Let the Children Lead

In worship this morning, there was no pageant. We didn’t tell the Christmas story. Not really. We talked about John the Baptizer and an angry shepherd who couldn’t believe the good news. And on this Sunday of joy, we didn’t assume we were full of joy. Instead, we talked about our feelings. We admitted that we have them. Or at least, that’s what happened in the second service at the United Churches of Olympia.

The first service was a little bit different. We made a different kind of space for joy as we heard the good news from Luke’s gospel. We heard about terrors and wonders as we asked those nagging questions (that admittedly we’re not quite ready to hear) at the end of Jan Richardson’s reflection.

So what should we do, then? How do you carry this question—this question the crowd asked of John—in this season? How do you discern God’s longing for your life? To whom do you listen as you seek an answer to this question?

Even though I created this liturgical journey earlier in the week, these questions seem particularly poignant today after events of Friday. After 20 children died in Connecticut, it seems even more powerful to wonder what we should do. Because this question should fall upon us. So, we wrestled with it. We offered our own answers — as this particular worship gathering is prone to do. We didn’t rely on one voice to speak but allowed room for the many. And then, after we shared our prayers, we lit a candle to witness to love. Not an Advent candle. But another candle to recognize that two beautiful people in our church family celebrated in legal marriage last weekend. We lit a candle and offered the blessing that has been offered to so many straight couples before. We offered it in one collective voice: Let no one separate what God has joined together. Oh, and there were tears.

But, there were tears in the second service too. There was no pageant. We didn’t race ahead to celebrate the newborn Christ. We sat there in the middle of Advent with the grumpy shepherd and ornery John the Baptizer. We claimed our discomfort with our children. But, I never said anything about what happened in Connecticut. This was a service for children. Still, the chorus came after worship, “I wish you had said something about the tragedy on Friday.”

The table was set with animals from the stable.

Yes, I know. I know the extreme power in naming those things that scare us most. I know that offering words to our prayers can be tremendously powerful. It’s why I invite our church family to speak their own prayers. It’s why I don’t repeat them. Because God can hear in our sighs too deep for words. And that’s hard. Because I want to worship in a community that is not afraid to speak about the terrible tragedies in this world but I also want to worship in a church where children are able to feel loved and welcomed. And that’s the problem for me. On this day, when there was no pageant but we welcomed children, I didn’t want to assume that every parent of every 4 or 5 year old had told their child what had happened on Friday. And it would have done more harm than good for me to speak that grown-up fear in the midst of that child’s worship. It would have resulted in more questions. It could have shattered that child-like awe that the church is a safe place. That the world is a safe place. That’s something that will come for these children. They will grow up and learn that the world is really, really troubled but that’s not what they needed to hear this morning. In the middle of Advent, our children needed to know — as much as we all need to know — that God is love. No matter what, God is love. That’s how we’ll let the children lead. From there, they will show us where to go.

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