Advent Liturgies for Families
Growing up, I remember the anticipation leading up to Christmas. I remember the surprise of gifts, I remember the joy of family, and maybe more than anything, I remember Christmas as Jesus’ birthday. Every single year I remember placing an ornament on the tree that said, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and without fail, my mom would make a pan of cinnamon rolls and place a candle in the center so we could sing Happy Birthday to Jesus before a single gift was opened.
Now as a parent myself, these memories and that phrase have stayed with me. When I am tempted to throw myself head first into all the festivities of Christmas without considering the implications, I wonder, “Do my children experience Jesus as the reason for the season?” “Do I?” My husband and I have spent quite a few years wrestling with those questions and cultivating Advent with our children as a season which now includes several practices and traditions (including these liturgies) that help to slow us down each and every week.
If you asked them, our children would tell you that Advent means “waiting for God” — it is one of the articulations that has stayed with them the most, but Advent literally means “arrival.” The most obvious arrival of God is the one we talk about at Christmas. We celebrate Jesus’ birth as God coming to be with us here on earth through his son. But let us also remember God’s promise to come to be with us here and now through his Spirit. And may we be ever responsive to the ways in which God is seeking to bring his kingdom to earth, as it is in heaven.
As we get closer to Christmas — decorating our homes, purchasing gifts and making plans with family and friends — let us remember that Jesus is the reason for the season. Let us anticipate the joy of Christmas by watching and waiting for the ways that God is coming to us and this world in our ordinary lives. And let us teach our children about waiting — the longing and desire for what we most want, the joy and anticipation of good things, the discomfort and pain that comes from loss and the courage it takes to live in hope rather than fear.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
General Guidance for Praying Liturgically with Children
It might feel a little daunting to create a new rhythm within a family so here are some suggestions for how to get started along with a few ideas for engaging children of younger ages. Every family situation is different so you might need to make modifications, but the hope is that these liturgies will provide just enough structure for you to feel supported in leading this weekly prayer practice with your family.
First of all, decide when you will pray together as a family. If you are currently a part of a faith community that meets on Sundays you might want to choose to pray opposite that time — in the evening if you have morning services or in the morning if you have an evening one.
CONSIDER CREATING A FAMILY ALTAR
- Think about where you will be praying together and bring some sacred things into that space…a drape for the table, an Advent wreath or a Christ candle, a Bible, a cross or an icon.
- You don’t need to completely rearrange things but perhaps there is a small table where the Christ candle can always stay. Creating a very simple altar to gather around (or near) can be a beautiful way to help people transition into a prayerful space. Making it too complicated and having too much to set up will quickly become a burden.
LEADING THE LITURGY
- Decide who will lead the prayer time — perhaps taking turns between parents and/or older children.
- The leader should read through the liturgy before praying it the first time. The liturgies suggest places where he/she will invite sharing, or lead people into a time of silence, or read Scripture. If you are leading the liturgy, you will want to be prepared for those moments and perhaps have the Bible open to the passage that will be read.
- The leader reads the regular type and the participatory parts are bolded to make it easier for children to follow.
- Before you begin, be sure to assign someone to light the Christ Candle and to read Scripture.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
The songs used in these prayers can be found on Spotify by scanning the QR code on the back of each liturgy. If you don’t have a musician in house to lead worship, playing the songs from your phone or home speakers will support you in singing along.
IDEAS AND TIPS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
- Let the children hand out the prayers. Make sure to print enough for everyone, even those who can’t yet read! You might even want to let them color the front of them to create a feeling of ownership.
- As appropriate, let children light the Advent or Christ Candle. During Advent, if you are using an Advent wreath, light the candles that have been lit in previous weeks before the prayer service and light the one for the current week at the appropriate time in the service.
- It can be a wonderful practice to give certain sections of the prayer to different family members to change up who is “leading” throughout the prayer. This helps to keep everyone attentive and involved.
- To help children who aren’t yet reading be able to join in, you may want to choose some lines or sections of the liturgy that you can have them repeat after the leader.
- Most children love to sing and they love it even more when their whole family sings. A great way to keep younger children engaged is to let the songs linger during these times. If they want to keep singing, sing the songs more than the liturgy calls for!
- Take liberties in using the refrain of a song to bring you out of silence and/or sing the song as a way of closing the time together. The repetition lets children get comfortable enough to join in even when it’s the first time hearing it.
- Consider using a children’s Bible or a translation or paraphrase with accessible language.
- Giving a child the privilege of reading the Scripture passage can be a great way to offer meaningful responsibility to children and encourage them to become more familiar with the Bible.
- After the Scripture reading you might want to have a brief “teaching moment” where you give a little more explanation or answer any questions that may have come up. There is a prompt in the liturgy for this before leading children into silence.
- Silence can be a helpful way to calm children’s energies before prayer begins. Just a moment or two can do wonders to settle everyone’s minds and bodies.
- Within each of the prayers there are places for silence which facilitate times of noticing and listening. These are wonderful times of settling for the entire family.
- Don’t be too ambitious with the silence in the beginning. With young children start with a minute or two. You can always increase it over time as everyone’s capacity increases. Some direction heading into the silence is also helpful. There are leader lines embedded in the liturgy so that the leader can offer guidance in those moments.
- “Let’s take a couple moments to notice all that we are thankful for.”
- “During the silence let God’s love come all around you.”
- “We are going to take a couple minutes to see if God might have anything to say to us about…”
- You might also want to assure children that it’s ok if they don’t “hear” anything. Just the practice of quieting our hearts gives us a chance to feel our love for God and his love for us.
- If the silence seems too open ended, you can always lead them through a guided meditation where you invite them into the quiet with gentle noticing and openness.
A word of encouragement
The most sacred moments come without pushing. When sharing things that are meaningful to us with our children, it is best not to force things, to be realistic with our expectations and to hold loosely to the outcome! Sometimes children settle easily into this practice and other times they bristle at it. It’s all ok. Our greatest hope is that children will experience the seasons of the Christian calendar as an anchor for our family, a time when traditions and rituals invite us to come together and enter into the mystery of our faith. As Ruth Haley Barton says, “Spiritual transformation happens incrementally… over time… with others… in the context of spiritual practices that open us to God.” What a beautiful and hopeful invitation for families–especially during this Advent season!
NEW CORRESPONDING ADVENT LITURGIES TO PRINT OUT AND PRAY AS A FAMILY OR WITH OTHERS
Transforming Center’s Advent Liturgies have been written to accompany Advent Reflections: Come, Lord Jesus, Come, (Cycle C) by Ruth Haley Barton. The themes and scriptures found in that resource are a thread running through the family liturgies, creating an opportunity to integrate your personal Advent reflections with the life of your family.
There is a liturgy for each of the 4 weeks of Advent plus Christmas Eve. Each prayer has been written using words and songs simple enough for children to engage but still meaningful for teenagers and adults. Since they are heavily influenced by the fixed-hour prayers of the Transforming Community experience, they will feel familiar to Transforming Community Alumni and provide a meaningful way to share these rhythms with loved ones with the confidence and inner authority that comes from their own practice.
The Scripture readings this year guide us in these themes…
Week 1 | The Darkness of Waiting: Watching for the Light
Week 2 | Necessary Preparations: Living with Hope
Week 3 | A Call to Repentance: Peace Through Confession
Week 4 | Saying Yes to God: Believing God’s Promises to Us
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