This Sunday we begin our Advent journey with words of hope from the prophet Jeremiah to a people going through difficult and uncertain times. Tomorrow many churches will be exploring the theme of hope as they enter the new church year, so I have been thinking about the ways in which we can nurture this gift in the lives of children and their families. For me one of the many joys of working in Christian Education is the children’s willingness to enter into hope and hopeful possibilities. As a general rule children tend to be very positive about the world, even when they can recognize the problems. Hope is important to them and they believe that things can and will be changed.
To be sure children are vulnerable to worry at times, even if they are not able to articulate their fears. Beyond the usual anxieties of the dark and barking dogs, children will express worry about such things as war, pollution, or the possibility that their parents will divorce. Still most of them exhibit great trust in the world and the people around them. Their natural inclination is to trust and hope until they learn differently. We can learn so much from them.
Christian hope is grown and nurtured in the community of faith, the church. We can share the message that God continues to bring hope, even in the most desperate of circumstances. We can talk about our hopes for the world, and invite the children to do the same. Don’t worry if their first inclination is to tell you their Christmas wish list! It is perhaps a natural set of hopes at this time of year and can be a starting point for a lively discussion about God’s hopes. What would be on God’s wish list for the world? What can we do to help make some of God’s hopes come true? We can also provide opportunity for the children bring a message of hope to others this Advent. Children in this age group love to be part of helping projects and putting their faith into action helps bring hope to life.
As you prepare to enjoy your time with the children in the next four weeks, be aware that there may be some families who are living through uncertain and difficult times right now. How might you encourage and support them? How can you help children who are expressing fears or feelings? How can you bring hope? You can start by taking the time to listen to their words and affirm their feelings. Offer your support, as you are able. Don’t hesitate to talk to your priest if you have concerns about what you hear, or think that your church community can help in some practical way.
Meanwhile enjoy your time with the children this Advent. Listen to their hopes for the world. Learn from their natural optimism. Invite them to tell you about the things that give them hope. It could be that they, like Jeremiah, are offering words of prophetic encouragement to you and all God’s people.
I’d love to hear from you. What words of hope are you hearing from the children in your church? How are you nurturing these hopes?