Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on rethinkingyouthministry.com and is reprinted here with permission.
by Brian Kirk
Advent, those four weeks preceding Christmas, has its origins separate from the Yuletide season. In the fourth and fifth centuries, Advent was known as a six week preparation for the season of Epiphany, not Christmas. Like our modern observance of Lent today, Advent was observed as a time for new converts to prepare themselves for baptism, to learn the faith stories, and to examine their hearts. Though the focus of Advent is different for us today, the idea of Advent as a time of introspection remains. The prayer centers suggested below provide a way to open some space in the Advent season to allow your youth to be introspective, to reflect on the Christian story, and to consider their place within God’s mission.
Set up each center as a separate space within the room and ask the group to limit two or three people per center at a time. To help clear away distractions, perhaps play some quiet instrumental music for background, dim the lights, and fill the room with candlelight. Encourage your participants to experience the prayer centers in silence with no talking. One final note: resist the urge to set up all of these prayer stations at once. Too many centers can be overwhelming and will likely just encourage the youth to keep moving about the room from station to station with little focus. Keep it simple.
Set out a typical Nativity set with figurines from the Christmas narrative. Provide written instructions inviting youth to think about which character in the story they identify with most at this point in their lives: the expectant mom, the worried father, the scruffy shepherds, the travelling Magi, the angels coming to bring good news, the animals wondering at the spectacle happening in their stable. Provide paper doll cutouts and encourage youth to draw their likeness or name on one of the dolls and place it in the nativity scene as a way of symbolically entering the mystery of this story for the rest of the Advent season.
For this center, use a box wrapped like a gift with a slot in the top. Provide pens and small slips of paper and invite youth to write or draw those distractions in their lives right now that are keeping them from focusing on their faith. These distractions might include worries, stress related to school or family, relationship issues, or the everyday things like TV, video games, and the like. Encourage them to place their lists of distractions in the box as a gesture of letting go of some of those distractions during Advent so that they can focus on God.
Use this creative idea to create a iconic image made up of colored paper from Christmas catalog, newspaper, and magazine advertisements. Sort of like paint-by-the-numbers, draw out the image you want to use (perhaps the Christ child in the manger or an angel) and divide the image into sections like a stained glass window, indicating what colors of paper to include in each section. Youth then tear or cut out paper and glue it onto the image. As youth work, invite them to consider this subversive and prayerful act of turning the commercialism of this season into a spiritual work of art.
Paper Chain Prayers
Lay out strips of green and red construction paper, markers, and a stapler or tape. Invite youth to use the strips to write down the names of people, places, or causes they would like to lift up in prayer. Encourage them to then connect their strips as loops of the paper chain as a way of connecting their prayers together with those of the rest of the community.
Use a shepherd figurine or perhaps a toy lamb and a Bible opened to the story in Luke of the angels appearing to the shepherds. Remind youth of the line in Psalm 23 that reads “The Lord is my shepherd” and the many times Jesus is described as a shepherd to his flock. Ask: As we prepare again for the birth of the shepherd who comes to lead us closer to God, consider who the shepherds are in your life. Who has helped you know and experience God’s love and compassion? Provide a large sheet of paper and markers where youth can write down names as a prayer of thanks for these individuals.
Hope, Peace, Joy, Love
This center is composed of votive candles and a lighter. Remind participants that each Sunday in Advent we focus on one of these theme words as reminder of the gifts Christ will bring to the world. Invite youth to light a candle and as they do, ponder which of those elements–Hope, Peace, Joy, Love–they most need in their lives right now. Which do they feel they are most called by God to share with others in their lives right now?
Put together a PowerPoint presentation of images of the nativity story in art throughout history. Set the images to loop and provide comfortable chairs so that youth can simply sit and meditate on the pictures.
Using sticky pad notes and a large sheet of paper on a wall, invite youth to write and post their answers to the question: “What are you waiting for this Advent season?” Hang another sheet of paper next to this with the related question: “What do you think God is waiting for this Advent season?”
Letters to God
Set out paper and pens, as well as images of Santa and a cross. Invite youth to think back to the time when they were younger and wrote letters to Santa. What did they ask for? Next, invite them to write a letter to God, sharing their hopes and fears, their joys and their sorrows. They should then seal the letters in an envelope and place them at the foot of the cross.
Display this amazing image of Mary, a copy of Luke 1: 26-38, and some children’s books that show more traditional images of Mary. Invite youth to take some time to think about the words that accompany the image. Ask: When have you experienced these feelings? What might Mary have been feeling knowing she was to bring the light of God into the world. What about you? Jesus says WE are the light of the world. How does that make you feel? How are you called to be a light to the world right now?