Anna's Hosannas! 
 
Free Worship Resources for the Use with the Lectionary
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First Sunday after Christmas/ New Years Sunday
Scripture Reference: Matthew 2: 13-23
 
Christmas Song: How Speaks the Lord
 
First Thoughts-- We’ve been struggling off and on through the Advent season with tough texts, but this might be the hardest of all.  How do we make a shift from the glorious news of Christmas to this account of the massive slaughter of innocents?  How does the baby Jesus go from an object of adoration to a refugee running for his life?   And how do we carry this lesson to our own children, in a way that they can not only understand but doesn’t overwhelm them with terror?  As I spend time with this text a couple of things come to mind.  First, Herod’s act of terror is also an act of fear.  He recognizes in the birth of this child something very powerful, something which could unmake his own position of prestige.  His intention is the complete destruction of the children of Bethlehem, and he almost succeeds.  But that “almost” brings us to the second point: God’s act of love undermines Herod’s terror.  The baby is called out of harm’s way, and the hope of God’s new beginning is rescued.  Herod does everything he can do to stop God’s plan.  What he accomplishes is so devastating it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Herod  fails.   Acts of compassion and healing, either taken in our own lives or for the sake of others, are often met with powerful, sometimes destructive resistance.  It is easy to become so overwhelmed by that resistance, to become so distracted by it, that our eyes begin to lose their focus.  We hear the lamentations of Rachel weeping, refusing to be comforted, and we are swept up by her despair.  It is right that our compassion should draw us into her suffering.  But we must not forget that the only way for Rachel to find her comfort is for God’s plan to be fulfilled.  And God hasn’t stopped working, even in the darkness.  God’s promise is still alive - maybe only as a tiny flicker in the darkness, but it continues nonetheless.  So we need to ask ourselves these questions: In the face of great struggle, persecution, and suffering, do we have the faith of Mary and Joseph, to keep following God’s call, even becoming refugees if it leads us into exile?  Are we willing to be driven from home, into the wilderness of the unknown, to protect and grow God’s vision?  Are we willing to stake our all on the promise that God’s love is unfailing?  This is the challenge presented to us here, at the beginning of our new calendar year.  I invite you to carry that challenge into your time of prayer alone or with your partner.
 
Setting the Scene--  The only prop used this lesson is the manger, which remains but is emptied of all props.
 
Teaching as a Team
Leader B:  Happy New Year, (name)!  How’s (insert year) shaping up for you so far?
Leader A: Not so great.
Leader B:  Oh, yeah?  Why’s that?
Leader A: I thought I would try to make a New Year’s resolution.  You know, to make a change for the new year.
Leader B: What did you come up with?
Leader A:  You know that I play soccer with my friends, right?  We always play at this park near my house, and there’s this kid who comes by a lot.  His name is Andy.  He’s an okay kid, and he really likes to play, but he’s not very good.  My friends don’t always let him play, and sometimes even make fun of him.  Sometimes I’ve even joined in.  But it’s always bothered me, because I know that Jesus wouldn’t like it.   So this year I decided I wasn’t going to do that anymore.
Leader B:  That sounds like a great resolution.
Leader A: I thought so too.  So yesterday when we got together to play, it was my turn to be a team captain - which meant I got to pick my team.  I decided to start by picking Andy.  
Leader B:  And what happened?
Leader A:  Well, Andy was really excited.  But the rest of the guys didn’t like it.  They asked me what I was doing, and I told them I thought that everyone should get a chance to play. I thought that’s what Jesus would want.  Then --
Leader B:  Then what?
Leader A:  They started making fun of ME!  They told me that, if I was so concerned about what Jesus would want, maybe I should spend more time praying and less time playing soccer.  Then they kicked me out of the game.
Leader B:  That sounds horrible.
Leader A:  It was!  I mean, I thought it would be a good thing to be kind to Andy.  I thought it would make things better for him.  I didn’t know it would make things WORSE for ME!!  It just doesn’t seem fair.
Leader B:  You’re right about that.  It’s not fair.  But that seems to be the way things 
work out a lot of the time.  Let’s look at the manger - does anybody notice something different about it?  It’s empty.  That’s because after Jesus was born, one of the rulers in the land, Herod, decided that he wanted to kill the baby.  He was afraid that, if Jesus grew up to be a great leader, Herod would lose his own power.  
Leader A:  That’s awful!  So what happened?
Leader B:  Jesus’ parents had to run away in the night, to protect the baby.  They had to leave their home and family, and go to a foreign country to hide.  
Leader A: That must have been scary.
Leader B: I’m sure it was.  But they believed that God had called them to do something very special - protect the baby, and bring him up to be a holy man.  They believed that, even though things were really hard for them right now, that God’s plan would still succeed.  They believed that God’s love was stronger than Herod’s fear.  And you know what?
Leader A:  What?
Leader B:  They were right!  After a time Herod died and they were able to come back home.  Jesus did grow up strong and healthy, and became a wise leader for his people.  So, even though the manger is empty now, that doesn’t mean that God is done working.  God’s only begun!
Leader A:  And just because right now my friends have kicked me out of the game doesn’t mean they might not change their minds tomorrow.  Or I could start my own game with a new set of friends.
Leader B:  As long as you act in love, and seek God’s will, I’m sure you’ll find a way.
 
Teaching on your Own:  Happy New Years, everybody!  Hey, do you guys know what a New Year’s resolution is?  It’s when you decide you’re going to make a change in your life for the new year.  Some people decide they’ll start exercising every day, or try to eat better.  Some people try to break bad habits.  Well, I decided I would try to be a little more courageous in my life as a Christian.  I have a group of friends who I play cards with every week - and I like them a lot.  But one thing I don’t like is the way they gossip about other people.  Do you know people who talk about other people, and make fun of them?  Well, that’s what my friends do, and they particularly make fun of this girl named Betty.  She’s nice, but a little weird.  Anyway, I’ve always listened to what they had to say about her, and even laughed sometimes - you know, to fit in.  But it always bothered me because I know that Jesus wouldn’t like it.  So I decided this year I was going to be more like Christ, and try to be a friend to Betty.  So the next time we got together to play cards, I invited Betty along.  When we got to the door, and my friends saw Betty was with me, they all made a face at me.  Then they told me that they didn’t have room for us at the table, and that we’d have to leave!  Isn’t that mean?  I thought that by being nice to Betty I would help make her life a little nicer, but what happened?  My life got worse!!  It’s not fair, is it?  But that’s what seems to happen a lot of times.   Let’s look at the manger - does anybody notice something different about it?  It’s empty.  That’s because after Jesus was born, one of the rulers in the land, Herod, decided that he wanted to kill the baby.  He was afraid that, if Jesus grew up to be a great leader, Herod would lose his own power.  Jesus’ parents had to run away in the night, to protect the baby.  They had to leave their home and family, and go to a foreign country to hide.  How would you feel if you had to leave everything behind - your school, your friends, even your family?  Pretty scary, huh?   But they believed that God had called them to do something very special - protect the baby, and bring him up to be a holy man.  They believed that, even though things were really hard for them right now, that God’s plan would still succeed.  They believed that God’s love was stronger than Herod’s fear.  And you know what?  They were right!  After a time Herod died and they were able to come back home.  Jesus did grow up strong and healthy, and became a wise leader for his people.  So, even though the manger is empty now, that doesn’t mean that God is done working.  God’s only begun!  So maybe that means that Betty and I should make our own group, a group where everyone is welcome, and no one is treated badly.  My old friends might even want to join someday - and if they do, they’ll be welcome too!
 
Prayer: Loving God, we turn our hearts and minds to you here at the beginning of (year).  We pray for the courage of Mary and Joseph, to follow your leading in living in love and faith even when it gets hard for us.  Help us to make good decisions, and help us to find strength in you and in this church community when times are difficult.  In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
 
Follow-Up Lesson: Lead the children into a discussion of modern-day reformers, who brought challenge and healing to the world.  A wonderful resource is the artwork of Brother Robert Lentz, who creates fantastic icon images.  (These are available as posters or as postcards, and can be found doing an internet search.)  Included in his work are Martin Luther King, Jr., Damien the Leper, Oscar Romero, Edith Stein, Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Pick two or three to work with.  If you work with the icons, help the kids understand that the purpose of an icon is to help us see the face of God, and how these people lived lives to reveal God’s compassion and power.  Consider the special symbols included on the icons, and what they mean for that person’s life.  (Lentz includes explanations for his images.)  Spend time reflecting on how the work of these resulted in hardship as well as long-lasting benefits.  Then help them in elaborating on their portrait in coming up with special symbols of their life’s “Christ” work - in the present, and what they imagine for the future.  For example, a child might care for a  pet  (symbol: feeding dish or leash), or a younger sibling (symbol: a special blanket or toy).  They might share their dreams to become a doctor (symbol: stethoscope), or a zoo keeper (symbol: tiger or bear), or an environmentalist (symbol: globe).   The important thing is to help the kids identify how they currently carry Christ‘s light in the world, and how God might be leading them in the future.  How will they become living icons in the world, showing everyone the face of God?