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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)

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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)

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The northern nation of Israel was defeated by Assyria and all of the citizens were carried away and forced to live in other countries. Foreign people were then brought into the land and settled in their homes. The destruction was so complete that people still talk about the “lost tribes” of Israel when referring to this nation. This unusual passage is the explanation of Scripture itself.

 

Word:  2 Kings 17

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God…. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations … .as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. They built pagan shrines for themselves in all their towns, from the smallest outpost to the largest walled city. 10 They set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles at the top of every hill and under every green tree. 11 They offered sacrifices on all the hilltops, just like the nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them. So the people of Israel had done many evil things, arousing the Lord’s anger. 12 Yes, they worshiped idols, despite the Lord’s specific and repeated warnings.

13 Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”

14 But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the Lord their God. 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and they despised all his warnings. They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves. They followed the example of the nations around them, disobeying the Lord’s command not to imitate them.

16 They rejected all the commands of the Lord their God and made two calves from metal. They set up an Asherah pole and worshiped Baal and all the forces of heaven. 17 They even sacrificed their own sons and daughters in the fire. They consulted fortune-tellers and practiced sorcery and sold themselves to evil, arousing the Lord’s anger.

18 Because the Lord was very angry with Israel, he swept them away from his presence.

As a nation, they completely forgot!  They forgot Moses and Joshua. They forgot Samuel and David. They forgot Sinai, and they forgot Jericho.  And they had filled the place of those things forgotten with what they saw around them.

They saw big, wealthy nations who worshipped “all the forces of heaven”—nature, science, material things!  They saw powerful nations who sacrificed their sons and daughters—seeking success, control, prestige!  They turned to the occult, giving preference to karma and zen and crystals and auras.  They practiced sorcery—deception, calling things true that are false, and calling false things true!

And they sold themselves to evil—were addicted to it, enslaved by it, and profited from it. These were the worthless idols and sinful practices that brought the nation to a place where the King of All Nations could not tolerate them any longer. He swept them away from his presence.

What should we as a nation do so that we do not forget what the King of All Nations has done for us?  What do those of us do who remember?

 

Prayer:  Lord, what have we forgotten?  Restore our memory of all that you have done for us. Restore our memory of all the words your prophets and priests have spoken to us for you.  Do not let us be deceived by what we see around us, by nations who believe in wealth or raw power or revenge or other gods.  Help us to recognize evil, Father, and deliver us from it.  Do not sweep us away, but continue to show us mercy until we remember!  AMEN.

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King Solomon’s wisdom made him world renown, but unfortunately, his son and successor Rehoboam did not inherit his father’s gift.

Words:  1 Kings 12:1-20 (abridged)(NLT)              

Rehoboam went to Shechem, where all Israel had gathered to make him king. The leaders of Israel summoned him, and Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel went to speak with Rehoboam. “Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.”

Rehoboam replied, “Give me three days to think this over. Then come back for my answer.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father, Solomon. “What is your advice?” he asked. “How should I answer these people?”

The older counselors replied, “If you are willing to be a servant to these people today and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects.”

But Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers. “What is your advice?” he asked them. “How should I answer these people who want me to lighten the burdens imposed by my father?”

10 The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! 11 Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’”

12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to hear Rehoboam’s decision, just as the king had ordered. 13 But Rehoboam spoke harshly to the people, for he rejected the advice of the older counselors 14 and followed the counsel of his younger advisers. He told the people, “My father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!”

15 So the king paid no attention to the people. This turn of events was the will of the Lord, for it fulfilled the Lord’s message to Jeroboam . . . .

 

To whom do those who want to lead the nation listen?  All leaders have those who want to influence them, to guide their decisions. These people are sometimes more influential than the leaders themselves because they work behind the scenes and often do not really have to answer to the public.  Knowing who these people are may make a difference in whom you want to choose as a national leader.

While it would be easy to say—and this text probably implies that it was so—that the big mistake was listening to the young advisors instead of the older ones, I really believe the bigger mistake that Rehoboam made is that he “paid no attention to the people.”  Disrespect is a tell-tale sign of a broken relationship. Paying no attention to the people and speaking “harshly” to them betrayed this new young ruler’s distant, self-serving heart. He paid for his disrespect by losing most of what he was trying to grab.

Lookout for the potential leader who disrespects the people and speaks harshly.

Prayer:  O Lord, it is hard for us to know who has the ear of our leaders.  So much is done in secret and hidden behind smokescreens. Be our protector. Give us leaders, Sovereign Lord, who respect the will of your people and who speak the truth, but speak kindly to us.  AMEN

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This passage is very long, so I have abridged it for this reading, but I recommend you read the whole chapter for the full image.

Word:  Ezekiel 27 (abridged) (NLT)

27 Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, sing a funeral song for Tyre, that mighty gateway to the sea, the trading center of the world. Give Tyre this message from the Sovereign Lord:

“You boasted, O Tyre,
    ‘My beauty is perfect!’
You extended your boundaries into the sea.
    Your builders made your beauty perfect.
You were like a great ship
    built of the finest cypress from Senir.
They took a cedar from Lebanon
    to make a mast for you.
They carved your oars
    from the oaks of Bashan.
Your deck of pine from the coasts of Cyprus
    was inlaid with ivory.
Your sails were made of Egypt’s finest linen,
    and they flew as a banner above you.
You stood beneath blue and purple awnings
    made bright with dyes from the coasts of Elishah.
Your oarsmen came from Sidon and Arvad;
    your helmsmen were skilled men from Tyre itself.
Wise old craftsmen from Gebal did the caulking.
    Ships from every land came with goods to barter for your trade.

10 “Men from distant Persia, Lydia, and Libya served in your great army. They hung their shields and helmets on your walls, giving you great honor. 12 “Tarshish sent merchants to buy your wares in exchange for silver, iron, tin, and lead. 13 Merchants from Greece, Tubal, and Meshech brought slaves and articles of bronze to trade with you. . . .16 “Syria sent merchants to buy your rich variety of goods. They traded turquoise, purple dyes, embroidery, fine linen, and jewelry of coral and rubies. 17 Judah and Israel traded for your wares, offering wheat from Minnith, figs, honey, olive oil, and balm.

18 “Damascus sent merchants to buy your rich variety of goods . . . . 21 The Arabians and the princes of Kedar sent merchants to trade lambs and rams and male goats in exchange for your goods. . . .25 The ships of Tarshish were your ocean caravans. Your island warehouse was filled to the brim!

26 “But look! Your oarsmen
    have taken you into stormy seas!
A mighty eastern gale
    has wrecked you in the heart of the sea!
27 Everything is lost—
    your riches and wares,
your sailors and pilots,
    your ship builders, merchants, and warriors.
On the day of your ruin,
    everyone on board sinks into the depths of the sea.
28 Your cities by the sea tremble
    as your pilots cry out in terror.
29 All the oarsmen abandon their ships;
    the sailors and pilots stand on the shore.
30 They cry aloud over you
    and weep bitterly.
They throw dust on their heads
    and roll in ashes.
31 They shave their heads in grief for you
    and dress themselves in burlap.
They weep for you with bitter anguish
    and deep mourning.
32 As they wail and mourn over you,
    they sing this sad funeral song:
‘Was there ever such a city as Tyre,
    now silent at the bottom of the sea?
33 The merchandise you traded
    satisfied the desires of many nations.
Kings at the ends of the earth
    were enriched by your trade.
34 Now you are a wrecked ship,
    broken at the bottom of the sea.
All your merchandise and crew
    have gone down with you.

Have you heard the expression “the ship of state?”  It’s a pretty metaphor made famous by Plato to describe the governing body of a nation.  Tyre was a port city whose history went back a thousand years before Abram. Tyre traded with the world and had great wealth.

But during the time of Ezekiel, Tyre had suffered in wars with first the Egyptians, then the Assyrians, and now (about 573 BC) with the Chaldeans. It would continue to exist by paying tribute to its conquerors until 332 BC when Alexander the Great laid siege to it, conquered it, then razed it, literally tossing the stones of Tyre into the sea.

Tyre was a successful business. It used its wealth to secure its borders, then later to buy its freedom. Finally though, in spite of its amazing history, in spite of its citizens’ extreme patriotism, in spite of what its loss meant to its trading partners, the ship of state was destroyed because its “oarsmen have taken you into stormy seas.”

It’s important to know that neither warriors nor wealth, neither patriotism nor global status, that nothing is enough to keep the sheep of state afloat when those who row take it in the wrong direction. No ship of state is too valuable to fail! And when a nation sinks into history, it leaves all its wealth and business acumen, its military prowess and political clout behind—all of it 

 

Prayer: Father, You are King of all Nations. The life of every nation is in your hands, just as the life of every person. You give and you take away. Give us perspective, Father, and teach us that no kingdom is eternal except your kingdom!  Amen.

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King David served his nation well until the day he died. Before his death, David designated his son Solomon to take the throne. In this text, Solomon faces the choice of what he needs most as he assumes power and authority.

Word:  1 Kings 3:5-14 (NLT)

That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”

Solomon replied, “You showed great and faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued to show this great and faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne.

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. 11 So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— 12 I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! 13 And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! 14 And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”

 

Some leaders were older when chosen—like Moses and Joshua. We expect older people to have more experience, more information, bigger networks, and more confidence. But God often called younger people to be leaders, people like Queen Esther, Daniel, Josiah, and Solomon.  Perhaps a person’s age is one of those external factors like height that people tend to use as something upon which to base their leadership choices, while God is still more concerned about a person’s heart.

How many fairy tales hinge on the fairy godmother or the genii giving someone three wishes! As children we would always try to figure out how to turn three wishes into an infinite number of wishes by wishing that all our wishes would come true.  Most of those fairy tales end with a disastrous moral lesson to be careful for what one wishes.

This story of young Solomon is quite different. He has already inherited the throne. He has the wealth of his father as well as power over a consolidated nation.  He has absolute authority. For what could he ask God that he did not already have?  More wealth, more power, more fame?

Instead Solomon asked for an understanding heart, so that he could know the difference between right and wrong to govern the nation fairly—with justice.

Solomon was already wise!  He recognized that God had honored his father’s faithfulness, and that even his own existence was by the grace and mercy of God.  He certainly knew the story of his father David’s adultery and murder, but also of his penance and punishment when confronted with his sin. He could have been that child who died as a result of David’s sin—but he wasn’t.

Solomon was many things at the commencement of his reign, but he was not arrogant or conceited; rather, he recognized that God had placed him on the throne to judge between right and wrong—and for that he needed a greater portion of wisdom as do all national leaders.

Seek leaders, young or old, who know that their task is to judge right from wrong and who seek greater wisdom in order accomplish this task—and who seek it from God.

 

Prayer:  We have leaders who seek power. We have leaders who ask for authority. People want to be leaders who are arrogant and conceited, thinking they are wise—wiser than everyone, even You! Protect our nation from these kinds of leaders. Give us leaders who have understanding hearts, who want to know the difference between right and wrong, and who know they can only govern if you have given them wisdom.  Amen.

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Word:   Psalm 101 (NLT)

A psalm of David.

I will sing of your love and justice, Lord.
    I will praise you with songs.
I will be careful to live a blameless life—
    when will you come to help me?
I will lead a life of integrity
    in my own home.
I will refuse to look at
    anything vile and vulgar.
I hate all who deal crookedly;
    I will have nothing to do with them.
I will reject perverse ideas
    and stay away from every evil.
I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors.
    I will not endure conceit and pride.

I will search for faithful people
    to be my companions.
Only those who are above reproach
    will be allowed to serve me.
I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house,
    and liars will not stay in my presence.
My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked
    and free the city of the Lord from their grip.

 

David was chosen to be the leader of his nation because of his heart, not his experience, not his policies, not his looks.  Because judging a person’s heart is so very difficult, we need some hints, some clues as to what God really looks for in the heart of a national leader.

These are words from the heart of the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). If a nation could find such a leader, look what would disappear from government: crooks, perversions, slander, conceit and pride, even deceit and lies would disappear because this person after God’s own heart would see his/her daily task as freeing the city from the grip of the wicked.

Prayer: Before I blame others and accuse them of having flawed hearts, I pray that you will heal my heart of the damage my own will has done to it. Forgive me for not filling my heart with your words to protect my soul and to keep from damaging those around me.  Then forgiven, I pray for the nation and those who would lead us. Show us people whose daily task will be to free our cities from wickedness.  Show us people whose hearts are yours!  Amen.

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