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Fourth Advent

Story and Text:  The Birth of Jesus—and the Announcement to the Shepherds! (Luke 2:1-7;  8-20)

Big Idea:              Jesus was really born. This is not a fairy tale!  His birth changed the whole world!

                It’s really hard to separate fact and fiction as a child. I just had a conversation with one mother who worried about whether pretending about Santa Claus might bleed over into her children thinking she was “pretending” about Jesus.  I don’t really share her fear, but I do appreciate her sensitivity to the problem that many adults have of truly believing that Jesus was/is real!

Activities:

  1.  Go to the maternity ward of a local hospital during hours when newborns can be viewed. Try to pick out the one that looks like Baby Jesus. Of course, it would be a boy, not a girl. Would he be dark-skinned, pink, big, small, hair or hairless? It’s just a game, but Jesus did look just like one of these babies.  If you can’t go to the hospital, then look at pictures of newborns on the computer.
  2. There was no room at the hotels. So where would you stay if you traveled to a new city and could not stay at a hotel?  With a relative? But what if you knew no one?  The only place you were offered was . . . . someone’s barn, or their garage . . . .or a basement . What if your house was the last hotel that Mary and Joseph came to and all the beds and couches were taken. Where would you put them?  You might want to go out to the garage and look for a place to make a bed.  No lights, just a candle.
  3. What do shepherds do at night while the sheep are sleeping? Some of them sleep while others watch the sheep!  Turn out all of the lights in your kid’s room and let them watch the sheep. SUDDENLY a bright light appears! LOUD MUSIC starts with angels singing!  Do you get the picture?  Can you recreate that moment? No wonder the angels had to tell them not to be afraid!
  4. Where would you look for Baby Jesus if the angels told you to go to Bethlehem to find him? (Could draw a maze!) The hospital?  The church building? What clues did the angels give the shepherds?  What if someone rang your doorbell in the middle of the night, looking for a new baby, what would you think?  Where would they look at your house?  Would they ever think to look in the garage??
  5. After the shepherds left, they couldn’t stop talking about what had happened to them and the baby they had seen!  Why didn’t they keep it a secret—just for themselves??  Is this the same reason we keep talking about Jesus?
  6. What would be different in the world if Jesus had never been born?  If you have watched It’s A Wonderful Life with your kids, then you can refer to what Bedford Falls would have been if George Bailey had never been born. But even without the movie, you can talk about this and see what the kids come up with.

I do hope these small ideas have helped stimulate your own creativity in talking with your children about the birth of Jesus.  I know you realize that your young kids are taking in everything you do and say, so the biggest activity of all in preparing your kids is to show them that Jesus means everything to you! The moments they hear you talking about Jesus, or doing for others in Jesus’ name, or remembering to thank God for Jesus when you pray instead of just asking for things . . . when they observe that you really love Jesus, even when they don’t fully understand what all of this means, they are being given the best gifts you have to give them, all you really want for them to learn from you!

You are the star that guides them, you are the announcement of His birth, you are the messenger that God has chosen who blesses your children with the Good News that the Savior has come into the world and dwelt among us!

Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.

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O Little Town of Bethlehem

It’s early Sunday morning—the third Advent Sunday—so you are just in time to start preparing your kids for Christmas if you haven’t started yet.  And if you have been following our plan, then you are ready for the final week before Christmas. Either way, it’s a beautiful Sunday morning and you have lots of opportunity left to prepare your kids for celebrating Jesus in Christmas!

If you were not aware of them, go back and look at the previous suggestions and you may find some that work for you this week.  You may also find some good music to introduce to the kids this week.  Look in the right sidebar called Categories under Advent.  You may also find some good texts and ideas from last year’s Advent series as well.

Story and Text:  Luke 2:1-6

Big Idea:              Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, not knowing much—but obediently.

Such a short text for such a wonderful story.  The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem is 90 miles by car today, which is just an hour and a half, but by donkey (maybe) when you are nine months pregnant, it is longer and harder.  And they probably did not go straight through Samaria because good Jews did not do that. They crossed the Jordan to the east and went down the east side of the Jordan until they had bypassed Samaria and came to Judea. Then they crossed the Jordan again and would have gone by Jericho and near Jerusalem on their way to Bethlehem.

I’m sure it took them at least a week to travel—which is perfect for preparing your children!

Activities

  • Find or make a map of Israel and trace their journey each day until you arrive on Christmas Eve.  Trace about 20 miles each day and you will see where they were.  Look on a historical map of Israel so that you can identify the historical sites that Mary and Joseph would have passed, especially the Jordan River and Mount Nebo. They would have been able to see many other mountains, valleys, and places where Old Testament events happened. That’s a good research project for older kids—and parents as well!
  • Find a picture of a woman who is nine months pregnant and talk about how hard it is to walk. You might even put a pillow or something under your child’s shirt and let them see how hard it is to walk and bend, etc.
  • What things would they have needed to take on their journey?  Food and water! It would be like a picnic to eat as they traveled. Maybe you could do a picnic—indoor if you are not in southern California!
  • Where did they sleep as they traveled?  Maybe outside, but maybe at stranger’s house. Maybe your kids could sleep in a different room in sleeping bags on the floor as if it were a guest house along the way.
  • What do you think Joseph and Mary talked about as they traveled?  Make a list of things and talk about them with your kids.  Do you think they talked about what the angel told Mary?  Or what Joseph saw in his dream from God?  Do you think they talked about the Messiah and what they had always been taught he would be like.  Do you remember what you and your spouse talked about before your first child was born?

Music

If O Little Town of Bethlehem is not part of your Christmas repertoire, let me encourage you to add it. It’s a little harder to sing, but has beautiful words.

-Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is a beautiful piece of classical music for Christmas–a Bach composition with words added later. You will find beautiful instrumental versions—especially the one by George Winston, but also sung by many artists, including Josh Groban, Sarah Brightman, and The Beach Boys.

Watch on Thursday for the last Advent preparations before Christmas Day!

 

(Reposted from 2012)

How did that first Advent week go with your children?  Did you ask them the questions I suggested to see what their framework for Christmas looks like?  I’m very interested in their answers. Please share them with us all. Use the “Comments” section to tell us what your child/children said.

For the second Advent week, we want to focus on the angel telling Mary that she is going to have a baby and on the story of the three wise men.

Text:      Luke 1:26-38

Big Idea:              Nine months before Christmas Day, God told Mary she was going to have a baby boy. Jesus was born like every other baby—fully human—but the Son of God.

Activities:

  1. You have to read the story to your children, but read it from The Message or a Children’s Bible—but not a story book.  Then use these conversation starters to talk about it at the appropriately level with your child.
    1. Why do you think God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus?
    2. Who was going to be the father?  (You don’t have to get into sexual questions here—unless you need to—but it is important for kids to learn that God is the Father of Jesus, not Joseph.
    3. Why do you think Mary was a little afraid of the angel Gabriel?  Would you be afraid?
    4. How do you think Mary felt when she found out she was going to be the mother of Jesus?
    5. How long was she going to be pregnant?  Do you think she could talk to people about what had happened to her?
    6. You might visit with a woman that you know who is pregnant, if your child has not really experienced this with you.
    7. Look at the calendar to see how long Mary had to wait for Christmas Day.
    8. You might make a 9-day calendar, representing the 9 months and use it as a mini-advent calendar, especially if your child is interested in Mary.  Each day you could do something that Mary might have done to get ready for her new baby: make diapers, find baby toys, a blanket for the baby, etc.

You can also include the story of the three wise men from the East

Text:      Matthew 2:1-12

Big Idea:  The birth of Jesus was for the whole world!

Activities:

  1. Look at a globe or map and figure out how far it is from Babylon to Bethlehem. Then figure out how long it might take them to make this journey if they were riding camels.
  2. You might go to the zoo and look at the camels. Talk about how you would ride one and how they would carry their gifts on the camels. If you don’t go to the zoo, then search the internet together to find great pictures and information about camels?
  3. Talk about the star that the wise men followed. Go look at the stars! Are any of them moving? What if you saw one that was moving! What would you do?  Why did these men follow the star so far? What did they believe?

—You might make a series of stars, graduating the size of the stars from small to large, one for each day until Christmas. Then you could hang or stick them on the ceiling, starting from the farthest corner of your house, but with the largest one above your nativity scene on the night before Christmas, to create your own journey of the magi.

  1. Of course, you can gather golden coins (get the $1 coins from the bank), perfume, and spices and make little presents out of them, like the wise men did.
  2. With older kids, you can talk about whether the men were kings or not, you can talk about astrology, and you can acknowledge that they probably showed up much later than Christmas Day (Mary and Joseph are in a house, and King Herod has all babies under the age of 2 put to death!), but that’s not necessary for younger kids.
  3. Be sure and ask the question, “Why did God want these people from a foreign country to know about Baby Jesus?”  That will give you the opportunity to go back to John 3:16 – For God So Loved the World!

Both of these stories contain much more that is important and interesting for adults, but don’t be tempted to overuse them with children.  You can use the age-appropriate ideas and help them learn some of the most important truths ever revealed.

Music:

I have two recommendations for you:

Star Carol (by Hutson and Burt). It’s a modern carol, very simple, but beautiful. Simon and Garfunkel did a nice version, but one of the most elegantly simple renditions is sung by Anna Maria Alberghetti. Here is a link to Youtube if you would like to listen to it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPeG0fMqPvE .

Mary, Did You Know?  is another good, modern carol. There are lots of good versions, so search  ITunes or Youtube and pick the artist you like.

No Gift Compares is a beautiful carol written by my friend Gary Bruce. You can hear his performance of it at Oklahoma Christian a few days ago on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMBnoRVgzY4 . One of the early recordings on YouTube actually has the words to it.

I can’t wait to hear how it goes with your kids!

Next: For the Third Advent Week, we will focus on the Journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

 

(Reposted from 2012)

Day 40: Now . . . !

Day 40

Word: Jeremiah 16:19-21

19 Lord, you are my strength and fortress,
    my refuge in the day of trouble!
Nations from around the world
    will come to you and say,
“Our ancestors left us a foolish heritage,
    for they worshiped worthless idols.
20 Can people make their own gods?
    These are not real gods at all!”

21 The Lord says,
“Now I will show them my power;
    now I will show them my might.
At last they will know and understand
    that I am the Lord.

 

Prayer:  For forty days now, O God, we have listened to your words, we have heard your stories of kings and nations, and we have knelt in prayer for ourselves and our country.  We know now, O God, that you are King of All Nations. We know that all nations rise and fall at your word. We know that you call us to be just, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you through our brief moment in history. We do not want to be our own god; we do not trust each other or ourselves—but while we were once afraid and confused, now we are not because YOU are our strength and our fortress—our protection from the day of trouble.

Now, O King, we belong to your kingdom first before all others, but we also pray that you will show our nation your power and your might, so that we will know that YOU are LORD. May our nation join all the nations who will come to you and say, we have followed false and pathetic gods—but no more! 

And may tomorrow’s results be a reflection of your will for our country. Some of us will celebrate and some of us will cry, but we will not be afraid because YOU are our God, the King of All Nations. Amen

Word:   Lamentations 3:17-42(NLT)

17 Peace has been stripped away,
    and I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 I cry out, “My splendor is gone!
    Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”

19 The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.[a]
20 I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![b]
    His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

25 The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.
26 So it is good to wait quietly
    for salvation from the Lord.
27 And it is good for people to submit at an early age
    to the yoke of his discipline:

28 Let them sit alone in silence
    beneath the Lord’s demands.
29 Let them lie face down in the dust,
    for there may be hope at last.
30 Let them turn the other cheek to those who strike them
    and accept the insults of their enemies.

31 For no one is abandoned
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion
    because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
33 For he does not enjoy hurting people
    or causing them sorrow.

34 If people crush underfoot
    all the prisoners of the land,
35 if they deprive others of their rights
    in defiance of the Most High,
36 if they twist justice in the courts—
    doesn’t the Lord see all these things?

37 Who can command things to happen
    without the Lord’s permission?
38 Does not the Most High
    send both calamity and good?
39 Then why should we, mere humans, complain
    when we are punished for our sins?

40 Instead, let us test and examine our ways.
    Let us turn back to the Lord.
41 Let us lift our hearts and hands
    to God in heaven and say,
42 “We have sinned and rebelled,
    and you have not forgiven us

 

Is this election going to fix everything?  Or ruin everything? Are you afraid? Are you confused by so much noise?  Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!  If this is you, then this word from the King of All Nations is for you!

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

You will wake up the morning after the election to fresh mercies. That is why we continue to live in hope. The King of All Nations is still King.  And if you don’t believe that, then let us test and examine our ways: Let us turn back to the Lord.41 Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven and say,42 “We have sinned and rebelled, and you have not forgiven us—and He will!

Prayer: Every morning of our lives, every morning of our history, we have awakened to your mercies afresh. Too often—perhaps most days–we have not noticed. Our rebellion has blinded us to your goodness. Today we lift our hearts and hands to You, and we believe you are willing and eager to forgive. Through all the political noise, we hear you, our Lord and our God, so we have hope.  Amen

Word:  Ezekiel 18:19-32(abridged)(NLT)

19 “‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. 20 The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. 21 But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. 22 All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done.

23 “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live24 However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not! All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins.

25 “Yet you say, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!’ Listen to me: Am I the one not doing what’s right, or is it you? 26 When righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things, they will die for it. Yes, they will die because of their sinful deeds. 27 And if wicked people turn from their wickedness, obey the law, and do what is just and right, they will save their lives. 28 They will live because they thought it over and decided to turn from their sins. Such people will not die. 29 And yet the people … keep saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!’ O people…, it is you who are not doing what’s right, not I.

30 “Therefore, I will judge each of you . . . according to your actions, says the Sovereign Lord. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! 31 Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die. . . ?32 I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!

The King of All Nations has been portrayed too often as the hanging judge. Off with their heads!! Not true, says the King himself.  Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? . . . I don’t want you to die. And yet one of the main reasons for disloyalty to the King of All Nations is a misguided sense of fairness.  If the inevitable consequences of Sin come down upon us, we cry foul. If innocent people suffer because of the Sin of others, we are incensed. If the good die young, we feel cheated and robbed. Is the King of All Nations on our side—or theirs?

The King has not brought evil to our country and our lives; we have with our own sinfulness.

What can we do?  Repent, and turn from your sins. . . . Put rebellion behind you. . . .find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. . . . Turn back and live!

Prayer:  Forgive us, O God, for believing that our suffering and our losses are because you are evil. We as a people have rebelled, so we suffer hardship and die because of our own sin. You have shown us how to avoid judgment, how to live, but we would rather do what we want to do and blame you. Forgive our foolishness, O God. Give our nation a new heart and a new spirit. Amen

Day 37

Word:  1 Kings 22:1-28(abridged)(NLT)

22 For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. Then during the third year, King Jehoshaphat of Judah went to visit King Ahab of Israel. During the visit, the king of Israel said to his officials, “Do you realize that the town of Ramoth-gilead belongs to us? And yet we’ve done nothing to recapture it from the king of Aram!”

Then he turned to Jehoshaphat and asked, “Will you join me in battle to recover Ramoth-gilead?”

Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “Why, of course! You and I are as one. My troops are your troops, and my horses are your horses.”Then Jehoshaphat added, “But first let’s find out what the Lord says.”

So the king of Israel summoned the prophets, about 400 of them, and asked them, “Should I go to war against Ramoth-gilead, or should I hold back?”

They all replied, “Yes, go right ahead! The Lord will give the king victory.”

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not also a prophet of the Lord here? We should ask him the same question.”

The king of Israel replied to Jehoshaphat, “There is one more man who could consult the Lord for us, but I hate him. He never prophesies anything but trouble for me! His name is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

Jehoshaphat replied, “That’s not the way a king should talk! Let’s hear what he has to say.”

So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, “Quick! Bring Micaiah son of Imlah.”

10 King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah, dressed in their royal robes, were sitting on thrones at the threshing floor near the gate of Samaria. All of Ahab’s prophets were prophesying there in front of them. 11 One of them, Zedekiah son of Kenaanah, made some iron horns and proclaimed, “This is what the Lord says: With these horns you will gore the Arameans to death!”

12 All the other prophets agreed. “Yes,” they said, “go up to Ramoth-gilead and be victorious, for the Lord will give the king victory!”

13 Meanwhile, the messenger who went to get Micaiah said to him, “Look, all the prophets are promising victory for the king. Be sure that you agree with them and promise success.”

14 But Micaiah replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, I will say only what the Lord tells me to say.”

15 When Micaiah arrived before the king, Ahab asked him, “Micaiah, should we go to war against Ramoth-gilead, or should we hold back?”

Micaiah replied sarcastically, “Yes, go up and be victorious, for the Lordwill give the king victory!”

16 But the king replied sharply, “How many times must I demand that you speak only the truth to me when you speak for the Lord?”

17 Then Micaiah told him, “In a vision I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘Their master has been killed. Send them home in peace.’”

18 “Didn’t I tell you?” the king of Israel exclaimed to Jehoshaphat. “He never prophesies anything but trouble for me.”

19 Then Micaiah continued, “Listen to what the Lord says! I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left. 20 And the Lord said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead so he can be killed?’

“There were many suggestions, 21 and finally a spirit approached the Lord and said, ‘I can do it!’

22 “‘How will you do this?’ the Lord asked.

“And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all of Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’

“‘You will succeed,’ said the Lord. ‘Go ahead and do it.’

23 “So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all your prophets. For the Lord has pronounced your doom.”

24 Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah walked up to Micaiah and slapped him across the face. “Since when did the Spirit of the Lord leave me to speak to you?” he demanded.

25 And Micaiah replied, “You will find out soon enough when you are trying to hide in some secret room!”

26 “Arrest him!” the king of Israel ordered. “Take him back to Amon, the governor of the city, and to my son Joash. 27 Give them this order from the king: ‘Put this man in prison, and feed him nothing but bread and water until I return safely from the battle!’”

28 But Micaiah replied, “If you return safely, it will mean that the Lord has not spoken through me!” Then he added to those standing around, “Everyone mark my words!”

29 So King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah led their armies against Ramoth-gilead. 30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “As we go into battle, I will disguise myself so no one will recognize me, but you wear your royal robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself, and they went into battle.

31 Meanwhile, the king of Aram had issued these orders to his thirty-two chariot commanders: “Attack only the king of Israel. Don’t bother with anyone else!” 32 So when the Aramean chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat in his royal robes, they went after him. “There is the king of Israel!” they shouted. But when Jehoshaphat called out, 33 the chariot commanders realized he was not the king of Israel, and they stopped chasing him.

34 An Aramean soldier, however, randomly shot an arrow at the Israelite troops and hit the king of Israel between the joints of his armor. “Turn the horses and get me out of here!” Ahab groaned to the driver of his chariot. “I’m badly wounded!”

35 The battle raged all that day, and the king remained propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran down to the floor of his chariot, and as evening arrived he died. 36 Just as the sun was setting, the cry ran through his troops: “We’re done for! Run for your lives!”

37 So the king died, and his body was taken to Samaria and buried there.38 Then his chariot was washed beside the pool of Samaria, and dogs came and licked his blood at the place where the prostitutes bathed, just as the Lord had promised.

 

This wonderful text brilliantly reveals what happens with nations and national leaders who do not recognize that the King of All Nations is sovereign! 

First, two kings get together and decide what they need to do politically and militarily!  The king most loyal to God suggests it would be a nice thing to find out what the King of All Nations thinks.  The least loyal king says “why not” and calls all the people he knows who will tell him what he wants to hear—such a tell-tale sign of a bad leader!

The loyal king recognizes the poor quality of the intel just given, so he asks if there aren’t any real, honest-to-God prophets.  The disloyal king says, well, there is this one guy who never says anything positive—the most negative person I know.

They call the Truth-teller and he first plays their game, but they see through that, so he tells them not only the truth, but how the King of All Nations is orchestrating the whole event so that the disloyal king will believe the lie he wants to believe and be killed. The king will die and the mission will fail.

And so it happens!

Real leaders seek out truth.  Real leaders are willing to believe the truth even when it is bad news! Real leaders are willing to act according to the true facts set before them, not just the way they want the facts to be.

Real leaders know that the King of All Nations is in control and seek His Will and His guidance.

 

Prayer:  God of Heaven, we are so eager to do what we want to do. We are so eager to follow leaders who tell us what we want to hear.  Even as a nation we sometimes act on what we want to do and not on what the truth or true facts are.  Forgive our presumptuous hearts—as if our judgment is always right.  Lead us not into temptation! Do not just let us hear what we want to hear; rather, let us hear your Words.  Deliver us from evil.  It is your kingdom, your power, and your glory forever. Amen

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