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The Church's Year begins with Advent which is the Sunday nearest to St Andrew's Day (November 30th). This gives four Sundays before Christmas Day. (In The Alternative Service Book the calendar begins with the Fifth Sundaybefore Advent.)
"Advent" comes from the Latin for "coming"; it is a time for preparing for the birth of Jesus and the promise of "peace on earth, goodwill toward men". Traditionally it is celebrated by making Advent calendars and Advent rings or wreaths. The Advent ring has four red candles and one white. On each Sunday in Advent a red candle is lit; the white candle is for Christmas Day itself. Traditionally, the four red candles stand for the prophets, John the Baptist, Mary and all God's people.
The Prophets During Advent many Bible readings in church services come from passages in Old Testament prophecy which foretell the coming of the Messiah, notably from the book of Isaiah. The Messiah ("Christ" in Greek) is the "anointed one" both kings and priests were anointed and the Messiah has this dual role. By the time of Jesus it was expected that the Messiah would be sent by God as a great warrior to defeat the Romans occupying Palestine, but Christians look to prophecies . such as Isaiah clip.' 11 or chp 53 to give a different picture of the Messiah and one which is believed to be fulfilled in Jesus. Note; the Sunday next before Advent is still called by some !'Stir-up Sunday" because the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer begins "Stir up we beseech Thee, 0 Lord..." and this is commonly taken to be the traditional day to stir up Christmas cakes and puddings!
John the Baptist John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus and is sometimes called the last of the prophets. His message to the crowds who flocked to hear him when he preached in the wilderness was that time was running out, they should examine their lives and repent of their evil doing. He baptised them in water in token of this fresh start. John is remembered at this time because he brings attention to the meaning of Jesus' coming and reminds Christians of the need to prepare properly for Christmas.
Mary The Annunciation, or Gabriel's visit to Mary, is remembered on the third Sunday in Advent. Mary is . shown as someone who trusted God implicitly, even although bearing an illegitimate child would bring her into great personal danger (she could have been stoned to death for this "sin").
All God's People In Advent Christians are looking forward to the coming of Christ not just as a baby but in the glory of the Second Coming when God's kingdom will be truly established beyond space and time. This is a time to put Jesus'. teachings into practice and acknowledge Him as ruler of their lives.
Ways of celebrating Advent
An Advent Calendar is a popular feature of Christmas preparations, although commercial calendars are, in effect, "December Calendars". For classrooms with a large amount of display space it is possible to create a 3D calendar by making models of the town of Bethlehem out of white boxes with a suitable starlit backdrop (one house for each school day in Advent). Each house opens up to show a figure from a crib set (bought or school-made) and gradually the nativity scene is built up over the last days of term. As each figure emerges it can,- in turn, become thefocus of creative discussion or written work.
Instead of encouraging your class to make an advent calendar with pictures behind the doors you could make an activity calendar with a task to be done for each day. This could be a calendar for the class as a whole with a selection of RE or creative lesson ideas, or pupils could make individual calendars for each other. Examples of possible tasks, clearly linked to the Christmas story, are shown on photocopiable page 185 in the resources section of these guidelines.
The Christian Church uses many symbolic sources of light during Advent; the Advent wreath or ring, the star on the Christmas tree, the customs surrounding St Lucy 's Day, Christingles and Advent candles. The story of any one of these helps provide a
You may like to begin this work with a stilling or relaxing exercise with the class seated around a single candle.
We often use words connected with light to describe people. How many of these can the class suggest? (beamed with pleasure, stars in their eyes, they felt dim, she was a shining example, he was a leading light ....) The Jews used the same kind of imagery to talk about God (Isaiah chp 60 vss 1-3, 19, Exodus chp 33 vss 18-23) because God is like a dazzling light shining upon everyone. John's Gospel speaks of Jesus in the same way (chp 8 vs 12), especially in the famous Prologue which is usually read in Festivals of Nine Lessons and Carols (John chp 1 vss 1-9). These passages may be too complex to read with your pupils; instead you may brainstorm the benefits light brings and how Christians use these same ideas when they speak of Jesus as the "Light of the World" (driving away darkness/fear/evil, showing the way, comforting, bringing insight). You could look at a miracle story or one where Jesus is changing someone's life by acting like light (eg Zacchaeus Luke chp 19 vss 1-9).
The class could create a display showing what they feel a "person of light" should be and behave like.
St Nicholas' Day
In the Middle Ages Cathedral choristers used to elect a boy bishop on St Nicholas' Day, 6th December. The new bishop and his fellows took theplace of the adults in the community for that day, celebrating all the services except the Mass. It is an idea which has been revived in some areas of the country since the Reformation. RE work in the classroom could include the story of St Nicholas ( and how he evolved into Santa Claus), the job of a bishop and the symbolism of vestments. The topic could culminate in an act of collective worship structured to reflect the boy bishop ceremonies: the bishop and his party enter the hall during the singing of a christmas carol. The Magnificat is explained and read by the headteacher (Luke chp 1 vss 46-55) and at vs 52 "He has put down the mighty from their seats" bishop and headteacher change places. The bishop may then conclude the collective worship by reading prayers, or even delivering a "sermon" on Christmas written by the class!
Ely Cathedral actually had a boy bishop in Medieval times but has unfortunately not revived the custom!
The Jesse Tree
The Jesse Tree is a medieval concept based on Isaiah chp 11 vs 1 "A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, a new shoot will grow from his roots." In a sense this is the original "family tree", as it is a way of tracing Jesus' ancestry back to Jesse, the father of King David. Two versions of the genealogy of Jesus may be found in the gospels (Matthew chp 1 vss 1-17, Luke chp 3 vss 23-38). It is probably more useful to think in terms of using the Jesse Tree to recall Old Testament stories the children have heard. Using an actual tree limb as the base, symbols can be added to the tree by the children. Examples could include Noah's Ark, Joseph's coat of many colours, Moses' tablets of the law and the star of David. The completed tree could be a focus for RE work in the classroom or its use extended into collective worship.