Getting students experiencing the deep truths of Advent is essential. It is a season of preparation in the church. For four weeks, we spend time reflecting on the story of the birth of Christ and preparing our hearts to experience full hope, joy, love, and peace made possible when God made the choice to walk in our midst.
The most comparable human experience to the season of advent is the arrival of a new child, through pregnancy or adoption. There’s a lot that goes in to bringing a baby into the world and to their new home. Cribs must be assembled, all of the gadgets must be purchased, car seats safely installed, and all of the time, there’s a current of expectation running under all of the activities: a heart beats, “I am coming.”
The following activity is a worship service designed to help students interact with the season of Advent. We used glow sticks, party hats and noise makers, ribbon, sharpies, paper, a net strung on the altar, and candles + lighters. You can use one a week to explore the traditional advent themes or combine them all into a single worship experience.
Hope is this thing we talk about but rarely do we understand what it is. For teenagers especially, it’s an abstract concept that is difficult to grasp. We use “hope” to describe longing: oh, I hope I pass my math test; I hope I get into Texas A&M; I hope my mom doesn’t ground me for getting a C in English.
In the church, when we talk about hope, we’re also talking about longing, but in a different way.
Hope is being certain of something that is coming. (Hebrews 11:1).
Passing Algebra is contingent upon the effort applied. So is getting accepted to Texas A&M. Not getting grounded rests on a mom’s willingness to show grace. Hope in Christ is a different thing. It means that we know when we don’t pass algebra or get into A&M, God is still good. Or when we do pass algebra and we don’t get grounded for grades, it means God is there celebrating with us.
Hope in Christ is longing for the things of Christ – more than a math test or a college – and being certain that they will happen and are happening now.
The prophet Micah describes this kind of hope in Micah 7:7-8
“But as for me, I will look to the Eternal One, and my hope is in the True God who will save me. My God will hear me. Although I am down now, I will rise up.. Although I am in darkness now, the Eternal One will be my light.”
Our hope isn’t contingent upon our grades in school or our social status. It means our hope depends on witnessing the good things of God in us and around us and trusting that they will happen, even if it doesn’t feel like it’s happening right now.
The scripture reading for Hope during Advent is Isaiah 60:2-3:
“Though darkness covers the earth and flood the nations, the Lord will shine upon you. god’s glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning radiance.”
Take a glow stick. Don’t crack it yet.
– What do you see and feel?
Now, let’s crack our sticks together.
– what do you see now?
This season, be a beacon of hope by cracking a part of your shell that you have put in place to protect yourself fro life. Know that the things of Christ are happening here. Like expecting parents, use Advent to clean out the clutter in your life. Reduce or change spending habits. Shop ethically this Christmas. Donate more than you buy. Make room for new people in your life. Prepare with great hope, because Christ is here and Christ is coming again.
One of the more daunting things about pregnancy or adoption is the idea that within a matter of months, new parents will be responsible for keeping a whole new life form alive and healthy. They will have to bathe, feed, dress, and shelter their new child, not to mention give them enough freedom and disciple to being an emotionally well balanced, contributing member of society as they grow up.
Loving them when it’s easy and when it’s tough: the sleepless nights, the screaming, the temper tantrums, the embarrassing public comments, and everything that is rebellious during adolescence.
It’s so easy to love those that love us back. When a friend is hurting, we can comfort. When a teacher shows respect to us, we go the extra mile for them. Spending time with grandma is one of the best things in the world.
But when we’ve been hurt, we want to hurt back, or pull away, or avoid the pain in other ways. Pulling away from a friendship, tearing down a teacher in front of our classmates, engaging in self harm, or talking with strangers online.
Our scripture reading for the day of Love comes from Mark 1:4
“John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.”
Love changes us. We practice love by showing we are changed. Reconciling with those who have hurt us – parents, friends, teachers – and love the ones that are difficult to love. We keep an eye out for those who sit in the shadows, who work to intentionally undermine us, and even those who put such unbearable pressure on us that running away feels like a better option. Because of this, we look different.
Jesus calls us to love, and it’s not meant to feel like a punishment. Something good can come out of the being courteous to the ex-best friend. Something good can come out of forgiving the parent that has hurt us.
Take a piece of paper and write the name of a person that you can be intentional about loving this Advent. Spend time in prayer asking God to give you what you need to love. When you’re ready, come and place the piece of paper in the basket on the altar.
John the Baptist called out into the wilderness for people who were changing their hearts and lives to follow after the example of Christ. On the second Sunday of Advent, we celebrate love, and we love our enemies because we have been changed. And doing so helps us change.
To get new moms ready for a baby, friends and family come together to throw a party. The guests shower the mom-to-be with clothes, toys, and helpful things like diapers and wipes. There’s usually an awful party game, too, that has everyone either cringing or laughing all day long.
On the third Sunday in Advent, we talk about Joy, a word much like hope. We use it often but it means something a little different, a little deeper once Jesus gets involved.
When we think of an emotion like joy, it’s usually synonymous to happiness. We feel good, therefore we feel joyful. When we’re not feeling so good, we’re not so joyful.
For King and Country recently redid this song, but as a child, I always sang it:
I’ve got the Joy Joy Joy Joy down in my heart!
Down in my heart!
Down in my heart!
I’ve got the Joy Joy Joy Joy down in my heart! Down in my heart to stay!
The silly children’s song paints a picture of joy as deep, really deep, immobile in fact, untouchable, even. Happiness feels good, but it sits on the surface and can change with the shifting winds. Joy is so down deep that even the strongest wind can’t move it. Having joy doesn’t mean having to be happy all the time. You can still experience sadness and have joy. Because that joy – pleasure and satisfaction – is so deep, it changes the outlook we can have during difficult or really upsetting situations.
When something bad happens, there is still mourning, sadness, and pain, like when someone we’re close to dies, or even when we lose a close friend. But that difficult place isn’t where we live forever. The joy of Christ sustains us and brings us through to the other side. We can still find opportunities to experience happiness and not feel guilty about it. Funerals can be really crummy, but at the same time, there can be a lot of laughter as stories are told and memories are re-lived.
Our scripture reading on the third Sunday of Advent is from Isaiah 35:10
“The Lord’s ransomed ones will return and enter Zion with singing, with everlasting joy upon their heads. Happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and groaning will flee away.”
We live in a broken world where bad things happen to good people. In the end, God will triumph over it all, and in that promise we find our joy. There is hope. There is love. And those things aren’t shaken by the shifting winds around us. In the meantime we celebrate the things of God taking place here.
Let’s use our noise makers and celebrate:
– (insert something relevant to your community)
– (insert any new babies in your community)
– new friendships made at ______ event
– a school to attend tomorrow morning
– a place to work/for our parents to work
Preparing for a new child is like riding a roller coaster of emotions. But just like on a roller coaster, things settle into place and you’re ready for what’s next. For new parents, having the nursery set, reading all the books possible, having clothes washed and ready to go, and with bags packed, there is peace.
The last Sunday in Advent is centered around peace. It’s the state of being we associate most with calm, order, and absence of conflict. With peace comes healing. There is time to restore and be restored. Martin Luther King, Jr., puts it best: “True peace isn’t merely the absence of tension; it’s the presence of justice.”
The presence of justice. In the aftermath of chaos, peace restores our souls, our lives, and our world. We live in a broken world that is more often than not chaotic and overwhelming. It’s so easy to feel drowned by the noise and conflict around us, carried away by someone else’s agenda.
Our scripture reading for the fourth Sunday in Advent is from Isaiah 9:6-7
“A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be vast authority and endless peace for David’s throne and for his kingdom, establishing and sustaining it.”
Isaiah spoke these words to the people of Israel in the midst of great chaos. For generations, they have fought with their neighbors. They have been exiled to a foreign land where they weren’t welcomed and weren’t offered any rights as citizens. They lived intimately with chaos and knew it well. God sends a promise of a deliverer, a messiah that would come four hundred years after this prophecy was made.
This is God’s promise to God’s people: there will be an end to the chaos. Peace establishes and sustains Christ’s reign in our lives, a peace that comes through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We actively wait for peace in our own lives. We seek ways to be still, to be encouraged, and we fan the flame that God has sparked within us.
There are people we know who are waiting for something to happen. We are waiting for something, too. Good things, scary things, exciting things, sad things. Take a ribbon and write one of those things on it – your own or someone else’s. When you’re ready, come tie the ribbon onto the net. Stand around the altar and light a candle. Spend time in prayer asking God to sustain peace in your time of waiting as the flame is sustained before you.
Close in prayer around the altar.