by Char Leone, Children’s Faith Formation Coordinator
Last Christmas Eve, our St. Mark’s community of faith gathered four times to hear afresh the age-old story of Jesus’ birth and ponder its meaning for our world and lives today. In the weeks of Advent leading up to that night, Sunday school lessons were very focused on this story with the children, so that they could share it in their own gifted ways with their families and faith community in the children’s Christmas program.
We are so blessed at St. Mark’s by musician Danielle Lemieux who helps the children learn songs that help them participate in the rhythm and emotions of the program and this special time of the year. With Danielle doing her thing, I give my attention to the story part. Through the programs this year, images and impressions of how the children receive, celebrate, and share the story shine through. Joy and humor, confusion and dismay, peace and wonder…all emotions are lived out in the midst of God’s grace at work, among children and teachers and even families.
Our Sunday school teachers can best capture the stories and emotions lived out week to week in their classrooms and I would love for them to respond to this blog post with some of those stories, even if just a sentence or two. (This is your invitation teachers!) Just imagine the trusting and loving atmosphere created by our 24 teacher-storytellers during Sunday school, allowing children to prepare and receive the Christmas story. Just imagine, and you can see why I love this job!
This year, our 3 and 4 year olds shared their own presentation, “Song of the Stars,” which told the story of the response of all creation to the birth of Jesus. Kids love to dress up as angels and animals and imagine themselves in the story and this delightful children’s storybook allowed them to do that.
Our narrators Sharron Bonea and Levin Conway tenderly guided them through this story of anticipation and kept the kids listening as they echoed responses of “It’s time!” as the story moved along. Bright and enthusiastic faces shouted out these refrains in unison with voices that filled our sanctuary and brought smiles to the listeners. Through the kids, we heard the story in fresh and new ways and celebrated with them through our presence and rituals (of which our potluck meal is no small part) the importance of this story for people of faith.
The 3’s and 4’s finished their program with a telling of the nativity story in their own words, responding to questions posed by Pastor Shjerven to frame the scripture story. In this experience, each parent and grandparent is imprinted with their own little ones’ special words and gestures. Perhaps for a lifetime—write it down, treasure it, and remember it together faithfully.
The image of light through stars and candles is so much a part of the Christmas story. The darkness of our world was made so evident the very weekend of the children’s program and I struggled at first to see the light shining and the path it lit. But our “kinders” through fifth grade with their presentation of “Jesus, Light of the World” helped us all through the darkness by pointing to the light in their own special and gifted ways.
We see the image of God reflected in our children, and in a children’s program we have to accept that what we plan for cannot match the experience of God with us through the story and the kids and the gifts of both. Surprise, humor, and wonder are all part of that light.
As I reflect on the children’s program and its surprising parts, I remember that for a moment on Friday my own light seemed to drop. I found it again, by God’s grace through a faithful journey to Bethlehem with staff, families, and children at St. Mark’s.