A Dad for Christmas

Christmas presents

When it comes to Christmas, it might be safe to assume children will ask Santa for an extensive list of toys, games and treats.  But a survey highlighted in The Telegraph of their typical lists for Father Christmas has shown many have more serious concerns, requesting “a dad” instead.

A study of 2,000 British parents found most children will put a new baby brother or sister at the top of their Christmas list, closely followed by a request for a real-life reindeer.

A “pet horse” was the third most popular choice, with a “car” making a bizarre entry at number four.  But despite their material requests, the tenth most popular Christmas wish on the list was a “Dad”.

The survey, of consumers at Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City, found children aged three to 12 years also wanted a dog, chocolate and a stick of rock.  Traditional hopes for a white Christmas were represented by a wish for “snow” in ninth place, with sensible youngsters also requesting a “house”.

Of the top 50 festive requests, 17 related to pets and animals, with some imaginative children hoping for a donkey, chicken and elephant.

iPhones and iPads also appeared on the list, with some quirky children asking for the moon, a time machine, a pond cover and beetroot. One child asked for Eva Longoria and another wanted Harry Styles from One Direction.

A request for a “mum” reached number 23 on the list.

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Assembly: New Year: Hope, Success and Failure

Over the last week I’ve done several assemblies in different local schools on the theme of New Year resolutions:

Before the assembly begins, whilst students are still coming in, have a slideshow running with the question ‘did you make a new year’s resolution’ ‘have you already broken it?’ and various statistics and images linked to resolutions.

As the young people come in to the hall, ask the students in the front row to write whether they made any New Year resolutions, and if so have they failed already’ on some paper, while the rest of the year group are coming in.

Assembly

At the start of the assembly say that we asked your views on New Year resolutions, if you made any, and have you broken them already.  Here are some of your thoughts, and read their viewpoints out.  Here’s a Top 10 illustrated by cats:

Lots of us will have made resolutions, and it is likely that most of us will break them. GMTV asked viewers to email in their new years resolutions. Here are the top 5 that came out of that poll:

  • To lose weight
  • Save money/spend less
  • Recycle/become greener
  • Get fit/exercise more
  • Stop smoking

CBBC on their website suggested that the top 5 new years resolutions would be:

  • To get fit
  • Stop biting my nails
  • Keep room tidy
  • Eat less junk food
  • Start a new hobby

Research suggests that around only 12-29% of us will be successful in keeping our resolution.  So this morning we wanted to share with you 3 people who made massive goals and targets, and how they coped with trying to reach them.

Thomas Edison: ‘father of the modern world’ (1847–1931)

Thomas Edison 

‘No one did more to share the physical character of our present day civilization … he was the most influential figure of the Millennium.’

One of Thomas Edison’s 1,093 inventions was the light bulb filament, but it took him over 3,000 attempts to invent it! That means 2,999 attempts at getting it to work, failed. He worked 18-hour days and only had five hours’ sleep a night. He said to his friends,

‘I don’t even need exercise, I don’t need to play golf because I have all the exercise I need going from one lab to another.’

Michael Jordan ‘The greatest sports star of all time?’

Michael Jordan

In a similar vein, in my opinion Michael Jordan may be the greatest sports star of all time. He won six NBA world titles – the most valuable player in all of them. He won the NBA slamdunk contest twice, changing it for ever. He scored 32,292 points in his career. He was, unlike many players these days, ‘the complete package’: he had the greatest offence, stifling defence and he was a media phenomenon, doing feature films through to cereal adverts. Yet he said this:

‘I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. Twenty- six times I have been trusted to take the game-winning shot and have missed; I have failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.’

Somehow, in this instant world of Pot Noodles, McDonald’s and quick boiling kettles, where the National Lottery promises us the ultimate get rich quick scheme and we respond to spam emails believing that someone has left us £2 million if we could only send them £100 for an administration fee(!), the concept that failure strengthens has been lost. Often, it is in failure that we learn to succeed.

Paul: The Greatest Christian

Paul says:

‘… I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate’ (Rom. 7:15, cev) but he also says, ‘My friends, I don’t feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done … But we must keep going in the direction that we are now headed’ (Phil. 3:13-14, 16, CEV).

So next time you switch on a bulb in your house remember Thomas Edison and all his failures, the difficulties and the struggles that he had to overcome to become the man that he was to be. And next time you see a basketball, imagine Michael Jordan being gutted 26 times after missing his game-winning shot, when he was the best player in the world. That’s what hope is all about. Hope and failure are sometimes very close to each other, and we have to decide which one to go for… Christians believe God didn’t tell us that we would succeed easily and avoid suffering and failure; he just said that he would be there with us.

And that makes all the difference.

Assembly: Christmas Crackers and Chocolates

Christmas Chocolates

This afternoon I did a Christmas themed assembly at our local junior school on the theme of crackers and chocolates:

What are you most looking forward to this Christmas?

  •  the presents
  •  the parties
  •  a special time with my family
  •  the food
  •  singing Christmas songs
  •  the magic of it all

Most of us look forward to something at Christmas. The anticipation (the looking forward) is sometimes as much fun as Christmas itself!

Pick some children to come up to the front.  How do you feel to have a cracker in your hand? (Try to draw out feelings of excitement and anticipation.)  How much do you want to pull the cracker and see what’s inside?  What do you expect to find inside?  Now pull your cracker. (Let the children enjoy the contents!)  What do you think of what’s inside?

Crackers are really exciting because the contents are a surprise. Sometimes we’re pleased with the gift inside, sometimes disappointed.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Jews were excited about the coming of a Saviour.

At that time, their enemies had attacked their land and taken them all away as prisoners. They were forced to settle down in a foreign country. They were homesick. They longed to go back to their own land, their own villages, towns and homes.

A man called Isaiah told them about a coming Saviour who would set them free. Isaiah said:

‘For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,

and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.’

Wow! A child. Mighty God! Prince of Peace! Endless peace! No more suffering! Freedom from exploitation!  The people must have been so excited. The anticipation must have been too much to bear! A million times more exciting than holding a cracker in your hand!

The birth of the baby Jesus was the fulfilment of the prophecy Isaiah had made many years before.

Here’s a recap of the Christmas story:

A long time ago, God made the Galaxy, beautiful, rich, wonderful.  And filled it with people, people he made, people he loved, people like you and me, people who were all special to him. And he gave these people everything, all kinds of FRUIT SKITTLES.  Everything except one tree, one Fruit Pastille others which they were told not to eat.

But the people wanted to do things their own way, so they did a BREAKAWAY from God. Trouble is, after the breakaway everything started to go wrong.  Really really ROCKYSuffering, pain, loneliness, bullying, violence, death.  Because we’d chosen our way instead of God’s way.

Everything just got really HARIBO (horrible).  So to give them a BOOST God promised that things would change.  One day a special person would come and put things right, I’m telling you the truth, I’m not LION.)

Many years later, a girl called Mary heard a WISPA, from an angel who said that she would be the Mother of God’s son. But how could this be? She was not yet married to Joseph. To have a baby now would be a TOPIC of conversation in the village.  But before she could say CHOCOLATE COATED PEANUTS she was pregnant.

Poor Joseph.  Well his brain was in a TWIRL and mush like MARSHMALLOWS and he had to take TIME OUT and have a lie down.  As he slept, he had a dream, and an angel explained everything, and soon this became as clear as FOX’S GLACIER MINTS.  And when he woke up he decided to have a WORTHER’S ORIGINAL to remind him og the good old days.

But before the baby arrived, political events overtook them – Joseph had to return to Bethlehem for the census – it was 80 miles away – a MARATHON (Snickers) journey, over stony hills which were CRUNCHIE under foot, and when you are pregnant it’s no bed of ROSES but Joseph thought the BREAK would do her good.

When they arrived, Joseph tried to find lodgings, but CLUB after CLUB let them down – No room they all said. Eventually they were offered a little out house – it was there that the little baby was born. He was named Jesus, which means Saviour. He was laid in a manger, lined with hay and STRAW (Sherbet straw!)

And though Joseph was a bit confused, he was a good egg, you couldn’t hope to meet a KINDER man (Kinder Egg), so he decided to look after Mary, and God’s baby.

So the story goes that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem.  Mary was heavily pregnant, and Joseph wondered if she’d FLAKE out on the journey.

They finally found a room full of animals – might not have been a stable, sometimes people lived in a house with a split floor, animals on one level, people on the next, so maybe the innkeeper let them into his home. We don’t know what sort of animals were there, but by morning there was Jesus NESTLEing in his mothers arms.

All sorts of strange visitors started to turn up.

That night, some shepherds, heard holy music makers, MINSTRELS in the sky. “Glory to God in the Highest”.  The shepherds decided to take a break (KIT-KAT) from looking after the sheep. Let’s GO and see what’s happening in Bethlehem.  So straight as an AERO they headed for Bethlehem to find Jesus.  And they were there in a JAFFA. 

When they were there they found the TRIO, Joseph, Mary and Jesus, who was lying in a manger. It was not at all a NICE place; smelly and dirty – not really a fit place for a maternity ward. They were however UNITED in their wonder, they REVELled at the thought that this child was special. Could this be just as the prophets had foretold – was this the LION of Judah? It was getting late, AFTER EIGHT, in fact – so the shepherds returned to the hills – huffing and PUFFIN and singing praise to God as they went.

Meanwhile in a far country, some SMARTIES, wise men were busily scanning the GALAXY, when they saw a STARBURST near the MILKY WAY. Was it MARS? No it was a special STAR – signalling the birth of a King. They travelled long and hard over TOBLERONE mountains and reached Herod’s Palace – they were not embarrassed to HOBNOB with royalty.

Herod was very interested – “A King has been born?” – He didn’t believe them and called theM ALL TEASERS, but just to make sure – he tried to FUDGE the issue by saying that he wanted to go and worship the baby – and told the wise men to report to him on their way back.  Herod was extremely dangerous to know, not the type of person who would give you his last ROLO or share his CHOCOLATE ORANGE.  The wise men travelled until the found Jesus and they brought out their KINGTSIZE gifts, no TWIX, just BOUNTY: GOLD, frankincense, and Myrrh.  Then God warned them in a dream that Herod was up to his TWIX again, seeking the child’s life. So they took the TIME OUT to return by another route.  Herod sat in his sumptuous palace, seething and plotting and grabbing handfuls of JELLY BABIES  and biting off their heads, a terrible sign of what was to come.

Now that’s the familiar story – the CLASSIC tale, told at Christmas. It has little to do with reindeer and FLAKES of snow and robins and a baby in a clean crib decorated with tinsel. The original story was not that NICE. Jesus was born a refugee, he was a threat, a danger – don’t miss the meaning.

Jesus was born so that ALLSORTS of people, RANDOMS might know God’s love for them. Many people are looking for meaning and purpose – some kind of REFRESHER in life – a BOOST in difficult times. The Christmas Story really is cause for CELEBRATION, Jesus is no MINATURE HERO!

But what a surprise! A mighty king born in a stable? With poor parents?  There were lots of different reactions to Jesus’ birth.

  • King Herod, the man who was king when he was born, tried to kill him.
  • Many Jews were disappointed and couldn’t believe that Jesus was the one promised long ago. They said, ‘What a letdown! A King? No way! A Saviour? You must be joking!’
  • Other people knew that God can work in surprising ways. They came to worship the newborn king.

Time for reflection

Today there are still lots of different reactions to Christmas.

Some people love it; others hate it.

Some people look forward to it; others worry about it.

Some people have too much to do; others sit at home alone.

Some people celebrate the birth of Jesus; others do not.

Prayer

Father God,

thank you for Christmas,

for all that we are looking forward to this year.

Help us to remember those who are not looking forward to Christmas.

Help us to be there for them.

Amen.

School Christingle Service

Christingle 2

This morning we helped to lead a Christingle Service for one of our local junior schools.  Here’s the text I used to explain about Christingles:

A Christingle is a symbolic object, consisting of:

  • an orange representing the world;
  • a red ribbon around it representing the love and blood of Jesus;
  • dolly mixtures, dried fruits or sweets skewered on cocktail sticks pushed into the orange, representing the fruits of the earth and the four seasons; and
  • a lit candle pushed into the centre of the orange, representing Jesus Christ as the light of the world.

The base of the candle is commonly wrapped in tinfoil. This is purely functional.

The Christingle has its origins in the Moravian Church, but the representation of the four seasons was a later addition.  At Christmas 1747 in Germany, Bishop Johannes de Watteville thought about how he could explain the love of Jesus and what Christmas really means to the children in the church.  He decided to make a simple symbol to express the message of Christmas in a fresh and lively way. Pastor Johannes de Watteville gave each child a lighted candle wrapped in a red ribbon, with a prayer that said “Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these dear children’s hearts”.

In 1968, John Pensom of The Children’s Society introduced Christingle services to the Church of England, where the custom spread quickly. It is celebrated sometime around Christmas.

The story of the Christingle is that there were three children, who were very poor, but wanted to give a gift to Jesus, like the other families at church were doing. The only nice thing they had was an orange, so they decided to give him that. The top was going slightly green, so the eldest cut it out and put a candle in the hole. They thought it looked dull, so the youngest girl took her best red ribbon from her hair and attached it round the middle with toothpicks. The middle child had the idea to put a few pieces of dried fruit on the ends of the sticks. They took it to the church for the Christmas service, and whereas the other children looked down on their inadequate gift, the priest took their gift and showed it as an example of true understanding of the meaning of Christmas.

This Christmas, take a moment to reflect on what you are giving this Christmas.

Blessing

May our lives and our prayers be like lights shining in dark places.

And may the blessing of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – fill our hearts and homes, with light this Christmas, and in the New Year to come.

Amen.

Assembly: Celebrating Christmas

We’ve just been back into the same infants school to do a whole school assembly on the theme of Celebrating Christmas:

Preparations

You will need Christmas music, a large box of sweets (preferably Celebrations) wrapped in layers of different paper (as below) with the newspaper as the inner layer and the Christmas paper on the outside:

  • 1st layer: Christmas paper
  • 2nd layer: birthday paper
  • 3rd layer: new born baby paper
  • 4th layer: paper with stars on
  • 5th layer: brown paper
  • 6th layer: newspaper.

Assembly 
Read ‘Jesus Christmas Party’ by Nicholas Allan

Show the children the large present wrapped in Christmas paper and ask them to guess what it might be. Ask why the gift is wrapped in Christmas paper.

Choose some volunteers to play ‘Pass the Parcel’ with you. Play some Christmas music.

Each time the music stops the person holding the present takes off a layer of paper. Discuss what’s underneath and ask the children to suggest why that paper has been used. (Note: If you know the children well you might want to add forfeits between wrappers.)

The wrappers are as follows:

  • 1st layer: Christmas paper.
  • 2nd layer: birthday paper – Christmas is the birthday of Jesus.
  • 3rd layer: new born baby paper – Jesus was born as a baby at Christmas. Christians believe that God’s son was born as a human baby.
  • 4th layer: paper with stars on. A star led people to the place where Jesus was born.
  • 5th layer: brown paper – Jesus was born into a very poor family, in a stable.
  • 6th layer: newspaper – the birth of Jesus is Good News for everyone.

Underneath the newspaper layer is a box of Celebrations, as a reminder that the birth of Jesus at Christmas is a reason for celebrating. Give the box of sweets as a gift for the children and staff, if there are enough for everyone present to have a sweet each. If not give one each to those who have helped you unwrap the present and say you’ll give the rest to some special people in school such as dinner staff or classroom assistants.

Assembly: Advent

This morning’s assembly was in a local infants school for Foundation Stage on the theme of Advent:

Aim: To introduce and explore the season of Advent.

Preparation and materials: Collect some different Advent calendars and candles. Scour the local shops/charity shops and catalogues. Try to get the following:

  • A ‘branded’ young child’s calendar, such as a Thomas the Tank Engine with chocolates type, i.e. one with no religious significance at all.
  • A traditional nativity scene calendar with pictures.
  • A calendar with another culture theme. Christian Aid usually produces one showing how different cultures celebrate the season.
  • A fabric or embroidered calendar. Ask around and you may be able to find a homemade one.
  • At least one Advent candle. Ideally try to get one of the ball type ones (each day has a small ball candle, and you pull them through to sit on the candlestick day by day), but any Advent candle will do.
  • Arrange the calendars and candles attractively, so the children can see them all.

Assembly

Ask the children what these things are. What are they for? Who’s got one at home? Ask them what sort they have. Many will only know the Thomas with chocolates type. Go through the different types, showing the children how they work. Ask individual children to open the doors on the calendars, and light the candle(s) if time allows, or light them yourself.

Explain that the calendars help us to wait, and expect. What are we waiting for? What happened on the first Christmas day?

SUM UP CHRISTMAS STORY

When we have special visitors, what do we do before they come? We clean up, and get ourselves ready. We think about the visitors and look forward to their arrival. This is the meaning of Advent – arrival. Advent is a time to prepare ourselves – to get ready. Some people like to have less to eat during Advent, so that when Christmas comes, they can really appreciate the food and the fun. Who are we getting ready for? Who are we expecting to arrive?

Ask the children to think to themselves, in a time of quiet, about what they would put behind the windows of an Advent calendar.  What would they choose to represent this special time of year? Ask for suggestions. Choose about five of the most appropriate to be written up/drawn on flipchart/white board.

Some ideas for Advent still pictures: buying presents for family and friends (child and shop assistant); lighting a candle; opening a door on the Advent calendar. But, of course, be ready for more idiosyncratic ideas from the children.

Time for reflection

Look at the candle(s), and think about being ready for Christmas – the birthday of Jesus and a time of celebration and fun.

Think of all the preparations that will be made at home: the food, the tree, and the presents. How can you help to make Advent a really good time at home?

Think of everything special that happens at school at this time of year. How can you help to make Advent a really good time at school?

Bible Society Response to RE in Schools survey

Recently The Daily Telegraph reported on a survey by Oxford University about the teaching of RE in schools.  The paper says researchers at the University say the presentation of Christianity can be

‘incoherent, lacking in intellectual development or too stereotypical.’

The University is launching a new project aimed at supporting teachers with online materials. It’s also carried out a poll that found widespread support for the teaching of Christianity as part of Religious Education.  Read more about the survey from Oxford University.

The Bible Society has responded saying:

 

Education specialist, Ann Holt, former goverment adviser and teacher says, ‘We now have a generation of teachers whose knowledge of Christianity is very thin at best and often non-existent. Most primary school teachers are non-specialists. It’s largely an issue of training. It hardly features in the general training of primary school teachers and that’s got worse with the emphasis on literacy and numeracy.’

This is why Bible Society has invested in crossref-it a one-stop resource providing high quality, easy-to-use resources for AS and A-Level students. It’s proving hugely popular with 368,000 visits recorded in the last six months.

Ann Holt says, ‘Teachers are resource led and so good resources like cross ref-it are crucial. And that’s why we have also produced educational materials around last year’s BBC Nativity and the BBC Passion and The Miracles of Jesus.

The YouGov poll for Oxford University questioned 1,832 adults in England. It found 64% agreed that children need to learn about Christianity in order to understand English history.