Zephaniah 3:17-18 assures us that even though we are feeling exiled and broken, God is rejoicing over us, renewing us, and restoring us with “loud singing.” I love this idea of God singing loudly with us as I think about Advent. My favorite songs, both sacred and secular, are Advent and Christmas Songs. Last year, my church – Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, KY– was trying to lean into our own brokenness and feelings of exile as we listened for the loud singing of God in our midst. Here are the times that I felt and heard God’s singing the most in our Advent season, 2020. May these ideas inspire you in planning for another socially-distanced season in 2021.
Come to the Movies!
We bought an outdoor movie screen and showed movies! The screens were way cheaper than we originally imagined (they are available on Amazon for $100-$120). We gathered outdoors in December (which isn’t so difficult in Louisville, KY) to watch Christmas Favorites: The Star and It’s a Wonderful Life. Families gathered as we wore masks and sat under blankets and didn’t share snacks (not sharing snacks was surprisingly difficult), but the Holy Spirit showed up and sang loudly in the fellowship before and after the movie as well as in the warm fuzzy feelings from the movies themselves. It was a moment of normalcy for which we were so desperate last December. Below is a photo of one of our movie nights.
Family Scavenger Hunt
This idea came from one of our moms after we realized that our Advent activities would have to shift to being “family oriented” rather than “church oriented.” It also helps that our members tend to be just a little competitive. To prepare, I got 5 families who live relatively close together to agree to have me put clues in their front yard on a Saturday afternoon. I wrote the clues, laminated them, and taped them to mailboxes, street lights, etc. Families who wanted to participate signed up in advance. Then, at the time to begin, I sent e-mails to families with their first clue. Each clue led them to read scripture, answer a question (recording their answer with phone videos), and solve some sort of puzzle to receive their next address. At the end of the scavenger hunt, families sent me the videos and received the final address where they could pick up a bag of candy and a family Advent devotional book. I made sure there were books that were appropriate for families with young children, families with older children (teenagers), and families without children at all! The older members’ participation was outstanding and the wisdom in their short videos was moving. We shared some of the videos in worship and via social media over the next few weeks. Most families completed the scavenger hunt in 45 minutes. Plus, helping the young children understand the “waiting” aspect of Advent was enhanced by all of the searching and patience they had to use when finding and deciphering clues. Below is a photo from that scavenger hunt.
Our children’s choir directors put together a Zoom sing-a-long. We sent sent all families an invitation along with a jingle bell and a song sheet. Then, we shared the Zoom link via our regular e-mail distribution list the day of the sing-a-long. We had about 20 families sign on, and our directors led families in a combination of familiar secular music and hymns. Families sang on mute while our directors sang out. Readers had the words if they needed them to sing along. I saw families in pajamas singing and dancing and ringing jingle bells on the screen. I offered a short prayer as part of the event. I realized that evening how much I needed to see those beautiful faces laughing and having a good time together. We had this moment of singing together – just as we had every other Christmas.
The Christmas Pageant
My very devoted Children’s Team was determined to have a Children’s Christmas Pageant together. We decorated our playground to look like various scenes in the nativity story – hanging sheets on the monkey bars to look like King Herod’s palace, putting out a cardboard sheet to create the shepherds field, setting the manager on a wooden platform to create the look of a stable. We had families sign up to come and record their lines at designated times (15-20 minutes per family to avoid a back up). We use washed and pre-bagged the costumes for children to wear (angels, shepherds, animals, magi). After they wore the costumes, they put them in a laundry basket which we allowed to sit for a few days before washing the costumes. Families who couldn’t attend recorded their lines at home. It took one afternoon and a teenager (who I bribed with food) to edit the whole pageant together. We used the final product, clunky though it was, in worship on Advent IV, and we put it on social media on Christmas Day. Here’s a link to our pageant: https://fb.watch/7zl0ch4Up1/
God did not sing in the usual ways during Advent of 2020. I hope we can get back to our usual crafts, pancake breakfasts, and in-person pageants to tell the story of Christ’s birth this year. However, if we can’t, I imagine Highland will do the same thing this year – find new ways to hear the loud singing of God in an unconventional time. I’m so grateful for the creativity and even the competitive spirit of God’s people that allow me to hear God’s loud singing over us all.
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