Waiting vs Road Construction
a children’s sermon or at-home lesson
with props and a demonstration
Background and Bible Study:
Contrary to the opinion of many parental wishes, and contrary to many children's sermons I've heard, "WAITING" in the Bible is never just about killing time or simply learning the virtue of "patience" (which most kids won't have anyway). Instead, "Waiting" in the Bible is often synonymous with "preparing and seeking."
In fact, the Hebrew word for "wait" ("qavah") means something like "gathering, collecting, binding together, getting ready," with a sense of "get it together, prepare." Whereas the various words for "patience" in Hebrew (and in most kids' minds) mean "slow" or "long" and suggest endurance or suffering (how fun).
Below are the interesting implications that the correct translation makes when you substitute the more correct Hebrew meaning of "GET READY" (gather, collect, prepare) for "wait" — the rather beige English word traditionally used in the following famous verses:
Lamentations 3:25-26 The Lord is good to those who GET READY for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good to GET IT TOGETHER quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Isaiah 40:31...they who GATHER for the Lord shall renew their strength
Micah 7:7 ...I will look to the Lord; I will PREPARE for the God of my salvation
The ADVENT connection:
Isaiah 40:3-5’s “prepare a way" captures perfectly what the Hebrew says we're really supposed to be doing when people tell us that Advent is a season of "waiting." (And that's my "cue" for starting this children's sermon using some earth-moving toys I borrowed from the neighborhood kids. )
Advent is Road Construction! -- the children's sermon
prepare the way, make a highway, fill in the holes, level the ground, move those rocks!
I began this children's sermon by having the kids help me spread out a large blue tarp on the floor of the sanctuary in front of the steps. Then I pulled out several large "Tonka" earth moving toys: a bulldozer, a dump truck, an excavator, and a road grader that I had borrowed from neighbors.
I asked the kids "what's missing?" and indeed one of them said "DIRT!" -- which was the cue for the man at the back to come forward with a bag of dirt and rocks and pour it onto the center of the tarp. I stood there and said, "that's not enough, more dirt please!" which was the cue for a second bag of dirt and rocks to come forward. (After the stunned and giddy looks and my quip about how much trouble he was going to be in for making a mess in the sanctuary, I continued...)
I told the kids that "THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO ‘WAIT' FOR CHRISTMAS" and asked them if any of them understood what I meant (nobody did), so I went to work with the Bulldozer and all the toys playing through the pile of dirt -- happily and loudly making all the "truck noises" as I took my time leveling the pile and moving dirt around. (Congregation and kids loved that.) I quickly invited the kids to help me "make the hills low, and fill up the valleys and holes so we could prepare a flat Christmas highway." (They happily joined in, and I told them to use their hands if they didn't have a toy.)
When we had moved the dirt around a bunch, I gathered the toys and started reading Isaiah 40 out loud to them, the great GET READY passage of Advent, -- while acting out with just the bulldozer the actions heard in the words:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
I then made a few comments as I continued to construct my highway create the visual of what I was talking about: Advent is a road we're moving down, a journey to celebrate and meet Jesus. The "holes" and "rocks" are problems/bad attitudes/ about Christmas we might get stuck in or block us from seeing the reasons for the season (meet and celebrate Jesus!). Etc.
Then I wrapped it up with the question: "And WHO did the prophet Isaiah promise we will meet if we prepare a way for him?" Obviously, they already know the answer is Jesus, but I made the point by doing the following: I stood up so the adults could see me too, then pulled out of the sack a toy car, to which I had taped a baby Jesus in the manger figurine, then knelt back down and proceeded to drive him over the flat highway towards each kid, making engine noises (their eyes grew wide with smiles as the car drove toward each of them). I finished with a short comment about talking with your family about things you all could do to "make a highway" for Jesus this Advent, to fill in the holes and move some of the rocks that might get in the way of really learning the true reason for the season.
I didn't belabor the point because I knew the demonstration would be remembered and talked about. Short prayer asking for Jesus' help. Amen, Let's go to Sunday School!
Now I realize that someone with a greater sense of propriety might NOT want to dump dirt on a tarp in the sanctuary and then drive a toy car across it with baby Jesus strapped to it -- but I'm here to tell you that I still have friends who remember that children's sermon with great fondness, as do I, and the nearly-retired Senior Pastor thought it was a hoot. We left the dirt and baby Jesus in the car there for the entire service, and many people came up to see it and remark afterwards. I'm also sure it was talked about in a hundred member homes that Sunday. The only problem was what happened AFTER the service... some of the kids came back to prepare a new way for the Lord.
For an extended lesson or in-home use, follow up with these questions:
What are the holes and bumps in the road? (things that make you feel stuck in your faith, memories you can't get past, and how do they get filled in? how about prayer, service to others? --they are great ways to "get out of a spiritual hole")
What are the rocks in the way? (things that will get in your way, weigh you down, hold you back, sins, attitudes, grievances, worries)
What kind of curves are in the way of you meeting Jesus in this year's Christmas celebrations? (a curve is something you can't see around, can't see what's coming, things that are in the way of you seeing God more clearly)
What things will help us BEST get ready, prepare for the birth of Jesus? And which things are not very helpful? (This is an opportunity to examine your Christmas practices and expectations.)
Finally, place the toys under the Christmas tree or with some Christmas decorations as a reminder of the lesson.