“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell me about it.” Mary Oliver
Consider this introduction to Epiphany from Bobby Gross, “During Christmas we joyfully celebrated the coming of the light in the birth of Jesus. Now the Feast of the Epiphany […] brings this theme to culmination–the light of Christ made manifest to the whole world as symbolized by the Gentile Magi from the East. […] They complete a long pilgrimage to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn king. Light shines in the darkness.” Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, 83.
The Magi who come to see king Jesus are from another place. There is no reason that they should come and worship Jesus, the infant who is King of the Jews. But the news that God has come to be with us is for all people, including those who are on the margins of society (the shepherds) and those who are Gentiles (Magi).
With them, the Magi bring gifts that foreshadow the events of Jesus’ life and act as an interpretive lens for who Jesus is and what kind of savior and king he is. Gold is a precious substance, a worthy gift for a royal; Frankincense is used in worship to acknowledge the presence of a deity; and, Myrrh, a substance used for embalming. Jesus is king for all people, the Son of God, and the one who will suffer and die. With their gifts, the Magi also bring danger. When Herod hears of the infant King and his star, he is afraid. What will happen when this king grows up? Will he challenge my own position of power? Herod’s response to the news of the infant king and the Magi’s choice to return to their own country by another way is, of course, the catalyst for the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.
There is a lot in this story. With your class, you may choose to focus on Jesus as light of the world, the journey of the Magi, or the gifts of the Magi to the Baby Jesus.
(1.) Offer an opportunity for our young people to name what it means that Jesus is the light of the world and that God has made a way for all people.
Gather: As your students gather in your classroom, you may want to turn off the lights and light candles (I can put them in your classrooms or you can find white votive candles in the CE Supply Closet). Share with your students that as we move from Christmas into the season of Epiphany, we are taking notice of how Jesus is the light of the world and a savior for all people.
Hear the Word: Read the story of the Magi from Matthew 2:1-12 (read all or part of the story depending on your age group). You may read it from the NRSV (posted in the link) or from one of our children’s Bibles. Alternatively, you may want to learn the story and tell it yourself.
Respond to the Word:
(1.) Act it out: We have costumes (used for the nativity pageant) in the Christian Education supply closet. Read the story to your class and ask them to volunteer for roles. You will want a Mary, Joseph, Herod, and some Magi/kings/Queens (You can have more than three kings. You may want to explain to your class that there are three gifts, but we don’t know how many kings. There could have been more than three.) In the commons area you will also find a wooden manger, and three gifts. We will use these in our opening gathering in the commons, but after that your classes are free to use them for their play. Invite your students to act out the story. Then wonder together about what each character experienced and what it might have meant to them. During this conversation, you may want to invite your class to come up with a list of questions that they would ask the Magi, Herod, or Many and Joseph if they could.
(2.) Sing Together: If you are musically inclined, you may want to learn or sing one or all of the songs below. After you finish with each of the songs, you may want to talk about what it means for us and how it helps us remember that Jesus is the light of the world and the savior for all people. For This Little Light of Mine, you may want to discuss how Jesus being a light for the world means that we, as God’s people, should carry that light wherever we go.
- We Three Kings: You can find lyrics here and chords here.
- Marching in the Light of God: Lyrics.
- He has the Whole World in his Hands. You may want to prompt students to name the people in the Christmas story or the story of the Magi: “He’s got the [Magi from the East | Shepherds in the fields| Mary and Joseph| the tiny baby Jesus| angels in the sky, etc.] in his hands.” Encourage them to name people in the story before singing the song. Talk about how God showed up for each of these characters.
- This Little Light of Mine
(3.) Decorate a Star: I have 7-8 wooden stars that can be decorated. Note: If you do this activity, please write each students name on the back of the star and do not send them home. I will gather them as they will be used for our youngest classes next week and will be sent home after that.
(4.) Epiphany Banner: In the church Epiphany is an exciting time during which we celebrate that God comes into the world and makes Godself known in incarnation and the ministry and person of Jesus. Create a celebratory banner. Use bright colors (Gold and white are the liturgical colors for the season of Epiphany), stars, and (if you dare) glitter. Let the banner dry and I will pick it up and hang it up in the commons next week.
(5.) The Gifts: Talk about the gifts that Magi bring to the baby Jesus. You might want to tell your students some of the meanings behind each of the gifts and wonder together about them. Some of your students may be able to make connections between the gifts and the events of Jesus’ life. Ask your students to think about the special things they have and invite them to share some ideas about what they might bring to the baby Jesus.
Close in Prayer: When you are finished, please close in prayer with your students. You may wish to use the Lord’s Prayer or a Psalm from our Psalms for Young Children book. For older students, you may want to read a collect for the occasion (BCP, 214) or my adaptation here (for younger students): God, by the star, you showed the way for the Magi to find your Son. We pray that we too might be led to see your Son face to face. In Jesus’ name, Amen.