After a relaxing thanksgiving with family in Newton, and a great trip to visit friends in Lawrence, Sunday morning came too soon. First Sunday of Advent meant first Sunday of the winter quarter meant first Sunday that I’m teaching primary Sunday school.
6:30 a.m. and I’m on the couch cracking the teacher’s book for the first time. Anne Marie snuggles up to me. “What is our lesson about this morning, Mom?” I actually have no idea. “Let me look.”
“Mom, are you looking? What are we doing in Sunday School?”
I read through the lesson. It’s a new format due to the new Mennonite curriculum called Shine. It’s wonderful, but takes some getting used to. Posters here. Printables online. Student sheets in a packet there. Wooden story figures where? Advent wreath? Snack?
“Oh and mom? There’s a game that our teachers play, and we all really like it. They get one pack of Skittles – it goes a long way – and hand us one or two if we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Yeah, the Skittles aren’t happening.
In the kitchen, Nate sees the smoke curling out of my ears and asks, “Is the snack putting you over the edge?”
“No, it’s just that there are 13 or 14 tasks to put together here. Too much preparation!” I grumble.
At church, Anne Marie, (my consultant,) and I head down to the Sunday school room for the first time. It’s cute; covered in 70's Thanksgiving photos. I had told the old teacher to leave them up, but it’s Advent, and these definitely have to go. My helper is doing good work, but time is flying and we rush upstairs to cover in the nursery for another family and find a friend an Ibuprofen. Anne Marie plays with the baby. I sort posters.
Unexpectedly the nursery duty family walks in. Anne Marie excuses herself to go sit with friends. I wander out to the lobby. Pastor Tonya’s sermon has already started. I decide not to walk in to the service half-way through and head downstairs to the basement. I take down “Becoming God’s People” and put up “Journeys with Jesus.” I feel better.
In the storage room, I rummage around and find a 50's manger scene and royal blue felt. I bring them back and set up the crèche in the worship corner. The felt goes back to the storage room. The dark green satin cloth that worked for fall will work for Advent too.
As I walk around the church basement, I notice things. The coffee is brewed and waiting patiently on the counter – caf and decaf. The powdered cream, sugar, Sweet ‘n’ Low, and Stevia. The new Japanese hot water dispenser and two types of fair trade tea. The creamy hot chocolate for the kids swirls periodically. Two cups lie ready for the first eager hands to press the dispenser. Now quiet and dark, the kitchen rests, prepared.
The seating area has been transformed for an adult Advent class. An Advent verse hangs above the screen. A fake green Advent wreath nestles in beside the projector. Oh yes, I still need one of those.
Outside the restroom, a ping-pong tournament bracket scribed by a child hangs ready and waiting. The prayer room across the way has a corner lamp lit and the table decorated nicely, inviting me inside. I walk through the quiet basement. Prepare ye the way.
In the company of these offerings, my "13 or 14 preparation tasks" seem like fitting gifts to the Christ child. Plus, I only have a few left.
I take four humble tea lights out of my church bag that I found in the sex drawer beside my bed. These four in a line will do just fine as our Advent wreath.
I start the music on the CD player, “Jesus brings us hope.” He does. He does. I sketch a rough list, my order of operations, which will mean the difference between confidence and disorganization this first time out.
The children come in with smooth hot chocolate. They trace and cut out their attendance hands. They tell me who is here today and who is not. They ask if I’ll keep reading the story that the last teacher started. Yes.
We pass around a mystery box. We build a crooked road out of blocks and walk it while praying, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The kids that aren’t walking kneel down along the path and carefully fix the road. Their humble attention to the job of preparing and repairing the road is as prayerful as the words we keep repeating. “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
Head to the worship center. We light our first candle. We tell the story from the new Shine Bible. We straighten the road (my scarf.) We make low the mountains (the blocks, again, love them.) We imagine a shepherd carrying a lamb. We wonder how God never grows tired. We think of comforting words we could share with others.
Back to the table. The mystery box turns out to be a care package. Granola bars, mittens, and band-aids. Why are there Kleenex here? To wipe your nose, they reply. I reference Gilead by Marilynne Robinson where Reverend Ames recalls how God will wipe away all the tears from our faces and that is exactly what will be required. The children stare at me innocently.
While I cut apples and read to them, they munch on snacks and draw pictures of themselves giving comforting words like “You’re a great friend,” and “I hope you’re feeling better.”
Too soon, it is time to leave, and we sing a song of peace and I bless them, word for word right out of the teacher's book, but with no less emotion and good intention.
We clean up, gather up, and I watch my lambs fly off.
Comfort, O comfort my people.
In the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The valleys shall be lifted up.
The mountains and hills made low.
Then the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed.
And all people shall see it together
Here is your God.
Prepare the Way.