the Heavenly Host and the shepherds, we opted to put the Angel with Tidings on a ladder above the still-somewhat-unruly Shepherds in the Field. We had a wonderful shot of a diminutive Joseph and Mary walking down a long, empty dirt road (with Joseph's arm around Mary's waist). The shoots involving shepherds and angels were done separately'a decision for which we congratulated ourselves repeatedly. The Magi we shot in a different place, walking down a road with their gifts.

    When the slides came back from the developer, several of the youth sat down with me to choose the best shots and put them in order, and to choose the most appropriate music for each tableau. Then we dubbed all of the songs onto one tape, in sequence.

    For music we chose (with input from the youth) the following:
    'Unto Us a Child is Born' from 'Specially for Shepherds by Ralph Carmichael
    'Mary's Song' from Celebrate Life, performed by Cynthia Clawson
    'The Road to Bethlehem' from 'Specially for Shepherds
    'Sweet Little Jesus Boy,' the spiritual, performed by Andy Williams
    'Glory to God in the Highest/I Found Him' from 'Specially for Shepherds
    'We Three Kings,' the traditional version, performed by the Longines Symphonette
    'For Us a Child is Born/Finale' from Light Eternal by John Michael Talbot

    For the performance, one person was stationed at the tape player, to start each song at the right moment. Another changed the slides according to the script. (We numbered the slides in the carousel. Then we typed out the narrative and the lyrics of the songs, and marked which slide went at that exact place. We held a 'dress rehearsal' with the narrators, slides, and tape to make sure all was smooth. You're saying to yourself, 'You don't have to go to all that trouble. But part of the beauty of the performance was the coordination of media by the youth.) We called it, 'The Word Became Flesh: a Multi-Media Presentation of the Christmas Story by the Children and Youth of Bible Methodist Church.'

    It was an incredibly enjoyable evening. The children's attitude was light years away from that of the previous year. Instead of hiding in the vestibule with attacks of stage fright or starting fist fights in the Sunday school room in back of the sanctuary, they watched eagerly for their shots to be flashed onto the screen. Instead of 'forgetting' to tell their folks about the pageant, they urged their families to come and see it, alerting them when their shots were coming up. Some of the youth were so moved that they actually admitted to having tears in their eyes.

    Any semi-creative youth minister or children's minister can adapt this project to his or her own congregation and situation. You might opt for live music as well as live narration, or you might want to record everything. You might want to write your own script (maybe setting it in modern times), or simply use the birth narrative passages from scripture. (Pastor Hervey and I highly recommend using older youth to help produce and direct the show.) You may end up using wire-hanger halos and bathrobes again, but the phrase 'the Word became flesh' will take on a whole new meaning.

    Katie Cook is the editor of Hunger News & Hope and Sacred Seasons, publications of Seeds of Hope, and Baptist Peacemaker, a publication of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 1998.


    advent meditations

    by John S. Ballenger

    Hope is the subtle indicator that we look forward in time. But it's not just a matter of looking ahead, looking beyond where we are at present. Hope is also the subtle indicator that in our future there will be more.

    More what? Well, that's different for all of us, isn't it? And oh so important for each of us. After all, it is the hopes, the dreams, deep down inside us that focus us, that point in the direction of our becoming, and thus reveal more of us than we perhaps realize. What is it for which you hope? What is your deepest dream?

    Advent invites us, no, Advent demands of us, that we examine our hopes, that we become aware of the direction in which we're headed, that we claim, in fact, who we are. What is it for which you hope?

    We wrap this time of year in attempts to fulfill hopes. Under Christmas trees will be wide assortments of attempts to meet expectations, dreams. We want to give our loved ones what it is they want most, but most of us realize that what we want most can't be packaged and placed under a tree with a little card saying who it's from.

    There is some sense that our most profound dreams and hopes are the ones we can actually do very little in the way of accomplishing. And oh what a sense of dis-ease that can bring. Here we are, filled with a premonition of what could be'a wild hope'a fierce longing, and a sense of impossibility.

    And then a voice cries in the wilderness, into our darkness comes light. Good news. God's news. Ultimately, you see, God is our hope. Ultimately, the sense we have of the potential for more, the sense of a richer, more profound way of being, is our sense of what God can do, of who God can be in our lives.

    Advent is the affirmation that God is at work, that God created us with hopes and dreams that can only be met in encounter with the divine. It is time, time to hope, time to celebrate the God who will not only meet our hope, but exceed it to unimaginable extent.

    It is the first Sunday of Advent. The theme is hope. God bless you. Amen.

    It is the second Sunday of Advent. The theme is peace.

    Peace, imagine all the pieces, the pieces of our fractured society: the rich and the poor, the employed, the unemployed, pieces divided by race and religion and politics, the pieces of our families, divided by geography, by commitments and covenants unable to be kept, by different priorities, different expectations, different goals, the pieces of ourselves that fracture any sense of wholeness and health into doubts and frustrations.

    Imagine all those pieces.

    It's almost like in college when you contemplated all your professors asked of you, well, demanded of you, and you thought, well, it's easy for them. If all I had to do was concentrate on one subject, I'd be fine. I'd be great. But it's like my Math professor doesn't realize that I have Religion and English to do too.

    And then you grow up, and realize there are always too many pieces, too many things to do, too many things you want to do. Too many options. If we could only focus on one thing. If there only weren't so many pieces. If there weren't so many pieces, there would be peace.

    And as God is wont to do, God enters into the frustration and pain of our experience, and doesn't take it away. In fact, God declares that pieces are what it's all about. And, as God is want to do, from within our experience, God declares, let me shed a little light on this for you.

    Let's look at this a little differently. It's not about eliminating pieces, but just getting them in the right place, putting them in the right order. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. And everything else will fall into place. It's simple. It's not easy, but it's simple. Amidst pieces that have found their place, there will be peace.

    God is born, into our experience, the prince of peace, to model for us what to do with our pieces.

    It is the second Sunday of Advent. The theme is peace. God bless you. Amen.

    It is the third Sunday of Advent. The theme is joy.

    Joy. According to the dictionary:

    1joy n [ME, fr. OF joie, fr L gaudia, pl. of gaudium, fr. gaudere to rejoice, akin to Gk gethein to rejoice] 1 a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : DELIGHT b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : GAIETY 2 : a state of happiness or felicity : BLISS 3 : a source or cause of delight

    2joy vi to experience great pleasure or delight : REJOICE ~ vt 1 archaic : GLADDEN 2 archaic : ENJOY

    This is fairly clear. Locate joy on the extreme of that side of the emotional scale you deem positive, and let it be an extreme case of feeling good and happy. Smiley faces and exclamation points. As inconsistent and temporary as any emotion. Dependent on the usual variety of contextual circumstances: is the sun out? Do you possess what you desire? Are you successful? Aren't you glad? What joy!

    Then there's that choir of angels, that multitude of heavenly hosts, blazing forth in light and sound, God's: 'I bring you good tidings of great joy.'

    And it would seem to necessarily entail somewhat more than feeling good and being glad, especially when we know more of the story, when we know more of the details through which the joy is delivered, through which the joy is made flesh, when we have a little more of the perspective God presumably had when the angels were sent to proclaim the advent of joy'a clear perspective into the details of misunderstanding and rejection, the deep pain of betrayal, physical torture and death, good tidings of great joy. Alleluia.

    So it is thus within the context of our own experience of the shadows of life (our own experience of death and betrayal, rejection and misunderstanding) that with excitement, we begin to suspect that God is redefining again, seeking to provide a consistency for us'a joy not rooted in circumstance'a joy not dependent'a joy beyond our definitions and beyond our understandings.

    It is the third Sunday of Advent. The theme is joy. God bless you. Amen.

    It is the fourth Sunday of Advent. The theme is love.

    Love is a superlative, however it's used. C'm'on, let's go see this movie, you'll love it! Have you seen my new truck? I love it! Don't you just love ice cream? It doesn't get any better than this. Love is a level and a category unto itself, all its own.

    Two things of which to take note, given this uniqueness. One is the potential for abuse. You see, we cheapen the concept regularly. When I think about it, or, if I think about it, love is not what I feel for ice cream, or a movie, or any thing. When I think about it, love is appropriately applied to the most significant of relationships, the deepest, richest, most intimate. To speak of love with integrity is to speak of the way we live, and how we live more abundantly. Which brings us to the second point which is related to the first, being an inverse of it.

    Love can be rather intimidating. When you start talking in terms of the most significant, the deepest, richest, most intimate, you're getting into some scary dimensions of relating. There's a vulnerability involved (a trust, an interdependence you choose'a commitment). It's a risk, a big risk, and what you're risking is yourself. It's a gamble, and the stakes don't get any higher.

    Is it worth it? Most of us would say 'yes, but for God's sake, let's be careful out there.' But it's not for God's sake. It's for our sake that into these responses to love, rises the Star of Bethlehem. The Advent of Jesus is the astounding claim that love is the only way to relate, to anyone. The Advent of Jesus is God's emphatic reaffirmation that love is the way God chooses to relate to each of us. The Advent of Jesus is God risking self, becoming vulnerable, trusting us to prove a commitment, to assert that it's sometimes better to risk and lose than not to risk and never catch a glimpse into the heart of it all, even into the heart of God, which has been broken, but which pulses with the love that creates and sustains and redeems, the love that is the risk, the investment of the self that makes our living worthwhile.

    It is the fourth Sunday of Advent. The theme is love. God bless you. Amen.

    John Ballenger, at this writing, was a minister in Waco, Texas, and is now pastoring in Baltimore, Maryland. He has served as the drama and poetry editor for Seeds of Hope since 1991. This and the other three meditations like it were originally used as introductions to four evenings of Advent music. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 1999.


    Music, Sweet Buns, Coffee, and Love

    a service for Christmas Eve, based on the Moravian Love Feast
    compiled by Crystal Carter

    Note: The Moravian church is one of the few churches who hold services dedicated to the concept of Christian love.

    Moravian Christians in the New World, particularly around Pennsylvania and the Carolinas, have historically embraced the coming of Christmas with a 'Love-Feast.' The name comes from the practice of the apostolic church described in the second chapter of the book of Acts. The Love-Feasts of the early church often preceded the practice of the Lord's Supper with a common meal.

    Moravian Love-Feasts are musical services in which the congregation partakes of simple food while the choir sings appropriate hymns and anthems (or while the organ plays quietly). The congregation is traditionally served plain sweet buns and coffee (or tea, or chocolate) in the time it takes to sing three hymns. Beeswax candles are distributed (as late as the 15th century, devout people believed that bees came straight from Paradise), and as the choir and/or congregation reaches the last phrase of the final hymn (often 'Joy to the World! The Lord is Come'), participants raise their lighted candles in praise and celebration of the birth of the baby king.

    Moravians generally think of the Love-Feasts as separate from the Lord's Supper'saying that, while the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, celebrates the relationship between God and each believer, Love-Feasts celebrate the holy fellowship that believers enjoy with one another. Herbert Spaugh, a Moravian historian, wrote, 'Since love is the greatest power in the world, and Christian love is the greatest of virtues, I have often wondered why more branches of the Church do not adopt the Love-feast as one of their appointed services.'

    The Prelude
    'What Wondrous Love is This'
    This could be played by the organ, or sung as an a cappella solo.

    Opening Collect for Christmas
    Eternal God, by the birth of Jesus Christ you gave yourself to the world. Grant that, being born in our hearts, he may save us from all our sins, and restore within us the image and likeness of our Creator, to whom be everlasting praise and glory, world without end. Amen.

    Carol: 'O Come, All Ye Faithful'
    This carol could be introduced with the following:
    One of the most popular Christmas hymns, 'O Come All Ye Faithful' (also known as the 'Latin hymn') might never have been known by the English-speaking world if it had not been by the chance work of a wandering scribe. In 1750, John Francis Wade, who was a professional copy writer, included an 'original' Christmas poem, called 'Adepter Fideles' in a manuscript compiled for the English Roman Catholic College in Lisbon, Portugal. Thirty-five years later a copy of the hymn was sent to the Portuguese Chapel in London and from there its popularity spread throughout the world.

    Carol: 'It Came upon the Midnight Clear'
    This carol could be introduced with the following:
    The peace of Christmas, proclaimed by the heavenly chorus, is one of God's greatest gifts to humankind. As 2 Cor. 5:19 says, 'God was reconciling the world to himself.' This message of reconciliation involves us in three different aspects: peace with God, peace with our brothers and sisters, and peace within ourselves. It is this blessed concept that hymn writer Edmund Sears, wanted to emphasize in this unusual carol.

    Responsive Affirmation of Faith
    (taken from Luke 1:46-55)

    LEADER: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
    PEOPLE: This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
    LEADER: All went to their own towns to be registered.
    PEOPLE: Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.
    LEADER: He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
    PEOPLE: While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
    LEADER: And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
    PEOPLE: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
    LEADER: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
    PEOPLE: But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for see 'I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
    LEADER: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
    PEOPLE: This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.'
    LEADER: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
    PEOPLE: 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!'

    Introduction to the Love Feast
    The following should be read aloud:
    From the time when the Church was only a few days old, all the believers lived in wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful as they praised God. Therefore, we as a community of believers will now share with each other in a Love-Feast. (adapted from Acts 2:44-47a, The Message)

    Distribution of the Love Feast
    Note: The sharing of buns and coffee takes place during the next three hymns. As they serve one another and partake themselves, participants are asked to pray in love for one another, especially for those seated on either side of them.

    Moravian Table Grace
    After all have been served, the congregation joins in the saying of grace:
    Come, Lord Jesus, Our Guest to be,
    And bless these gifts, Bestowed by Thee.
    Bless our dear ones everywhere,
    Keep them in Thy loving care. Amen

    Carol: 'What Child Is This'
    This carol could be introduced with the following:
    The question posed by this well-loved carol is 'the' question present in the hearts of those who witnessed Jesus' birth. We can almost hear the question being asked from one to another as they gazed into the human manger: 'Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear'for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.' These beautiful words were written by William Dix. While a successful insurance salesman in Glasgow, Scotland, he was stricken by a serious illness at age 29. He was confined to a bed and then suffering a deep depression until he called out to God and met him in a new and real way. Out of this spiritual renewal came this beautiful carol.

    Carol: 'Angels from the Realms of Glory'
    This carol could be introduced with the following:
    This Christmas hymn is one of James Montgomery's favorite compositions. Considered to be one of the greatest of the Moravian hymn writers, he wrote this carol in 1816 and it appeared first as a poem in his newspaper on Christmas Eve of that year. Considered by many students of hymnody to be one of our finer Christmas hymns. In a unique style it addressed first the angelic chorus in the first stanza, then the shepherds in the second, the wise men in the third, and finally today's believers'calling all to worship Christ our King.

    Carol: 'Angels We Have Heard on High'
    This carol could be introduced with the following:
    A traditional French carol, this hymn tells of the vast numbers of angels swiftly descending toward earth through the star sprinkled sky. They hovered with folded wings over a silent field near Bethlehem. 'There they are,' said the lead angel, 'the humble shepherds who have been chosen by God to receive our message. It will be the most wonderful news that mortal men or women have ever received.' The shepherds were terrified. Covering their faces in the brilliance of the angelic light, they listened with awe as the heavenly host before them began to speak in their own language: 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.'

    The Dismissal Carol:
    'Joy to the World! The Lord is Come'
    Note: During this carol, leaders distribute candles and the participants light each other's candles. At the end of the last verse, participants raise their candles high.

    Crystal Carter is a freelance writer in San Diego, California. Sources: 'A Short Introduction to the History, Customs and Practices of the Moravian Church' by Herbert Spaugh; letter from Bass Mitchell, Hot Springs, Arkansas; Homilies and Bible Study by Email: www.homiliesbyemail.com. From Sacred Seasons, Advent 2003.


    A Four-Part Litany for Advent

    by Rachel C. Hunter

    LEADER: In the midst of restless anxiety and depression, the people cry
    PEOPLE: 'where is hope?
    LEADER: In the midst of cynicism and incredulity, the people wail
    PEOPLE: 'where is hope?
    LEADER: In the throes of perpetual war, famine and strife, the people plead
    PEOPLE: 'where is hope?
    LEADER: Hope is in the lilt of a familiar melody that drives you to joyful dancing in the midst of sorrow. Hope is the ability to remember light when there is darkness.
    PEOPLE: Where is hope?
    LEADER: Hope is an act of creation, carefully laden visions and insights, woven to create a tapestry of faith, beautiful and elegant.
    PEOPLE: Hope is the ability to remember warmth, in frigid and icy storms.
    LEADER: Hope is belief magnified and intensified by pure tenacity and mindful action.

    LEADER: We will never find peace.
    PEOPLE: Peace is a choice.
    LEADER: Peace is taking deliberate strides towards an unknown battle-field, armed with love.
    PEOPLE: Peace lets her silent power seep into and embrace even the most violent encounters.
    LEADER: Steadied by hope, peace is a vehicle for travel into the realm of God.
    PEOPLE: Peace is a journey of tremendous fulfillment.
    LEADER: Peace can not be granted.
    PEOPLE: Peace must be chosen.
    LEADER: Peace can not be achieved.
    PEOPLE: Peace must be carried out.

    LEADER: A peaceful feeling of contentment interacts suddenly with a surge of hope, and the offspring is joy.
    PEOPLE: Joy drinks the bubbling and gurgling of clear fresh love.
    LEADER: Joy revels in the innocence of birth.
    PEOPLE: Joy's soft blankets and fresh hot tea coat the coolness of misery.
    LEADER: The abrupt purring of a feisty cat is a song of joy.
    PEOPLE: Celebrating life is song of joy.
    LEADER: The rustling of a congregation adjusting positions in their seats is a song of joy.
    PEOPLE: Awareness of living is song of joy.
    LEADER: Joy crackles and smacks like a fire on a cold night,
    PEOPLE: And like a fire it spreads.
    LEADER: Share your delights, share your tee-hee-hees and share your ha-has.
    PEOPLE: Ha, ha, ha, ha.
    LEADER: Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!
    PEOPLE: Ha, ha, ha, ha'
    LEADER: Halleluia.

    LEADER: A yearning need as poignant as hunger.
    PEOPLE: We all strive for love.
    LEADER: And there are countless emotions which we mistake for love.
    PEOPLE: But love is big enough to embody countless emotions.
    LEADER: Love is not the opposite of power; it is the antithesis.
    PEOPLE: Love provokes change in gentle strengthening.
    LEADER: Love eats away at evil and hatred as a passionate sculptor chips away at a formless boulder to reveal an exquisite form.
    PEOPLE: Love is the creator river composing a stunningly breath-taking canyon.
    LEADER: Love is the view from a canyon height encompassing everything in sight.
    PEOPLE: Love is the ability to recognize humanity even in the midst of one's own fury.
    LEADER: Love is the force of eloquence in the midst of silence.
    PEOPLE: Love has the power that light has in darkness.
    LEADER: Love renders darkness nonexistent.

    Rachel Hunter, known to friends as Rae, is a graduate of the College of Wooster in Theatre and Religious Studies. At this writing she was a theatre and writing teacher at The Meeting School in Rindge, New Hampshire. She was assisted in the preparation of this litany by her writing class. This first appeared in Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 2003.


    The Christmas Gift

    A Children's Sermon
    by Mark McClintock

    Editor's Note: The following was created as a dialogue between Mark, who is a ventriloquist, and Sydney, one of his dummies. However, it easily translates into a two-part presentation. At two points in the dialogue, Mark brings the children into the discussion, so it would be best to gather the children around the two presenters.

    MARK: Merry Christmas, Sidney!
    SYDNEY: Merry'Christmas? Is it Christmas already?
    MARK: Just about.
    SYDNEY: Whoa, I better get busy!
    MARK: Do you have a lot to do?
    SYDNEY: Yeah, I gotta clean my'
    MARK: Oh, good, you're finally going to clean your room.
    SYDNEY: Clean my room? Do I look like I'm crazy? I'm going to clean my chimney.
    MARK: Clean your chimney?
    SYDNEY: Yeah, and grease it down real good.
    MARK: Oh, I think I get the picture. Santa Claus, right?
    SYDNEY: Well, I don't want the big guy gettin' stuck on the way down, do I?
    MARK: There's a lot more to Christmas than Santa Claus, Sidney.
    SYDNEY: Oh, I know what you're thinking. There is more to Christmas. There's candy canes, hot chocolate, and presents! But I really like Santa Claus. I know everything there is to know about Santa Claus.
    MARK: Oh, you do? All right, where is Santa Claus supposed to come from?
    SYDNEY: That's easy. He comes from Taiwan.
    MARK: Taiwan??
    SYDNEY: That's what it says on all the toys he brings: 'Made in Taiwan.'
    MARK: That's not right. Where is Santa supposed to come from, kids?
    SYDNEY: The North Pole?? No way!! Who would want to live up there in all that snow and ice? Brrrrr!
    MARK: That's what they say. The North Pole. And do you know what Santa is supposed to bring with him every year?
    SYDNEY: Yeah, pneumonia!
    MARK: No. He's supposed to bring gifts for all the children in the world.
    SYDNEY: Yeah, right, I've heard that one, too.
    MARK: Sounds like you have a little trouble believing it.
    SYDNEY: Well, think about it, Mark. How could one guy get toys to all the kids all over the world in one night?
    MARK: It does stretch the imagination, doesn't it?
    SYDNEY: It's harder to swallow than my grandma's Christmas cookies! Blecch!
    MARK: If you've really learned about Santa Claus, you know that he started out just giving to a few people.
    SYDNEY: He did?
    MARK: Yes. Another way of saying his name is St. Nicholas.
    SYDNEY: I knew that!
    MARK: Nicholas heard about a family with lots of children and very little money. One night, he secretly went to their house and tossed some gold in through the chimney to help them out.
    SYDNEY: I wonder why he did that?
    MARK: I think he had learned the love and the joy of giving.
    SYDNEY: How did he learn something like that?
    MARK: Because Nicholas was given the greatest gift of all.
    SYDNEY: A (Sydney names a silly gift)?
    MARK: Nope. Nick's gift came from God. (to the children) Anybody know what that gift might be?
    SYDNEY: Jesus?
    MARK: Exactly. Jesus is God's Christmas present to all of us. Including St. Nick.
    SYDNEY: That's right, Christmas is supposed to be Jesus' birthday, isn't it?
    MARK: Yes, it is.
    SYDNEY: How old is the birthday boy anyway?
    MARK: If you counted since he was born, he's about 2,000 years old.
    SYDNEY: Two thousand! You'd have to call the fire department in to hose down the candles on the cake!
    MARK: I don't think Jesus had a cake on his birthday, Sidney. Don't you know the Christmas story?
    SYDNEY: You mean 'Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer?'
    MARK: No, I mean the story of Jesus' birth.
    SYDNEY: Oh, yeah. I was in our church's Christmas play last year.
    MARK: What part did you play?
    SYDNEY: I was Frank.
    MARK: Frank? I don't remember anybody named Frank in the Christmas story.
    SYDNEY: Well, that just shows how much you pay attention in church!
    MARK: Who in the world is Frank?
    SYDNEY: You know, Frank N. Sense. He's one o' those Three Wise Guys.
    MARK: Wise Men. I think you need a little help remembering, Sidney. Let me tell you the story.
    SYDNEY: Can I go to sleep first?
    MARK: No, listen. There was a teenage girl named Mary. God sent an angel to Mary to tell her some good news.
    SYDNEY: If I saw an angel, I think I'd hide in the closet!
    MARK: Mary must have been scared, too, because the angel said, 'Don't be afraid.' The angel told her God had chosen her to be the mother of the Savior of the World. She would have a baby who would be God's own son, and she would name him'
    SYDNEY: I know! I know! Jesus.
    MARK: That's right. The man who was going to be Mary's husband was named Joseph. At first, he didn't like the idea of Mary having somebody else's baby, but God let him know in a dream that it would be all right.
    SYDNEY: And then they had the baby in a barn, right?
    MARK: You've skipped a part, Sidney. Do you know who declared that all the world should be taxed?
    SYDNEY: Must be the Democrats.
    MARK: No, silly, it was the emperor in Rome. So, Joseph took Mary to his hometown, Bethlehem.
    SYDNEY: (Singing) 'Oh, little town of Bethlehem''
    MARK: That's the place. It was so crowded that they couldn't even get a bed in the inn.
    SYDNEY: In the what?
    MARK: The inn! An inn is like a hotel.
    SYDNEY: Then what is an out?
    MARK: I don't know.
    SYDNEY: It's what you get in baseball.
    MARK: Just listen! They must have stayed in a sort of a barn or a stable that night because when the baby was born, they laid him in a manger.
    SYDNEY: What's that?
    MARK: A feeding trough. Where the donkeys and cows ate their hay.
    SYDNEY: Eeww, they laid him in donkey slobber?
    MARK: Apparently, they didn't have much choice. Now, let's pretend for a minute, Sidney. Pretend we live a long time ago.
    SYDNEY: How long?
    MARK: Two thousand years. We're high on a hill with a cool breeze blowing.
    SYDNEY: (Shivers)
    MARK: We're shepherds, camping outside the city of Bethlehem.
    SYDNEY: I don't wanna be a shepherd!
    MARK: Why not?
    SYDNEY: Nobody liked shepherds. They were dirty and sweaty and smelled like soggy underwear.
    MARK: You're right; shepherds were outcasts. But stick around; something wonderful is about to happen! We're sitting up on that hill, taking care of our sheep, and suddenly a bright light flashes in the sky.
    SYDNEY: An air force jet!
    MARK: No.
    SYDNEY: It must be Santa Claus.
    MARK: No. It's an angel.
    SYDNEY: Oh, yeah.
    MARK: Do you remember what he says?
    SYDNEY: Same thing he said to Mary. 'Don't be afraid. I bring you good news!'
    MARK: And the good news is that today in the city below the hill a baby has been born.
    SYDNEY: Our Savior; Christ the Lord!
    MARK: Right.
    SYDNEY: Let's go see him!
    MARK: And leave our sheep? They might run away!
    SYDNEY: Well, yeah, but'
    MARK: Or the wolves might get them!
    SYDNEY: I know but'
    MARK: We might lose our jobs and starve!
    SYDNEY: But Mark! This is Jesus! Our Savior! Wake up and smell the coffee!
    MARK: Why would someone so important as God's son want to have anything to do with us poor, measly little shepherds that nobody cares about?
    SYDNEY: Who cares what we are?? Jesus is God's gift for everyone! Kings, millionaires, shepherds, construction workers, liars, and thieves! Lawyers, even!
    MARK: You're exactly right, Sidney. The shepherds in the story understood that, and they went to see the baby. And as they went home, they told everybody the good news they had heard. And that's the Christmas story.
    SYDNEY: Hold on, you left out the Wise Guys.
    MARK: Wise Men. They probably didn't come until a couple years later when Jesus was a toddler.
    SYDNEY: Yeah, but the pictures don't look right without Wise Guys there. That way, you've got rich, important folks and poor, ordinary folks worshipping Jesus together.
    MARK: You're right, Sidney. I like that picture, too. And that's the story of Jesus' birthday.
    SYDNEY: Cool! Next to my own birthday, I like Jesus' birthday best.
    MARK: Why?
    SYDNEY: 'Cause his is the only other birthday when I get presents!
    MARK: I hope you never get for your birthday what most people give Jesus for his birthday.
    SYDNEY: Why? What do they give him?
    MARK: Nothing.
    SYDNEY: Nothing! They go out and get all those things for themselves and don't give Jesus nothing!
    MARK: Most people forget about Jesus on his birthday. They're more interested in Santa and presents'
    SYDNEY: I know, and candy canes. But Jesus deserves the very best present, and I'm just a little kid without any money. What could a kid give Jesus?
    MARK: Just give him YOU.
    SYDNEY: Me?
    MARK: That's what Jesus wants us to give him. Our lives.
    SYDNEY: So we can do what he wants?
    MARK: So we can be children of God.
    SYDNEY: Great, he'd want me to clean my room all the time and eat spinach!
    MARK: Anyway, Jesus never asks us to do anything that he won't give us the strength and the courage to do.
    SYDNEY: Wait a minute, who's doing the giving? We give our lives to Jesus or Jesus gives his life for us?
    MARK: Both. And when we give to other people in Jesus' name, that's a gift to Jesus, too.
    SYDNEY: So Jesus gave his life so we could give our lives to him so we can give love to others so we can give love to Jesus?
    MARK: That's it!
    SYDNEY: I give up!
    MARK: Jesus gives his love to others through us. That way, Jesus' love spreads on and on and on, all around the world.
    SYDNEY: Hey, I just thought of something! Do you think Santa Claus works that way?
    MARK: What do you mean?
    SYDNEY: Just like we help share Jesus' love with others, maybe we help Santa Claus share gifts with kids all over the world.
    MARK: Sid, I think you hit the nail right on the head.
    SYDNEY: Ow!
    MARK: No, not your head, the nail's head.
    SYDNEY: I think I've got the idea. Well, see ya later!
    MARK: Whoa! Not so fast!
    SYDNEY: Oh, okay. See'you'la-ter'
    MARK: I mean, don't leave so soon.
    SYDNEY: I'm in a hurry!
    MARK: Where are you going?
    SYDNEY: I'm going to J. C. Penney!
    MARK: J. C. Penney?
    SYDNEY: Yeah, see ya!
    MARK: Wait! Why are you going to J. C. Penny?
    SYDNEY: So they can gift-wrap me.
    MARK: Gift-wrap you?
    SYDNEY: Yeah, so I can give myself to Jesus.
    MARK: Sidney, Jesus doesn't want us in gift-wrap. He wants us just the way we are.
    SYDNEY: The way we are? Sometimes I'm not so good. He might not like me the way I am.
    MARK: Jesus knows we're not perfect, Sidney. But he loves us just the same and wants us to be children of God.
    SYDNEY: Really?
    MARK: Really.
    SYDNEY: (Looking heavenward) You are the greatest Christmas present ever! Happy Birthday!
    MARK: And a joyful Christmas to you all.

    Mark McClintock is the director of PassportKids, the children's division of Passport Camps. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 2002.


    A Meditation for Christmas Eve

    by David Tatum

    I don't think anyone would say it was easy traveling over dusty, barren land with barely a road to follow'with only your feet or maybe an animal to carry you. But this time it was even harder. On Christmas eve, this young couple was trying to get to Bethlehem and she was about to have a baby. Nine months pregnant and out in the middle of nowhere on a donkey.

    Getting to Bethlehem was only the beginning; there were other problems to face. Once in the city, there was no place to stay and Mary's body was telling her that this baby would not wait much longer. Joseph must have been frantic trying to find a place for him and Mary to rest so that this baby could be born.

    Finally, with no other choice, Mary and Joseph settled in a stable. Surely this was not the place to bring a new life into the world. But it happened. This child was born.

    Every Christmas Eve I am filled with anticipation for the promise that this child brought with him. A promise that no matter how hectic life gets, and no matter what the circumstances, hope will be born and it will change the world.

    Thank you, God, for the hope
    that was born in this child Jesus,
    And the promise that this hope is still alive.
    Use us, that the world may be changed.

    David Tatum works for Habitat for Humanity in Waco, Texas. At this writing, he was a furniture maker in North Carolina. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 2000.


    Are Your Hands Cold?

    A Children's Emphasis for the Beginning of Advent
    by Mark McClintock

    An idea for Sunday school:

    Find the book A Rose for Abby and read it to the children during a Sunday school or church school session. It will probably take about 10 minutes to read the book. (We recommend that you do this before you lead with the following children's sermon, but perhaps the same day.)

    Children's sermon

    Bring a bucket of ice cubes (one for each child). You may want to put a cloth or towels on the floor to catch any drips. Give each child an ice cube to hold in her or his hands while you read the scripture passage (James 2:14-17) aloud. When the ice cubes have had a minute or two to do their work, collect them (or their remains) in the bucket.

    Ask the children, 'Anybody have cold hands?' After the children respond, say, 'Well, we don't want anybody to go away with cold hands, do we? Let's see... 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill.' How's that? Everybody's hands warmer now? No? You mean, just telling somebody to be warm doesn't work? Well, I guess that's what the Bible means when it says we need to do more than believe in God. We need to DO what God says. Let's see if this works better.'

    Take a child's hand in your own and hold it for several seconds. Say, 'How does that feel?' Do the same for another child. Continue warming up hands as you speak. 'Now I'm doing something to warm your hands. I could have done other things. I could have told you to sit on your hands or put them in your pockets until they warm up. I could have built a fire and had you hold your hands close to it. But there is a special kind of warmth that comes from my hand touching your hand.'

    Say, 'Right here in our city, there are people who have no home. They wander around during the day and sleep on the streets at night. Do you think some of them might have cold hands? Should we go up to those people and say, 'Keep warm'? What could we DO about their cold hands?'

    Listen to the children's suggestions. Say, 'You've had some good ideas. One idea that we are going to use comes from a book called A Rose for Abby. Abby was a little girl who gave a pair of gloves to a woman who lived in the street. We're going to make a wreath full of gloves and mittens to donate to a homeless shelter. Then, as people without homes come to the shelters, they can choose a pair of the gloves and keep them to warm their hands.'

    Explain how, where, and when church members may donate gloves and when the children will help assemble the wreath (or wreaths).

    End with a prayer. 'God, thank you for our hands. Thank you for smooth hands and wrinkled hands, hands with dimples and hands with scars, hands of every shape, size, and color. Help those of us with warm hands share that warmth with those who have cold hands. Help us join hands with others to make the world a place where nobody is left out in the cold. Amen.'

    (Although this is written as a children's sermon, it could also be used during church school or as a children's lesson.)

    'Wreath of Hands' missions activity:

    With the children's help, collect gloves and mittens from people in the church and pin them to a hoop or artificial wreath. (We recommend a styrofoam form wrapped in cloth.) Remind the children of the lesson that they learned during the children's sermon.

    Depending on the number of children in your group and how many gloves you collect, you may choose to make several wreaths. Choose a day when the children can go with you to take the wreaths to a homeless shelter or other distribution center.

    Mark McClintock is the director of PassportKids, the children's division of Passport Camps. Art is by Sharon Rollins. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 2000.


    Lessons & Carols for Children

    by Mary T. Meadows

    The Lessons and Carols are set up for 8 readers. The readers can simply stand together at the front of the church. You may find it easier to use a different set of readers for each of the five readings (perhaps a different Sunday School class for each reading). The hymns can be sung by the congregation between each reading. If you have children who are interested, you might also try asking the children to sing the first verse of the hymn and then asking the congregation to join in., You may even have a child who would like to sing a solo! Your children might also suggest different hymns. Experiment! 'MTM

    HYMN: Silent Night

    READER 1: Once, many years ago, Jesus was born in a...
    READER 2: Wait a minute. That's not the beginning of the story. First, an angel came to Mary, Jesus's mother.
    READER 3: Yeah! The angel Gabriel.
    READER 2: Gabriel told Mary, 'Don't be afraid. God has good news for you. You are going to have a baby, and that baby will be the Son of God.'
    READER 3: Emmanuel, which means 'God with us.'
    READER 1: You know, I bet Mary was scared. She was probably only fourteen years old, and she and Joseph weren't even married yet. What would she tell him? Or her mom?! Or her dad?!
    READER 2: Well, Gabriel told her, 'Don't worry Mary. There is nothing that God can't do. God will be with you.'

    HYMN: What Child Is This?

    READER 4: Several months passed and it was time for Mary to have the baby. She and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem because somebody wanted to count up all the people.
    READER 5: And, while Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, she gave birth to Jesus.
    READER 6: Did you know that there wasn't even any room for them in the inn? They had to stay in a stable with all the animals.
    READER 7: I bet it was really smelly!
    READER 4: Yeah! If I had been the innkeeper, I'd have made a place for them in the inn and moved everyone else to the manger!
    READER 6: But that innkeeper didn't. So Jesus was born in a manger.

    HYMN: Away In A Manger

    READER 4: Well, after Jesus was born, you know what happened?! An angel went to some shepherds in a field...
    READER 1: Shepherds?! They're a bunch of crooks!
    READER 4: Well, that's the way God worked it. God sent an angel to these shepherds. The shepherds were the first to hear the good...
    READER 8: Wait a minute. Do you know the first thing the angel told these shepherds? 'Don't be afraid.' How come every angel starts its message with 'don't be afraid?' Kind of makes you wonder what those angels looked like, don't it?
    READER 4: Their looks aside, the angels told the shepherds about Jesus' birth.
    READER 1: Then the angels sang a great big song:'Glory to God in the highest, and peace to all people!'

    HYMN: Angels We Have Heard On High

    HYMN: Hark The Herald Angels Sing

    READER 5: After the shepherds went to see Jesus, Herod, who was the king of the land, heard about a baby being born and sent some wisemen to find out about him.
    READER 7: The wisemen brought gifts to the baby.
    READER 5: But they decided to go back another way and not tell Herod where to find the baby.

    HYMN: O Come All Ye Faithful

    READER 2: You know, I think Herod was afraid that Jesus would take over as king.
    READER 3: It's kind of funny that a king would be born in a manger.
    READER 8: The whole Christmas story is sort of funny. Jesus was the Messiah'the Savior, but everything that happened to him was backwards to what people thought would happen.
    READER 1: The best news of all though, is that Jesus is for everyone! Even the poor heard the good news about him: Mary, a poor peasant girl. Lowly shepherds. They were the first to hear the good news.
    READER 8: That's why we celebrate Jesus's birth at Christmas...to tell everyone the good news!

    HYMN: Go Tell It On The Mountain

    HYMN: Joy to the World

    Mary Meadows has worked as an attorney and has served as children's minister and pastor for several churches across the country. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 2001.


    My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

    A Dramatic Reading for Three People and Congregation
    by Deborah E. Harris

    Leader: When I'm reading the Bible and certain individuals are mentioned only briefly, it's all too easy to overlook the real dimension of their humanity and the depth of their spirituality. Sometimes a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs in Scripture sum up a lifetime of 'waiting for the light,' and I find it helpful to read between the lines a bit.

    I have long been intrigued by Simeon and Anna noted in connection with the day Mary and Joseph brought their young son to the temple in Jerusalem. Simeon, a devout and righteous man who had been promised through the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. And the prophetess Anna, an 84-year-old widow who never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. I have imagined they might have said and sung something like the following:

    Simeon: I am an old man. But in this moment, I am as a young boy in my heart'leaping with delight and praising my God who has kept a sacred promise to me. I have seen the Lord! The Holy Redeemer who brings consolation to Israel. And as I hold the Christ Child in my arms, so now my life rests peacefully in your arms, O God. For my eyes have seen Your salvation!

    The silence has been broken with music that rings true,
    And all my deepest longings put into words by You;
    In my heart I know it'You are the Holy One,
    Redeemer of the people, Jehovah's only Son.

    For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
    Which You have prepared for all women and men;
    This Light of divine revelation,
    A Holy Child born in Bethlehem.

    Leader, Simeon, and Congregation:

    Yes, my eyes have seen Your salvation,
    And now by Your grace I can say,
    'This Savior of hope for all nations
    Is reborn in my heart today.

    Anna: The years of waiting seem as one day now that I have seen Him! How I wish my dear husband were here to share my joy. There were days when the loneliness and silence within these temple walls seemed to suffocate me. And times when my own weakness and self-doubt battled hard against my commitment. Yet God, in mercy, sustained me. And now the truth is so clear to me: through these years my heart has been prepared to recognize You, Lord Jesus. You are heaven's resounding 'YES!' to all my prayers. For my eyes have seen Your salvation!

    The waiting now is over; my strength has been renewed,
    And every prayer I've offered is answered 'yes' in You;
    So now my heart rejoices, and my spirit sings'
    You are my own Messiah and my King of Kings!

    For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
    Which You have prepared for all women and men;
    This Light of divine revelation,
    A Holy Child born in Bethlehem.

    Leader, Anna, and Congregation:

    Yes, my eyes have seen Your salvation,
    And now by Your grace I can say,
    'This Savior of hope for all nations
    Is reborn in my heart today.'

    Again this season we join Simeon and Anna in waiting for Your light and in praying, 'Come, Thou long-expected Jesus! Set us free from our fears, release us from our sins. For You are the hope of all the earth and the joy of every longing heart.' Amen.

    Deborah Harris is a freelance editor, writer, and lyricist who lives in Waco, Texas. She originally wrote this piece as a part of the musical 'Make His Praise Glorious,' published by Word Music. From Sacred Seasons, Seeds of Hope Publishers, Advent 1998.

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    ©Creative Commons
    (originally 2005 Alternatives for Simple Living)

    Worship Alternatives collection compiled, edited and prepared by Katie Cook from Seed of Hope and by Gerald Iversen.

    The collection contains sermons, worship items and art. It is part of the CD-ROM Simply the Best: Over 30 Years of Alternatives, available from the ELCA Archives.

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