Begin the time with your children by asking them to imagine that it’s dark outside and they need to get from one place to another. Ask them what they would need to help them find their way. Likely at least one of the supplies they’ll list will be some sort of light. Ask them why a light is important when it is dark. Note that light not only helps us see what is around us, it also gives us comfort. It lets us know that we are safe and can find our way. Ask them to keep your discussion about light in mind as you read the week’s Scripture passage.
Prepare to read John 1:6-8. Tell your children that today’s reading is very short, but it tells us a lot about John the Baptist and Jesus. (Depending on your children’s familiarity with John the Baptist, you may want to give them a brief overview of his role in Jesus’ ministry.) Read aloud from the Bible. Then ask your children what these verses tell them about John. Be sure they notice that he is called to testify or share the truth he has witnessed. This truth has to do with Jesus being what John calls “the light.” If your children are young, you may want to pause here to explain that this does not mean Jesus was actually a lamp or a fire — rather, John sees him as doing the things that light does for human beings.
Together with your children, brainstorm a list of functions that light performs. You can encourage them to draw on the previous discussion about the role of light in the darkness, but also nudge them toward light’s other attributes. As your children share their ideas, write them down on a piece of paper or a whiteboard. It will be helpful to have this list in front of you for the next part of the activity.
Once you have created your list, share that Jesus does all of the things that the light does. Jesus helps us see what is true, guides us when we aren’t sure which way to go and helps us feel safe. This is why he is called the light. Explain that people in our lives can also serve as lights. They can help us learn and grow in our faith. Ask your children to think of people who are lights to them. They may be members of your congregation or they may be friends or community members who perform one or more of the functions of light that they listed.
To honor and highlight the lights in our lives, create luminarias to place outdoors. The luminaria has long been used to symbolize the pathway Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. To create luminarias, you’ll need several lunch bags (small paper bags), sand and tea light candles (battery operated or traditional). You’ll also want to gather supplies to decorate the bags. Depending on the age of your children and the amount of detail you want to put into the decorating, you can either choose to simply decorate the bags with markers or you can use a single hole punch to cut designs into them.
Begin your luminarias by selecting the people who they’ll represent from the list created during your discussion of those who serve as lights in their lives. For each person, decorate one of the paper bags. Your child can use markers to write the individual’s name and draw pictures. She can also use a single hole punch to create designs on the bag. (She may want to sketch out the design with a pencil before using the hole punch.)
Once your children have created several luminaria bags, open them up and place them so they are standing. Pour about a cup of sand into the bottom of each bag. (This part can get messy, so you may want to complete it outdoors.) Then have your children put one tea light candle in the bottom of each bag. Place the bags along a pathway outdoors.
In the evening, once it is dark, light the luminaria candles. Walk with your children along their pathway. Pause at each bag and say a prayer of thanksgiving for the light represented by that luminaria. After walking the entire route, step back and as your children to notice the way the lights work together to help you move along the path. Explain that additional people will likely come into their lives and they too will be a light that will help them grow in their faith.
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.