As Christians, we celebrate the arrival of a new liturgical year differently. The new year that begins on the first Sunday of Advent usually occurs around the beginning of December or the end of November. There is a quiet start to this new year. In the Scripture readings for the four Sundays of Advent, we remember the time when people waited in anticipation for the coming of the Messiah. While we know that the Messiah has come in Jesus Christ, and we have remembered his life, death and resurrection and Ascension, we can still reflect on and celebrate the newness of his coming again.
What is great about celebrating the coming of Jesus with children is that they help us approach the season with fresh eyes and insight. They present us with a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge they present is the way they soak up the values of the culture that has had them anticipating Christmas since the beginning of November. The opportunity they present is that we can introduce them to the timeless rituals celebrating the coming of the Messiah that will add depth to their spiritual lives.
In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, we change out the liturgical colors to reflect the purple of preparation as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth. The advent wreath is added to the prayer table. The four candles of the wreath represent the four Sundays of Advent There are three purple candles and one rose candle. The candles represent peace, joy, hope and love. The children sing this refrain as we light the candles:
Light one candle for peace (hope, joy, love), one bright candle for peace.
He brings peace to all the world, He comes, He comes.
In Advent, we spend time exploring prophecies from Hebrew Scripture. As we prepare for Christmas, we listen to the words that comforted and challenged those who watched and waited for the Messiah before Jesus was born. In the atrium we learn that prophets are those who listen very closely to God, and share God’s plans with the people. The prophecies are a marvelous way to discover more about Jesus.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light
The prophecy above is the first one that we learn, and it is always remembered and loved by the children. The image of Jesus as the light is one that we hear often in the atrium, and one that resonates with the children. There are five prophecies in all that we meditate upon in the Good Shepherd Atrium. We wonder, what themes are woven through the prophecies? One of my favorites is the theme of something great coming from something small: God coming to earth, not as a great warrior, but as a little baby. Tiny and unimportant Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. A helpless baby named Everlasting Father and Mighty God! This dichotomy of great and small is a delight to the children, and a concept we encounter throughout the year. God seems to love small things, perhaps small people most of all!
The elementary children celebrate Advent with the Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree helps us connect the custom of decorating Christmas trees to the events leading to Jesus’ birth. The Jesse Tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of King David. Children adorn a Jesse Tree with illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse Tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history.
The Infancy narratives lessons are presented with figures, readings from the Bible and time to wonder at the events. The narratives are
• Annunciation (Luke 1:26 – 38)
• Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39 – 49, 56)
• Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds (Luke 2:1 – 20)
• Adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12)
• Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:21 – 33, 36 – 39)
This year we will have a closer look at the infancy narratives as the elementary children present the Christmas Pageant.
The children of the St. Cecilia choir have a special advent preparation as they participate in the service of Lessons and Carols. The Festival of Lessons and Carols is a service of Scripture and song that dates to the late 19th century. In this service, we listen to nine Scripture lessons, which recount the Fall, the promise of a Messiah, the Incarnation, and the Great Commission to preach the Good News. A carol or other song that reflects on the lesson’s message and a brief prayer follows each lesson.
The choir will share some of this music with residents at Meridian Care on Grayson Square.
With the celebration of Advent, everything old can become new again. Each year gives us an opportunity to remember and anticipate the celebration of the birth of Jesus on Christmas morning.