Anna's Hosannas!
Free Worship Resources for Use with the Lectionary
Lesson for First Sunday of Advent (Year A)
Scripture Reference: Matthew 24: 36-44
First Thoughts -- Traditionally the theme for the First Sunday of Advent is hope.  Our focus for this lesson will be helping children understand the difference between a casual experience of hope and the experience of hope in the service of faith.  We read in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  When we look at hope as a function of faith, we see it not as a vague visioning of what might come, but a calm assurance of what absolutely will come.  Even though we can’t yet see what is promised, we believe in the promise, and live and prepare as though that promise is already fulfilled.  Consider how hope plays out in your own life.  What are some things you casually hope for?  A raise at work, a long and healthy life, good weather tomorrow? In these contexts the word hope implies wishful thinking, but not something we can really count on.  Now contrast that with your faith‘s hope. Does that list include forgiveness of sins, God’s unconditional love, a promise of eternal life?  Spend some time in prayer alone or with your partner, inviting God to grow your faith  and your experience of hope this Advent season.  
Setting the Scene--  For the season of Advent, I suggest having a visual centerpiece for the children’s worship, which you can build on for the next four Sundays.  Try to locate some type of manger or crib which can be used for this purpose.  Have the manger/crib in place at the beginning of worship, right where the children usually meet for their lesson, and plan for it to stay in place for the entire season of Advent and Christmas.  The prop used in the team dialogue is a long sheet of paper (in the nature of a scroll), which can be held in Leader A’s hand and unfurled at the appropriate moment.  For a fun dramatic effect, the longer the scroll is the better!
Teaching as a Team
(Leader A is holding the script rolled in his/her hand, in an obvious way)
Leader B: Hey (name), what do you have there?
Leader A:  Oh, just a list.
Leader B:  What kind of a list?
Leader A:  It’s a Christmas list, things I hope to get.
Leader B: Wow.  So what’s on it?
Leader A (unfurling the list, letting the bottom fall to the ground):  Hmmm, a new motorcycle, a Wii play station, a national championship for Alabama…
Leader B:  (picking up the bottom of the list, looking it over) Man, that’s some list.  (To children) Do you guys have lists as long as this one?  Um, (name), this is pretty long.  You don’t really expect to get all those things, do you?
Leader A: No, I’m just hoping for them.  Hoping just means you wish for things, not that you’ll really get them.
Leader B:  I guess that’s true a lot of the time.  But sometimes hope means that we’re absolutely sure something will happen.  Sometimes hope is a promise.
Leader A:  When is that?
Leader B: When God makes a promise you can believe in it and hope for it, even if you don’t see it yet.  Like, every night when you go to bed, and it’s dark outside, what can you hope for in the morning?  The sun will come up.  Even if we can’t see it, we believe and  hope that it will be there.
Leader B: I guess that’s true.  What else can we hope for?
Leader A:  Well, here’s something (indicating manger).  What do we have here?
Leader A:  I don’t know - looks like something that belongs in a barn somewhere.
Leader B: (to kids) Do you know what this is?   It’s a crib, for a baby!
Leader A:  Uh, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but - in case you haven’t noticed - it’s empty. 
Leader B: Right now it’s empty.  But we’ve got it here because we’re getting ready.  How many of you have helped your parents get ready for a new baby?  Did you wait until the baby was born to get a crib, and diapers and clothes?  No!  You got ready before the baby got there, right?  That’s what we’re doing in the season of Advent - we’re getting ready for  a baby.  And what baby is coming?  Jesus!  We need to be ready for Jesus, not only getting our church ready, but getting our hearts ready too.  
Leader A: But how do we get our hearts ready?
Leader B: (to kids) Do you guys have any ideas?  How do we prepare our hearts for Jesus?  Maybe we can pick out some of our favorite toys and give them to other kids who don’t have anything.  Maybe we can visit a nursing home to cheer up the people who might be lonely this time of year.  Maybe we can forgive someone who has hurt our feelings.  Anything we can do to make our hearts bigger and stronger, and more loving, that makes space for Jesus to come into them.
Leader A: So maybe I can start by getting rid of this long list of things I want for myself, and instead focus on things I can do for other people.
Leader B:  Sounds like a good start!
Teaching on your Own -- How many of you guys have already figured out what you want for Christmas?  Do you have a Christmas list?  What are some things on it?  Do you expect to get everything on your list?  Probably not, right?  You might get a few things on your list, and maybe other things not even on the list; but you won’t get everything.  Because that’s not really how Christmas lists work.  We hope for all these things, but our hope is only wishing.  Today, though, we’re talking about a different kind of hope.  This hope isn’t wishful thinking, but is hope based on a promise.  When someone promises you something, do you believe they’ll do what they say?  Probably depends on who is making the promise, right?  What if God makes a promise - do you believe in those promises?  If God makes a promise, then, we can believe in that promise, and hope for it, even if we don’t see it yet.  What is this we have on the chancel steps today?  It’s a crib!  And what do we put in the crib?  A baby!  But there’s no baby in it right now, so why do we have the crib here already?  Because we’re getting ready.  How many of you have helped your parents get ready for a little brother or sister?  Do you wait until the baby is here to get the diapers and the clothes?  No, you get ready before the baby gets there.  Because, even though you can’t see the baby yet, you believe it’s coming.  That’s what we’re doing during the season of Advent - we’re getting ready for a baby, who’s not here yet, but we believe is coming.  And who’s the baby?  Jesus!  Jesus is coming!  We need to get ready, which is why we decorate our sanctuary and put up Christmas trees.  But you know what else we need to do?  We need to get ready in our hearts for to Jesus to come.  We need to make our hearts bigger, to make space for Jesus to grow in our lives.  How do our hearts get bigger?  By doing loving things - like sharing our toys with children who don’t have anything, like visiting people who are lonely - anything we can do to make our hearts bigger and stronger, and more loving, that makes space for Jesus to come into them.

Prayer -- On this first Sunday of Advent, God, we celebrate hope.  Not the hope of stuff we might or might not get, but the hope that we find in your promise - that you will come among us, to live within us, helping us become more loving every day.  Show us ways that we can live in that hope, and be ready for your great gift on Christmas morning.  Please bless each child here, and all the people who love them.  In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Follow-Up Lesson --  Consider how you might help your kids “grow their hearts” in the Advent season -  by organizing a caroling trip to a local nursing home, volunteering at a food pantry, or baking cookies for a local women’s shelter.  Remind them that they’re living in hope, preparing their hearts to make room for the baby Jesus who is on his way!