We had great fun yesterday at our Worship for All service on the theme of HOPE.
We began by lighting our Advent Ring.
"We light 1, 2, 3, 4 candles on our ring, one for each Sunday in Advent" I said, "when do you think we light the fifth candle in the middle?"
"ON MY BIRTHDAY!!" shouted an enthusiastic 4, almost 5-year-old in the congregation.
It set a great tone for the service.
After singing "Jesus hope of the nations", we blew bubbles and talked about how people often misunderstood the difference between hopes and wishes. Wishes are fragile, they may be beautiful but they have no substance and they often don't last long.
However, Hope, especially the Christian hope is something completely different.
I asked the question "is hope something to do with the future or with the past?" Most people said it was to do with the future except for one contrary child who was perhaps banking on me surprising everyone.
When I said that Hope did, in fact, have a lot to do with the past he whooped with joy. "I was right!"
Hope, which we represented by our Gold letter H, was in fact something solid and much stronger than a simple wishing for the best BECAUSE it was linked inextricably to something that had ALREADY happened.
Our hope for the future rests on the fact that Jesus came as Immanuel, God with us, an undisputed fact of history. We are not alone, therefore we have hope. This hope is like an anchor, it fixes us to something solid and unchanging. Mid sermon, a perceptive three-year-old pointed out that if I was talking about anchors I needed a boat. "Yes", I said "in fact my life is like the boat I bob up and down with the highs and lows of everyday life but I do have an anchor which holds me steady".
The children's choir sang "if you're hoping and you know it clap your hands, stamp your feet, say Amen." And the platform just about survived all the stamping and clapping!
Finally we came to our prayers: using the four letters of the word HOPE, we split into groups taking a letter each and coming up with things to pray for. Amongst many worthy items and individuals, the four people asked to pray did manage to pray for hamsters, orangutans and elephants! Everyone in the congregation also took a letter H and wrote on it their hopes as a form of prayer. As they came up and laid them on our display of hope, they received a hope magazine in return.
The children also made beautiful messages of hope, for a little four-year-old girl in the Philippines called Trinity. An organisation called Open Doors had made me aware of her story. She had been badly burned in a sectarian attack against Christians. Without going into too much detail with our own small children, we wrote messages of love and hope to send to her, see the picture below.
We can all have hope, and we can all offer hope.