I struggled this week with finding words that adequately describe Emmanuel, “God with us.” How can we speak faithfully about the significance of incarnation? What does it mean that God to entered human history with the vulnerability of humanity, the poverty of a peasant, and as a descendant of a captive people? At the end of it all, I realized that any description was too limited or woefully inadequate to describe the mystery of our faith; God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
The layout of the lesson for this week emphasizes hearing the story and responding to it with freedom. We do not need to explain the significance or sacredness of this story. Our young people know that it is sacred and that its meanings are almost boundless. This week we are invited to share the story of Jesus once again, absorb it slowly, and let it work on all of us together. This is part of the preparation that marks the season of Advent. We must absorb, hear, and see the profound mystery that God the creator has gone to radical lengths in order to be made known to God’s own creatures.
As you read and hear the story this week, do so as though it is the first time you have heard this story. What questions does it raise? What does it say about the kind of God that our God is? What does it mean that God is with us? What kind of Savior is Jesus?
A Note: Today’s lesson focuses on the Nativity. It is admittedly a bit ahead of the Advent cycle, but this and the Advent Godly Play are the only lessons that we have with students before Christmas day.
(1.) This lesson will provide a space for our young people to hear and absorb the story of the God who is with us.
(2.) Children will learn that that one of Jesus’ names, “Emmanuel” means “God with us.”
(3.) Children will be able to name one of the ways that they see “God with us”; younger children will know that we should be on the lookout for ways that God’s presence is with us in Jesus.
Gather: This week, we will begin Sunday School in the commons. Once our young people gather, we will start with lighting a candle on the Advent wreath, offering a prayer, and singing a couple of songs. Afterwards, students will be dismissed with a benediction to their respective classrooms. If your class is doing Godly Play, please join them your students in the Godly Play room.
Hear the Word:
This week, consider reading or telling the story several times in different ways. Here are some suggestions:
(2.) Tell the story in your own words. Read the story several times and share with the students what you see about Jesus birth and God’s presence with us.
(3.) We have several books in the Christian education cabinet that can help you tell this story. If you are interested in these books, I can leave one in your classroom.
- The Christmas Story, illuminated by Isabelle Brent
- For the youngest kids, B is for Bethlehem is an alphabet book of the Nativity story
- The Story of Christmas from the Gospel According to Luke, with illustrations by Eleonore Schmid
Respond to the Word:
(1.) “I wonder….”: Follow hearing the Word with “I wonder” statements that help get the reflection started.
- I wonder what God was thinking when God made Jesus a little baby
- I wonder what “God with us” means.
- I wonder what God can experience as a human creature that God might not experience as a creature.
- I wonder what all of the people around Jesus thought of him.
- I wonder if they believed or thought that Jesus might be the one, the Messiah.
- I wonder why the people who came to see Jesus were shepherds and peasants.
(2.) Hide and Seek for Baby Jesus: Tell your students that we should be looking for Jesus. Hide images of Jesus (from birth through his life) throughout your classroom (or, if you are so inclined, outside on the playground, or around the outside of the church). Give each child a piece of paper and a crayon. Ask them to make a mark for each of the images of Jesus they find. When you come back as a group, compare notes.
Alternatively, invite each child to hide one Jesus figure or image, in turn. Have the other students cover their eyes. As a group try to find where each student hid the image. Talk about how we should always be looking out for Jesus and ways that God is present with us in our lives. What was it like to look for Jesus and find him? Are there places that we can look in our world and see evidence of the work of God?
(3.) Responding with Art: Choose an art medium (paint, crayons, colored pencils) and ask children to respond with images that show what the world can be like because God is with us (perhaps you can suggest some images from Scripture: the lion lays down with the lamb, etc.). You may even find some images that inspire student reflection.
(4.) Music: Over the past couple of weeks, we have been spending a bit of time with the song, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Sing the first stanza and the verses with your class. Talk about the name Emmanuel, “God with us.” Why did Israel want God to be with them? Why do we want God to be with us? What exactly are we rejoicing over?
(5.) Good Deed Manger: Use the clothes pins, popsicle sticks, and other materials in the supply closet to make a manger and baby Jesus. Talk about how the manger was a feeding trough for animals (kind of like a dog or cat food bowl) lined with straw. Send children home with their mangers, baby Jesus figures, and some pieces of yellow yard. Tell them that this is a good deed manger and they can put one piece of “straw” in the manger every time they do a good deed. On Christmas Eve, they can place the baby Jesus in the manger. The more good deeds they have done, the softer the manger is for the baby Jesus. Talk about how the church is a response to the gift of Jesus Christ. When we respond to God through faithfulness (in this case, good deeds), the world can see the presence of God and may come to know God through us. If you would like to do this project, please let me know. I have notes that I can copy and send out to parents describing how it works.
Close in Prayer (I have notified parents via email to pick up their children in their respective Sunday School classrooms).