Christmas in a Minor Key: Reflections on "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

Christmas in a Minor Key: Reflections on "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

Christmastime is here. Bring on the blitz of traditions and travels, wants and wishes. Get the shopping done, get the family together, get the food ready. With so many things trying to get in, sometimes it seems like nothing succeeds and Christmastime is empty instead of full. This can only mean it’s time for the annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

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Prepare Him Room: An Interview with Marty Machowski

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of Advent resources that our family has used during the season. One we've used and enjoyed a couple of times now is the  Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus devotional by my friend, Marty Machowski. Back in 2014, I corresponded with Marty and asked him questions about the devotional, storytelling, and the message of Christmas. Here is how he answered my questions.

Jared: Why did you decide to write an Advent devotional? 

Marty: Prepare Him Room started as an Advent devotional for Covenant Fellowship, to help our congregation focus on Christ in the Christmas season. After receiving good feedback I decided to rewrite the devotional for families beyond our church and added the Christmas short story and a few more activities for families. 

Jared: Can you tell me a bit about the format of the devotional?

Marty: Prepare Him Room provides three devotions for each of the four weeks of Advent. The first devotion explores an Old Testament prophecy. The second devotion highlights an announcement of that same prophetic message, like Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce God’s plan to bring her a son. The third devotion explores the Scriptural fulfillment of the prophecy and announcement. 

In addition to these Bible devotions, there are family activities, outreach ideas, and a four-part short story, designed to be read on the weekend.

Jared: We've only read the first chapter as a family at this point, but my kids are already asking--is the Bartimaeus story true? Where did you come up with the idea?

Marty: I love telling stories to my children. I just make them up as I go along. That is how Bartimaeus started out. I even put the song the children in the story sing, "A Grueling Life," to music. When our home school ministry was looking for a story line for a Christmas musical, I gave them my rough story and the song.  The director changed the story a bit to make it work and gathered a host of songwriters to turn it into a musical. 

After that, I decided to polish my original storyline and added details and set the story in history. The California Gold rush left a lot of orphaned children back east in the big cities. There were 30,000 orphans in New York City alone. That is the setting I chose for the story. 

It is my hope families will read the Bartimaeus story each Christmas building a family tradition that will go on for years.

Jared: What helps you grow as a storyteller? What is your system for recording stories? 

Marty: Recording stories is easy with today’s smart phones and voice memos.  All you have to do is open an app, and start talking. Most of my stories, while enjoyed by my own children, are not that great.  But every now and then, I come up with a winner – a story that my children want to hear again and again.  If you tell enough stories, you bound to create a good one now and then. Even if you never publish a story, your kids will absolutely love listening to the recordings later on.

Jared: Christmas is a season for giving, but often we have a tendency just to think about ourselves. How can your devotional help a family that is more inwardly focused to be more outward? 

Marty: One of the most frequent weaknesses of a solid Christian family is reaching out to friends and neighbors. Even though most Christians agree that evangelism and outreach are important, the busyness of life often robs us of the opportunity.  When you consider that Christmas is the one season in the year that most people are open to coming to church, it provides a perfect chance to invite folks to church. 

Too often Christmas is about getting – gifts, food, parties, vacation time, and more.  But the message God ordained is one of giving.  God gave up his Son for us, the most amazing gift of all.  When we consider what a great salvation God provided, completely all of grace, it should move us beyond study to action. 

I wanted to help families do more than study Scripture; I wanted families to live the Scripture they study.  When it comes to Christmas, the message is clear – it is all about proclamation.  Whether it is the prophet Isaiah, “For unto us a son is given,” or the angels, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” the message is meant to be spread.  The celebration of Christ’ birth was never intended to remain within the four walls of our homes.

I'm really thankful for Marty's kindness in sharing his time with us. If you found this interview encouraging, please leave Marty a note of thanks below.

Family Friday Links 12.2.16

Here, at the beginning of the Christmas season are some online resources we've found helpful:

Tim Challies put together a post of books teens should read. He says, "... each of them is suited to twenty-first century teenaged readers and together they will provide a foundation for the Christian life that will prove both deep and wide." Parents lead the way in giving your teens great resources. Use them as conversation starters or even for family devotions. You will learn right alongside them.

The Desiring God site had a post by Kristin Tabb on kids in worship. She describes it this way, "What you want is refreshment and inspiration; what you get is low-level tension, discomfort, and distraction as you brace yourself for what might happen next." She goes on to explain both the weariness and the wonder of it all. Parent's of little one, read this and be encouraged.

Our friend, Timothy Paul Jones, wrote a post entitled, "Advent: The Difficult Discipline of Celebrating the Waiting". In it he writes, "... Advent reminds me that time is far too precious to be killed, even when that time is spent looking ahead. Advent is a proclamation of the sufficiency of Christ through the discipline of waiting." He goes on to explain the meaning of waiting and its importance.

What have you been reading or writing online lately? Leave us a link in the comment section and we will check it out.

The Light Has Come: An Advent Bible Lesson for Children

Back in 2008, a group of leaders from Sojourn Community Church put together the following Bible lesson and art project to teach the children in our church about Advent. Collaborators included Mike Cosper, now director of Harbor Media, Matt Douthitt, Katherine Valentine (now Groce), Chandi Plummer, and myself.

Bible Lesson written by Mike Cosper
Key Passages: John 1:5; Isaiah 9:2, 6; Luke 2

The Big Idea (An Introduction for the Teacher and Worship Leader): For a long time, Christians have celebrated the weeks before Christmas with a season known as advent. Advent simply means “coming” or “waiting.” For many, many years, God’s people were eager to meet Jesus. He was a king and a warrior that was coming to set them free from their sins. The Bible tells us that ever since sin came into the world the whole world has been waiting for Jesus to come and bring redemption both to his people and the fallen world (Romans 8:18-25).  The prophet Isaiah describes the fallen world as a place of darkness into which the light of Jesus would come to shine.  The good news of advent season is that the one whom the world has been waiting for has come and is coming again. Today, we will introduce our children to the Light who has come to shine in the darkness, and we will challenge them to look for and wait for him in worship. Here are our keys learning objectives for this lesson.  When the lesson is through, each child will know:

  • Advent means coming.
  • Before Jesus came, God’s people waited eagerly to meet him.
  • Jesus came as a king and warrior to set his people free from sin.
  • The world now waits eagerly for Jesus to come again.

Welcome (5 minutes) During the Welcome portion of each lesson, greet the children warmly as they come into the classroom and encourage them to gather at the activity area.  Ask the children to help you set up supplies and prepare for the art project.  Use the following introductory paragraph or a variation of it to introduce each child to the lesson:

Does anyone know what time of year it is? (Pause and wait for a response).  That’s right, it is Christmas time.  For a long time, Christians have celebrated the weeks before Christmas with a season known as Advent.  Advent means “coming” or “waiting.”  When we’re really excited about something that’s coming, we say, “I can’t wait.”  What are some things we say “I can’t wait" about? (Birthdays, Guests, Vacations, Presents, Christmas, etc.)  Celebrating advent is a way of saying “I can’t wait” for Jesus to come.

Read the Scripture (2-3 minutes): Don’t just read it.  Know it and bring it to life!

Celebrating advent is a way of saying, “I can’t wait” for Jesus to come.  One way that we celebrate advent is to light candles, lamps, and lights in honor of Jesus.  The apostle John tells us that when Jesus came into the world:

What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn't put it out (John 1:5, The Message).

Isaiah says it like this:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:2, 6 NIV).

The whole world was living in a kind of spiritual darkness. They were lost without Jesus, but when Jesus came, it was like someone switched on the lights. Suddenly, in Jesus, we had light, we had truth, we had hope.  Part of what makes Christmas so special is remembering advent – remembering the time of darkness before the light came into the world.

Light in the Darkness Game (2-3 minutes) Let’s play a game to celebrate advent. Advent celebrates the light that came to the darkness. So let’s pretend that we’re in the dark, (lights turned off), we’re scared, and we’re anxious for hope. Let’s all find a hiding place, and we need to be as quiet as we possibly can. Quick go hide!  Now when the lights come on, we need to celebrate that it’s GREAT news. So when the lights come on, you need to jump up, bounce up and down, and shout for joy. Are you ready?

Repeat the game three times. Each time, the leader should say, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great… LIGHT!" Then, turn the lights on and encourage the kids to show more excitement. At the end of the game transition the kids to singing. 

Tomorrow we will preview the Advent Music Liturgy that will immediately follow this lesson on Sunday.

Echo the Truth in Song (Worship liturgy by Chandi Plummer):

Leader 1: So what are we celebrating today? (Prompt children to say Advent)  

Leader 2: Advent is the month before Christmas, when we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth. Does anyone know what city Jesus was born in? (Prompt children to say Bethlehem) And do you know what kind of building he was born in? (Prompt children to say Advent)  

Leader 1: That’s right! Jesus wasn’t treated like a king when he was born.  He was treated like a servant. But from his humble beginnings, he came to be the most important man in history – because he was God’s son. Let’s sing songs about him!

Song 1:  “He is Born (A Christmas Lullaby)” Words and Music by Jeremy Quillo © 2007

Leader 2: When Jesus was born, they wrapped him in cloths and laid him down in a manger. Does anyone know what a manger is?  It’s like a trough, a feeding box that animals would eat out of. Can you imagine laying a baby in a dog bowl? Or a pig sty? Yuck! But that was all he had. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus could have such a quiet, humble beginning? Let’s sing about that beginning together.

Song 2: “Away in a Manger,” Words by Anonymous, 1885, 1892; Music by James R. Murray, 1887.

Leader 1:  An angel appeared to some Shepherds who were out watching over their sheep. The shepherds were very surprised to be visited by the angels. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! We have good news for you and for everybody in the whole world! For today, in Bethlehem, the city of David, a Savior is born, Christ the LORD!” And then do you know what happened?  Suddenly the whole sky was full of angels praising GOD and singing, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth, goodwill to men!” We are going to be like the angels this morning, singing joyfully to God! We are going to sing: “Joy to the world!”

Song 3: "God Is With Us," Words by Jeremy Quillo. Music by Jeremy Quillo & Dustin Neeley. Sojourn Music © 2002 from the album Advent Songs

Leader 2: We are going to pray.  Fold your hands and be still and talk to God. Let's talk to God.  “Jesus, you are wonderful! You are worthy of praise! The angels praise you and sing to you! The shepherds worshiped you. We want to sing and worship you too!

Pray: Thank you God for this time called Advent, where we can remember how wonderful your arrival on earth was. Thank you Jesus for coming to save us from our sins! Amen.

Art Project for ages 3-5: Stained Glass Windows by Jared Kennedy and Matt Douthitt

Supplies: Blue construction paper cut into 4.25” x 5.5” fold-over frames with a hole punched in the top (1 per child); Wax paper cut into 4” x 5.25” fold-over squares (1 per child); multi-colored tissue paper cut into small shapes; pen; glue; stapler; yarn;  “caption” notes with Isaiah 9:2a—“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”

(1) During the welcome time, have the children choose pieces of tissue paper to create a design for their “stained glass” window.  Have the child arrange the tissue as a design between the folded wax paper.  As each child finishes his or her design, put the prepared windows aside.  Use a pen to write the child’s name or initials on one piece of tissue.

(2) During the music and liturgy, assigned volunteers will run each of the wax paper windows through a laminating machine to slightly melt the wax.

(3) When children return to the classroom, assist them with stapling the wax paper “windows” inside a fold-over frame, gluing the “caption” on the outside of the frame, and tying a piece of string so that the “stained glass” windows can be hung in a window at home. Use the art project time as a time to remind the children about the message of today’s lesson.

Art Project for grades 1-5: Cyanotype Window Art by Katherine Valentine

Here is a finished example of the cyanotype window art

Here is a finished example of the cyanotype window art

Supplies, Preparation, and Procedure: Have cyanotypes taped on the ground with markers for tracing.  Several kids can come at one time, as long as there is an adult to trace them.  Using different colored markers is fine, kids can overlap one another. Encourage them to use bold poses, with their arms and fingers outstretched. The outline should be from about the hip up. Today you've been learning about the season of advent.

Ask: What does the word Advent mean? Coming or Waiting

Ask: What are we waiting for during Advent? Jesus to come into the world/Jesus' birth

Today, you've heard how the Bible describes Jesus as a Great Light. You've played a game today where you celebrated how exciting and joyful it is to be in the Light after being in darkness. You've also sung songs about the Joy that came to the world when Jesus was born. You've learned how shepherds and angels all were waiting and celebrating the coming of the Light.

Ask: Why were they so excited? [Hear what kids have to say about this]

They were SO excited because before Jesus, the Light of the world, came it was like they were living in darkness. 

Do you remember how it feels when you are in the dark? Scary, alone, can't see.

When you are in the dark, it's hard to see - you don't know if it is safe, or if anything is there. It's even hard to see yourself!

What about when you are in the light? Safe, fun, you can see.

When you are in the light, it's not scary, because you can see the world around you, you don't have to fear. You can see and be seen. And sometimes, when we do something wrong, when we sin, we like to hide in the darkness, so that what we did can't be seen - because we are afraid of punishment. But, when Jesus died, his Light covered the whole world, so that everyone who believed wouldn't have to be in darkness anymore. In his Light our sins are seen and they are forgiven! That's why Jesus' birth is so exciting. It's the beginning of the Light of forgiveness coming into the world.  Let's make art about how we are excited and waiting and longing for the Light of Jesus.

The center of this fabric is bright white.  It's like the Light of Christ. What we're going to do is have each one of you lie down around the center and reach for the light.  You can lay any way you want and we'll trace you.  When we're finished, you'll be able to see an outline of yourself reaching in celebration towards the Light!

Reflections on Advent and Thanksgiving

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.Advent is one of my favorite times of year because it is a time of expectancy (Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV),

As a child, I loved Christmas. I loved it because of  the anticipation of what I might receive. Every activity surrounding the holiday pointed me to what was to come. The decorations, Christmas lights, stockings, tinsel, and smells of cookies all helped to remind and direct my thoughts to the gifts I would receive.  I can still strongly remember and feel many of those same emotions. However, now during this season I am more focused on Christ than receiving gifts. This is one of the reasons I am grateful that Advent follows Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is like an appetizer for Advent. At Thanksgiving, we spend time actively reflecting on what Jesus has done for us in the past year. Advent is a time to celebrate the coming of Jesus. Thankfulness is the perfect soil for expectancy. Jesus is the greatest gift. He is the Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father. Receiving the greatest gift should be linked to the greatest amount of anticipation.

We celebrate the gifts Jesus gives us. One extraordinary gift God bestows on us is adoption. God creates a new family of brothers and sisters. Our new identity binds us together and gives us one more reason to rejoice. This new family is not a perfect family, but a broken one. Yet, even in our sin and failure we find a common bond. It isn't just ideology that unites us. Our brokenness is what leads us to  acknowledge our need for Jesus. In the book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about the hope Christians have together, “ The fellowship of the table teaches Christians that here they still eat the perishable bread of the earthly pilgrimage. But if they share this bread with one another, they shall also one day receive the imperishable bread together in the Father’s house. ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 14.15).” Being in fellowship with one another helps us to see how we can love Jesus more. Our common need leads us to common thankfulness where we acknowledge and celebrate Christ as our common Savior.

Through celebrating Advent together we prepare our hearts to worship the True King. As we celebrate traditions new and old we establish memories and practices our families will remember their entire life. The hope is they will pass some of the traditions on to their family. My best hope is that my kids will remember Advent is a time to celebrate Jesus. He is why we gather together, eat great food, and give presents. Every good and perfect gift is from Him. He is our ultimate gift, our great treasure, and One who is worthy of our expectation!

Just Nicholas: An Interview with Annie Kratzsch and Tessa Janes

Just Nicholas: An Interview with Annie Kratzsch and Tessa Janes

Young children live in a consumer world. Annie Kratzsch and Tessa Janes teach children that the true joy of Christmas is found in giving and showing mercy to those in need. We can give like Nicholas gave, because that is how God has given Jesus to us. Here is my interview with Annie and Tessa.

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