Lectionary based assemblies, all-age talks for family services or useful materials for the season on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany
Mark 13: 32-37
“But no one knows about that day or hour. Not even the angels in heaven know. The Son does not know. Only the Father knows. Keep watch! Stay awake! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away. He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge. Each one is given a task to do. He tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“So keep watch! You do not know when the owner of the house will come back. It may be in the evening or at midnight. It may be when the rooster crows or at dawn. He may come suddenly. So do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone. ‘Watch!’ ”
Begin by recounting this or a similar story. ‘I was on a train recently and it was a very long journey so I was trying to think of something to pass the time so I decided to count how many churches I could see from the train along the way. I started out well but very soon I got distracted as the trolley came by and I wanted to have a cup of coffee. Then somebody asked me the time so I got out my phone to look and I saw I had a message from a friend…etc….etc. I didn’t really concentrate and eventually I gave up as I realised I’d lost count’
Ask questions – Who is good at concentrating? Who is good at looking for things? Counting?
Then watch this video which will ask how many times the team in white pass the ball – ask them to really concentrate and you’ll be looking for who has the right answer. Pause the video to ask and then get the answer.
However, keep playing the video and it will then ask whether you saw the ‘moonwalking bear’ go behind the teams playing basketball. You will be amazed!
So what did we learn from this?
What are we watching for? When we looked at the video we were concentrating on counting the passes the team in white made so we ended up not seeing something really amazing right in front of us.
This is really what our reading today is all about and what the message of Advent teaches us.
We might get distracted by watching for other things. What might we be thinking about during the time of Advent when we get ready for Christmas? Presents, Santa, parties, chocolate! – Whatever it is, it can take our concentration of what we are really waiting for – and what is that? – Jesus!
So how can we be ready?
Let’s think then about the word ‘watch’ which is what we are told to do in this reading and what the word really means.
First off it means; ‘Look’ – make sure we are looking for the right things, like in the video, we can easily miss something that is right in front of us, so keep your eyes fixed on Jesus among all the other things which can distract us during Advent.
Secondly it means ‘guard’ – as in, to keep guard/watch. This means that we need to guard our hearts against those distractions so we remember the most important thing about this season and the real reason behind our celebration.
Finally it can also mean to ‘pray’ – this is the most important way to get ourselves ready for the greatest gift which we receive at Christmas time by keeping watch in prayer.
So let us pray….
Father God, we ask you to help us to get ready during Advent for Jesus who comes at Christmas. Help us to look for the right things, guard our hearts from distractions and be with us as we pray. All this we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.
In those days, Caesar Augustus made a law. It required that a list be made of everyone in the whole Roman world. It was the first time a list was made of the people while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone went to their own town to be listed.
So Joseph went also. He went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea. That is where Bethlehem, the town of David, was. Joseph went there because he belonged to the family line of David. He went there with Mary to be listed. Mary was engaged to him. She was expecting a baby. While Joseph and Mary were there, the time came for the child to be born. She gave birth to her first baby. It was a boy. She wrapped him in large strips of cloth. Then she placed him in a manger. That’s because there was no guest room where they could stay.
Begin by recounting this or a similar story. ‘A few days ago when I started to get some of the food ready for my Christmas dinner I did a few little jobs to prepare for the big day. But then I realised I’d forgotten the sprouts! Who likes sprouts? (likely that not many children will like them…) I couldn’t have Christmas day without them so I had to rush out to find some. But all I could find were these (show some chocolate sprouts – reveal by peeling the wrapper off to show it is chocolate). Now who thinks they would like one? (more likely lots will want to have one). Christmas just isn’t Christmas without sprouts, there was something missing…
What’s in a name?
Now I need your help when we read this story again and if you get it right you can have one of these sprouts. Let’s see who can count how many names are mentioned in the story. (you might get up to 12 – Caesar, Augustus, Roman, Quirinius, Syria, Joseph, Nazareth, Galilee, Judea, Bethlehem, David, Joseph, Mary) Give out sprouts as required.
Now who can tell me what name is missing from the story? (Jesus) Give out sprouts as required.
Talk about the origin of your name and maybe ask if anyone knows why they were given the name they have.
One really important part of the story of Christmas is missing from our reading today ‘they called the baby, Jesus’.
Anyone know what his name means? (lots of sprouts if anyone gets this right!) it means ‘God saves’
This is so important – even more important than sprouts. We can’t have the story of Christmas without that missing piece. Christmas dinner for me, isn’t Christmas dinner without sprouts. But Christmas isn’t Christmas without the name of Jesus.
Because Christmas isn’t about sprouts it’s not actually about the dinner at all…or presents it’s not even about angels or shepherds Christmas isn’t even about a baby being born.
It is only ever about Jesus, because Jesus was born, he came into the world at Christmas to save us. Jesus being born is a promise that God saves. So this Christmas we thank God for that most special present. Let’s make sure it’s not missing from our celebrations.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. This happened while Herod was king of Judea. After Jesus’ birth, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the child who has been born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose. Now we have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard about it, he was very upset. Everyone in Jerusalem was troubled too. So Herod called together all the chief priests of the people. He also called the teachers of the law. He asked them where the Messiah was going to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied. “This is what the prophet has written. He said,
“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are certainly not the least important among the towns of Judah. A ruler will come out of you. He will rule my people Israel like a shepherd.’ ” (Micah 5:2)
Then Herod secretly called for the Wise Men. He found out from them exactly when the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem. He said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report it to me. Then I can go and worship him too.”
After the Wise Men had listened to the king, they went on their way. The star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them. It finally stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. The Wise Men went to the house. There they saw the child with his mother Mary. They bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures. They gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh. But God warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod. So they returned to their country on a different road.
Begin by recounting this or a similar story ‘I recently went on a trip to London – hands up who’s been to London. Well it’s such a big city isn’t it? And when I go I find it quite hard to get around without getting lost, especially when I’m on the tube. So when I go I try to follow the tube map by looking out for the colours and that makes it much easier for me to find my way around.
Ask questions – Today’s story/Gospel is all about people who followed something to help them find the way. Who can tell me who those people might have been? The wise men/three kings.
What do know about the wise men? (look for these three answers and possibly have some props to demonstrate each one) – they might have been kings (crown) – they brought some gifts to Jesus (gold or another gift) – they went on a long journey and they followed a star (star)
The reading from the Bible today makes it seem very easy, they saw a star, got up and followed it all the way to where Jesus was. But this would have been a long and difficult journey, maybe dangerous and, at the end of the story it tells us they ended up getting into trouble with King Herod too.
Their journey, our journey
We are at the start of a new year and that can help us to think about how we make a journey through life.
What happened right at the end of the story for the wise men? God asked them to go on their journey back on a different road. He asked them to change direction.
At the start of the year we can often think about this too. Has anyone made any new year’s resolutions? We might need to change direction, make the right choices, ask for God’s help.
So let’s have a moment of quiet now to ask for God’s help in our journey of life.
Father God, we ask you to send your light to guide us, like you sent a star to guide the wise men. We ask that we might listen to you as you help us to start our journey in this new year in the right direction. We know that you always know the right way to go so please be with us on our journey into 2018. All this we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.