The fourth Sunday before Christmas marks the start of the Christian season of Advent.
Outline script for assembly leader
In shopping centres, it's already Christmas. Elsewhere the season of Christmas parties, cards and carols is about to begin. But for Christians, Christmas doesn't really begin till Christmas Eve - and then it lasts for the 12 days after Christmas.
For them, the four weeks before Christmas is Advent. The word Advent comes from Latin and means "coming" or "arrival" - so Advent is a time of waiting or preparation for the coming of Jesus to earth on Christmas Day. It's a serious time for Christians: a time to think of what's wrong with their lives and how they can do better. In olden times, there was no music (certainly no carols) and no weddings during Advent. People were told to think about "the Four Last Things": heaven, hell, death and judgment. This was because Advent is also a time for remembering the promise of Jesus that he will come to earth a second time.
Since the middle of the 19th century, people have made Advent calendars.
Usually these show the 24 days from December 1 till Christmas Eve. Later, people started making calendars with windows that opened, showing pictures or words from the Bible. The first calendar containing a chocolate for each day was made in 1958.
Other customs include counting the days of Advent by making chalk marks on a door frame and making Advent wreaths. The circular base is covered with holy and ivy, into which are secured four red or purple candles. One candle is lit on Advent Sunday, two the following Sunday and so on. In the centre is a larger white candle (lit on Christmas Day) representing "Jesus the Light of the World".
Discuss what is good and bad about the commercialisation of Christmas. What makes a "good" Christmas present?
Plan an Advent fund-raising activity for a Christmas charity.
Make an Advent calendar in which each window contains a hope or prayer for the coming year - or, more traditionally, a picture showing part of the Christmas story.