“Getting ready” has taken on new meaning during the pandemic. Where it used to mean showering, dressing in decent clothes and putting on some makeup, now it often includes only a quick run of the brush through my hair and putting on a socially acceptable shirt, so those in the Zoom meeting think I actually got dressed today. At the dinner table, I frequently notice that my son has worn his pajamas all day and that I haven’t worn shoes for more than 24 hours.
As Christians, we’re now in a liturgical time of preparation, Advent. Were it not for COVID-19, we’d be gathering in our sanctuaries each Sunday to light the candles around the Advent wreaths, to hear special music prepared by our choirs and to explore what it means to prepare for Jesus’ birth. Even without these traditional activities, we can still get ready. As families, we can “prepare the way of the Lord,” as we combine familiar and novel practices for contemplating what it means for God to come and live among us.
Begin the time with your children by talking about how they get ready for different situations. Ask them to describe how they get ready for school, for church and for bed. (You can modify or expand this list to include the activities that are most important to your children.) Encourage them to notice that the ways they prepare change based on the activity they are getting ready for. Ask them how they would get ready for Jesus’ birth. They likely will focus on the practical details like making sure the baby has a place to sleep and diapers, but also encourage them to think about how they would prepare knowing that this baby is Emmanuel, God among us. What would they say to people they know? What would they plan to say to Jesus? How would they interact with him as he grew up?
Before reading the Gospel text, ask your children what they know about John the Baptist. If they aren’t very familiar with him, offer a few key details. Note that his mother, Elizabeth, was pregnant with John at the same time that Mary was pregnant with Jesus. John believed he was called by God to help people get ready to receive Jesus’ teachings. In this reading, you’ll hear about what he did to prepare the people. Encourage your children to take note of what John does.
Read aloud Mark 1:1-8. You may also want to pair this reading with Matthew 3:13-17 (the baptism of Jesus). Many children are familiar with the story of Jesus’ baptism. Reading this story alongside the lectionary reading will help them realize this is the same John who baptized Jesus. After reading the text, discuss how John prepares the way of the Lord. Be sure they notice he not only baptizes them as they confess their sins, but he also alerts them that “one who is more powerful” – Jesus – will soon be with them.
After reading the passage, share with your children that we are in the second week of Advent, the period when we prepare ourselves to celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas. During this time, we think about what it means that God came to live alongside people. We also commit or recommit to actions that share Jesus’ love with the world. Since this year is a bit different than those in the past, we might need to adjust some of the ways we have observed Advent before. We also may want to add some new activities that support our community’s needs right now.
Gather supplies you’ll need to create an Advent “road map”: a piece of construction paper (preferably brown) and markers. Lay the construction paper in front of your children. Explain that this piece of paper is like the wilderness where John the Baptist appeared. In the wilderness, anything is possible. Through Bible stories, we know that the wilderness can be a place where people are challenged, where they wander, where they learn new things and where they find God.
Ask your children to draw an outline of a road on the paper. They can draw the road any shape that they would like. Tell them that this road is like a pathway through the wilderness. Then, explain that on this pathway, they’ll write or draw things that they would like to do to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day. While they may want to include pragmatic items like buying and wrapping presents, encourage them to think of actions or practices that relate to Jesus. They can include things you have done before such as lighting the candles of the Advent wreath. They can also add items that are specific to the circumstances this year. As they add each item, talk about how you might carry it out as a family.
When your children have completed their Advent map, have each person place their hand on the paper. Say a prayer asking God to bless these actions that they might reflect the love and care of Christ. Then hang the paper up in your home as a reminder of the activities your children would like to do to get ready for Jesus’ arrival.
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.