Advent Sunday – ideas for children’s worship and all age worship

Advent 1:  30th November
The Patriarchs and Matriarchs – Abraham and Sarah’s story
(Genesis 12.1-3)

Today’s Old Testament reading invites us to look backwards.  Abraham and Sarah heard God’s call and followed it, becoming the father and mother of our faith.  God blessed them with descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and through the generations God’s blessing has been passed on.  Advent is a good time for us to look back at the blessings we have received, and to work out ways of passing those blessings on to others.

Activity suggestions for children’s groups

Preparation beforehand: Prepare lots of lengths (c.12-18 inches) of ribbon (or wool). One of them should be tied into a loop at one end, while all the others will need a loop at both ends.

Reading: Read the Bible passage through from the LLLA booklet, emphasising God’s promise of blessing, and how Abraham and Sarah’s response enabled that blessing to be passed on to ‘all the families of the earth’.generations

  • Hold up your first ribbon (with the loop at just one end).
    This represents God’s promise of blessing.
  • Take another length of ribbon. This is Abraham and Sarah. God called them, and made a promise, that they would be the mother and father of his people, and that they would have the biggest family on earth. They listened to his call, and did all that he asked.
    Thread the second length of wool or ribbon through the loop in the first, so that you now have two ends. God kept his promise.
  • Through the generations, God kept on making wonderful promises, and giving people his blessing, and every time someone heard God’s promise and did what God asked, the blessing got passed on. Keep adding a ribbon to each new empty loop – you can point out that you are creating a sort of family tree, each new ‘generation’ doubles the number of loops you have available for the next ‘generation’, as the blessings of God’s promises are shared. If they are enjoying it, you can carry on, making a network of blessing that will spread to touch the whole room and require everyone to join in.
  • Who has blessed you? If you traced back the blessings in your life, who would you want to name in your own ‘family tree’ of blessing? Some of them might be members of your own family, some might be teachers, friends, people who shared their faith with you. Then think about who you have blessed – the people you care for, teach, support, and share your faith with. We receive God’s blessing and we are also a blessing to others.
  • Ask, how many times do you think this can happen? How many times can we receive God’s blessing and pass it on? If each person who heard God’s call passed on God’s blessing to just two other people, who then passed on that blessing to two people each, think how much blessing there would be in the world!
  • What would happen if we did that during Advent – starting today, with just one person, if they passed on a blessing to two more tomorrow, reaching four people the day after etc, how many new blessings would there be by Boxing Day? If you did this, there would be 67,108,864 new blessings on Boxing day, enough for the entire UK population.
  • If you’re using Love Life Live Advent, then you can link to the daily actions: Today’s story reminds us to look back at the past year to see how we have been blessed (see daily actions for 3rd and 5th December), and to look forward to how we can respond to God’s call to be a blessing to others (see daily action for 2nd December – you might like to warn people that if they put 1p in their jar the first day, and then 2p the next, 4p the day after etc, it will soon mount up during Advent!).
  • You may wish to give everyone a ribbon with loops tied in it to take home – as a reminder of God’s blessings, God’s promises, and the ways that we can use Advent as a time to bless others.

If you do this activity with an all age congregation

  • you can potentially end up with a really big network of ribbons – make sure you have plenty!
  • it would work as a way of enabling those who won’t want to speak up or get up from their seats to become involved in what’s happening
  • if you have any mathematicians in the congregation they may know or be able to work out the maths question!
  • It would be good to be able to celebrate the family trees in your congregation, if you have any (eg children, parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents) – older members of the congregation may be more aware of the grand scale of the passage of time through the generations, but equally, some of the children may have learned about family trees at school – it is the sort of activity that can enable different age groups in church to share something to talk about.

Song suggestions
For children: This song includes the option of adding actions between repetitions – it may be known to some through school.  Sheet music and guitar chords are widely available online, including

Father Abraham had many sons,
many sons had father Abraham,
I am one of them, and so are you,
so let’s all praise the Lord.

For an all age congregation: this song reflects the dual Advent themes of ‘being ready’ and the progression of patriarchs and matriarchs, and prophets etc. The tune is ‘Sing Hosanna’.  The words are free to use.

There’s a story to tell of creation,
And the patriarchs’ faith of old,
There are stories of prophets and sages,
We’ll repeat them ‘til the world’s been told:

Sing together! sing together!
Sing to welcome in the King of Kings.
Sing together! Sing together!
Sing to welcome in the King.

There are stories of sin and forgiveness,
Of a Kingdom of truth and love.
Of a girl who gave birth to a baby,
To fulfil God’s promise from above:

As God’s people prepare for his coming,
And remember those days long gone,
Our own stories are yet to be written,
As we live to make God’s kingdom come:

We must each of us wait for the morning,
Through the night we will watch and pray,
As we look for the light that is dawning,
We’ll be ready at the break of day:

The Baptism of Christ (Matthew 3.13-end)

Jesus doesn’t half get a good build-up in Matthew’s gospel.  Matthew 1 gives us Jesus’ family tree – tracing his lineage back to Abraham himself – and goes on to relate the events around his miraculous birth, complete with angelic messengers in dreams. Matthew 2 tells of the visit of the Magi, and the subsequent flight of the holy family to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod, and their eventual return  to the normality of Nazareth, where Jesus would spend the remainder of his childhood, about which Matthew’s gospel is silent.  But we have heard enough already, between the genealogy and the birth story, to know that Matthew is introducing Jesus as the real deal, the Messiah, the one that God’s people had been hoping and praying for for centuries.  We are simply left waiting for the rest of the story to unfold.

Chapter 3 jumps ahead somewhat, and the next thing we hear about is not Jesus himself, but his cousin John.  John the baptist’s job – his entire vocation – was to prepare people for Jesus’ arrival, to sow the seeds about baptism, about repentance, about the coming kingdom and about what it really means to belong to the household and family of God.  In the passage immediately before today’s gospel he is heralded by the gospel-writer as the one about whom Isaiah spoke his potent and portentous words, and then immediately sets about underlining his own humility in the light of Jesus, the One who is the come.  

So Jesus makes his first adult appearance in Matthew’s gospel.  It is clear that John is simply the warm-up act, but Jesus’ first action is to submit to John’s baptism – even John finds this hard to understand, and resists the idea at first. But Jesus insists: he wishes to be baptised not because he has sinned, but because it’s the right way to start his ministry.  All that pressure, all that expectation. All that taking on the identity of the Messiah, but knowing that he’s not going to be quite what everyone’s hoping for.  All that promise. All that that work to do. No wonder Jesus needs to be baptised before he starts doing it all.

And he would be glad that he did.  Because when Jesus left the water, he heard the most wonderful words:

“You are my son, my beloved, and with you I am well pleased.”

They’re the words that make audible the gift of the Holy Spirit that he receives at that moment, the words that make the Father’s love for him feel real.  If you’re the Messiah, if you’re confronted by all that pressure, all that expectation, all that promise, all that work to do, what you need most in the whole world is to know that you are loved, not because of what you have achieved, nor even because of what you will go on to achieve, but simply because you exist.

It’s what everyone needs to hear who has a challenge to face, or who approaches a metaphorical mountain to climb, or who simply has a life to live, which is often a challenge enough.  Every child needs to hear those words, again and again, as they grow in body, mind and spirit. And I tell every parent that as they bring their children for baptism: enabling a child to be surrounded by the knowledge that they are loved is the greatest and most essential gift that they can ever receive, and the greatest gift that any parent can give.

And Jesus needed those words, too – just as much as any of us. That’s part and parcel of his taking on our full humanity.

In the strength of those words, he faced temptation in the wilderness, beating the Devil hands down.

In the strength of those words, he emerged from his ordinary family to embrace Isaiah’s prophecy and announce the manifesto for his mission – to bring release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favour.

In the strength of those words, he went three years of ceaseless ministry, healing, teaching, embracing, arguing, challenging, and bringing life and love to those who needed it most and making some enemies along the way.

In the strength of those words he walked the Way of the Cross, and accepted the suffering that was God’s love for the world, written in blood.

If anyone needed to hear those words, it was Jesus.

You are my son, I love you, and I am pleased with you.

But those words were not just for him. They are for all of us. We are not the Messiah. We do not have to face the Devil in person, we do not have to work miracles, we do not have to bring the dead to life.  But whatever we do face today, this week, over these next months, we need a safe place to stand, something to hang on to that is utterly reliable.  Especially at those times when we are feeling the pressure, when we feel like we have a lot to live up to, when we are having to step up to the mark and ‘be the man’ or ‘be the woman’, when those around us are looking to us to make things right, to fix everything, to live up to all the expectation.

Today, we can put our own name on the front of God’s affirmation.  Because, like Jesus, although we’ve lived half a lifetime or more, but today is the first day of the rest of our life. And we have God’s affirmation, his great words of love and encouragement, not because of what we have done, nor because of what we will do, but as a free gift, because we need it.  And in the strength of that free gift we can face whatever life will bring us.

And more than that, these words and what is behind them are not only for parents to share with their children, they are for all of us to share with one another: what ways today will there be for you to show another human being, another child of God, by your words and actions, that they are beloved and valuable in the sight of God?