Christ: The Promise of a Savior

Root of Jesse. Orthodox Icon

Introduction

One of the amazing things about reading about the promise of a savior is that we find echoes of these old hopes for God to act in our own desire for Christ to come again. We know that God has done something amazing and decisive in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. We also know that not all is right in our world. God, we believe, will make all things well when Christ comes again in final victory.

This week, we discuss how the promises of God come surprisingly in the places of silence and death–when and where we think God might not be speaking anymore–at least, this appears to be the case for the people of Israel. Nothing happened for hundreds of years. There were no prophets and no new messages. Sometimes, we might feel this same way. Is God still speaking? Has God forgotten about the world? The promise of a savior and it’s fulfillment in Christ is assurance that we are waiting on a God who we know will act. Christ will come again. The promises we read in our lesson today may remind us not only of what God has done in Christ, but what we know God will continue to do.

Hear the Story

There isn’t really a children’s book of Children’s Bible parallel for the story this week. Read from Isaiah 11:1-9. Ask your students to listen very closely because the story might seem a bit abstract. You can help fill in the background with information from the last couple of weeks.

Respond to the Story

1. Chant the O Antiphons: The O Antiphons are from as far back as the 8th century. Each antiphon is traditionally recited on one of the seven days before Christmas during evening prayer often before and after the recitation of the Magnificat. We are most familiar with the antiphons from the Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel (where each stanza is one of the antiphons). Each stanza of the O Antiphons addresses Christ with a different name. The O Antiphons are rich with imagery of Israel’s hope for a Messiah and a rich resource for own expression of  hope that Christ will come again. The Antiphon that is particularly important for us this week is the third  “O Root from the stump of Jesse.” This antiphon and stanza from Isaiah work nicely with our lessons so far this fall (especially in those classes that have been following the genealogy closely. You may want to remind your class that Jesse is David’s father.  Here is a short video commentary from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist on this third antiphon. I loved hearing the reflections for all of the O Antiphons from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. You may find all seven reflections here.

  • You can teach your class the song O Come O Come Emmanuel to learn all of the antiphons (invite a musician to help you out!)
  • show your class some of the Latin chants here. Explain that each of these antiphons is a reference to Jesus. Ask your class to share other names for Jesus that aren’t included.
  • Older classes might like to write their own Antiphon. The antiphon should address Jesus and ask him to come quickly.

2. Life from a Stump: The stump is a place of death from which all growth appear to be stunted (if not entirely absent). The promises of God are like the fresh green shoots that emerge from the rotting trunk. Even though for many of the people, after so many generations, the promises of God seem to be dead, they are made alive again when the promised Messiah arrives. Discuss this imagery. You may want to go on a walk outside and notice how most of the trees have “died” for the winter. It’s hard to imagine that the new life of Spring (to which the promises of Easter are often compared) will emerge again. Respond to this image from Isaiah by creating art that depicts the Messiah as a growth of new life from a dormant or dead place. How are the promises of God like new life in this salvation story? If you are interested, here is a nice sermon on this text from a Lutheran minister.

3. Family Tree: Those of you who have been following Jesus’ family tree all fall may want to create a family tree of the Davidic line. Take a look at the generations leading up to Jesse, David, and Solomon. You can use the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17 to work on this family tree. Each student can make an individual tree or the class can make a large poster together.

4. Christmas Ornament: Use supplies in the craft closet or gathered materials from outside to make a “stump of Jesse” ornament.

5. Explore another theme: Explore one of the themes below by discussing what it has to do with the promised Messiah. Then, create art images, ornaments, poems, or reflect in journals about the image.

  • Justice and Equity: Our text today talks a lot about ruling or judging with justice and equity. What do these words mean? Why are they promises and what do they have to do with the Messiah/Jesus? Our text specifically mentions the poor. What does justice look like for the poor?
  • The Wolf with the Lamb: The image of the wolf and the lamb is a very popular one (as is the lion and the lamb). Discuss with your class what the normal relationship between a wolf and a lamb is. They are likely very familiar with this relationship because we spent a lot of time last year talking about shepherds and sheep–that the shepherd protects the sheep from the wolf. In what kind of world do wolf and sheep get along? Why is this part of the promises of God from the prophet?

Close with a Prayer and Feast

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Crisis: The People who walked in Darkness…

Introduction

As you will see this week, though we are moving through the scriptural narrative quite rapidly, the pattern of crisis and covenant continues. As David finishes his reign and is on his deathbed, palace intrigue leads to Solomon’s anointing as the new king over Israel. Solomon is, for the most part, portrayed as a wise and complex character, much like David. During his reign, the Temple is built in Jerusalem and worship of God is consolidated in a central location. Solomon’s reign is a time of prosperity, a detail that helps support the idea that Solomon and the Davidic line still dwell in God’s favor. Over time and as rulers succeed Solomon, the people of Israel grow increasingly far from worship of the one God and devotion in the temple. A split between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah follows Solomon’s death. For some time the people move back and forth between times of dedication and devotion to God and worship of other idols. During this time, there are often foreign powers that threaten their existence.

Remember that for our purposes, the theme of crisis describes alienation from God, one another, and the earth. This pattern alienation continues as the people of Israel away from worship of God in the temple and begin to follow the gods of other foreign peoples. As they grow further from God, we will see that they also grow further from one another–many of our early prophets will rail against Israel’s abandonment of the poor, widowed, orphan, and alien.

Around this time, hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, prophets begins to emerge (today we will focus on Isaiah). These prophets tell Israel that if they do not turn back to God and love their neighbor, they will be destroyed and sent out of the land that God has given to the people. The people have forgotten who the one true God is, the God who brought the people up out of the land of Egypt, out a slavery and bondage; because of this, they tend to rely on their own strength or on other gods. The prophets remind the people of who God is and of who the people are supposed to be in response to God.

Even as Isaiah proclaims a rather gloomy message, he says that God will raise up another who will bring the people back to God–this person is Jesus (though he does not say this and there are alternative interpretations). Even though Isaiah claims that “the Lord is hiding his face from the house of Jacob” (Isaiah 8:17), he says the throne of David will be upheld in the birth of a child. This would have been a hopeful message for a people who were living under the weight of political oppression. In response to this message, the people come to expect a political savior who will liberate them from their political oppressors (kind of like Moses).

Objectives

1. To describe how the people of Israel sometimes had a challenging relationship with God–sometimes close and sometimes far, but often strained because of their own wanderings.

2. To begin to introduce the expectation for salvation and the restoration of the close relationship of God with the people.

Hear the Story

You may want to give the students in your class some of the historical background that I have outlined above, but especially for our youngest classes, this history may be too involved and complicated. The theme of the story that is important to grasp is that the people move from covenant to crisis/alienation and back again in almost cyclical fashion. The exile–the people’s being taken out of the land by foreign powers–is often understood in the Biblical narrative as a judgement from God, and they begin to plea for the restoration of their favor–and the promise of such favor begins to take root in the words of the prophets.

The text we will focus on this week is Isaiah 9:1-7. You can read this story from the Bible, tell it in your own words beginning with the background above, or use one of our children’s Bibles to tell the story. Unfortunately, so many of the children’s Bibles don’t deal well with the period of the Prophets and there is very little specific focus on any part of the text. If you use any of the following, you may want to use them only as supplemental materials and read chapter 9 from a real Bible.

The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story of Isaiah’s prophecies under the title “Operation ‘No More Tears'” (pages 144-151) in the form of a letter from God. It’s a very brief presentation of the entire book and puts special emphasis on the prophecy about a “rescuer.” The Children of God Storybook Bible does not tell the story from Isaiah 9, but has some good material introducing the reasons why Isaiah was asked to address the people. You can find this under “Isaiah Becomes God’s Messenger” (p. 52-3). The Children’s Illustrated Bible shares part of Isaiah’s prophecies on p.154.

Respond to the Story

1. Light and Dark. Sometimes when we are not exploring a narrative story, but a piece of poetry as Isaiah 9 is, we can focus on the images rather than characters or plot points. the following activities help reflect on the significance of the phrase: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone” (9:2).

  • Walking in Darkness Game:
  • Dark and Light: Together, brainstorm things about light and darkness. You might write each of the lists on the whiteboard. What does darkness look like? What does the dark make us feel like? What do you think the dark was like to the people of Israel? What does light look like? What does the light make us feel? What or who do you think the people of Israel thought the light would be?
  • Light Songs (Use our contact list and ask one of our musicians to come to your class). Some of these songs might help us think about light:
    • Light of the World (you stepped down into darkness)
    • Marching [in the light of God]
    • This little light of mine
  • Advent Light: The growing light of our Advent wreaths ties the image of light closely to the coming of Christ.
  • Mosaic of light: Make mosaic images of light using pieces of tissue paper on wax paper (so it can be hung like stained glass). Older children might like to try a mosaic with words “the light shines” or “the light shines in the dark.” Younger children may like to try making symbols and images of light– a candle, the sun, a bright halo, etc.
  • Decorate your room for Advent: In the church we use many symbols of light and dark during the Advent season. One kind of light we see a lot at this time of the year are lights on a tree. In a gray tub in the supply closet marked “Advent” (under the first aid kit), we have strings of white lights. With your class, you might want to string up some of those lights for the next two weeks. You can start or end your class with all of the lights off (except for the stringed lights) and with the words “Jesus is the light of the world” and response: “Which no darkness can overwhelm.”

2. How best to Rescue?

  • Come up with a plan or strategy: Together discuss what it is that the people of Israel need to be rescued from–exile, sin, being far from God– and divide into teams. Each team can come up with a strategy for how they think the people of Israel might best be saved from these things. The people of Israel thought that they might be saved from exile by a strong military or political leader, someone who could show the world the strength of God. Instead, God chose to meet the people in a child. Was this the only way to make things right? Was this the best way? Why did God choose something so unexpected?
  • Extra! Extra!: Imagine that you are the prophet Isaiah. Write a newspaper page about what is going on and what the people need to do to change and enter back into right relationship with God. Decorate your newspaper letter just like the front cover of a newspaper.

3. Names of Jesus: Feel free to generate more ideas on this theme for your class. I might have run out of steam. 🙂 

  • Wonderful Counselor: Write a poem, design a piece of art, or write a journal entry about what these names mean to you. Is there another name in the Bible for Jesus that is important to you? Is there a name that isn’t in the Bible that you think should be?

Close with a feast and prayer