Take some time to adjust to your classroom and become reacquainted with it’s rhythms. If you have “rules or guidelines” for behavior, spend a moment on those. If your class is working on memorizing a particular piece of Scripture/song/prayer, work with that. Also take a bit of time to reconnect socially after our long break. Play a name game and ask you students about their Christmas celebrations thus far. Use this as an opportunity to share with them that the season of Christmas is still happening–in fact, it’s a 12 day celebration that wont end for a another two days (from Sunday)!
This week’s story is a favorite of mine and a familiar one for most of our students. Our Gospel from Matthew 2:1-12 highlights that Jesus is not just King and Savior for those who are near (the shepherds), but even for those who are far off (the Magi); Jesus is the King and Savior for all people.
Matthew shares that the Magi bring exotic and expensive gifts: gold (fit for royalty), frankincense (used in worship), and myrrh (an expensive perfume used for embalming). Each of these gifts represent something symbolic about who Jesus is. How do the Magi understand the birth of this Baby? This is a theme you may want to explore with your class.
As an interesting aside, Matthew shares with us the three gifts of the Magi, but not the number of visitors. In fact, early tradition held that there were 12 visitors–representing the 12 tribes of Israel–but Matthew offers no such detail. Noticing the differences in what we remember about the story and the fact that the text does not specify this particular detail reminds us to pay close attention, even to those stories we know quite well.
Hear the Story
In the new year, we would like to have our children grow more familiar with their Bibles. We almost always work on Bible stories, but we want them to know how to find stories in the Bible and develop skills for reading the Bible together. This is especially important for our older children (in 2nd grade and above), but our younger children (3 years–1st grade) need a good foundation too. Begin sharing the story with your students by sharing where this story comes from. For this story, you might say: “Our story is from the Gospel of Matthew. It is the first book in the New Testament and it is called a Gospel because it shares with us stories about the good news of Jesus Christ. There are three other books that have these special stories. They are also called Gospels–they are Mark, Luke, and John. We read a story from one of these four special books every week in Church. When we read these stories in church we usually stand while we listen because they are so important to us.” Plan on doing this kind of brief introduction every week this year. In the future, I will suggest more hands-on ways for your students to become familiar with the Bible in concrete ways.
This story, Matthew 2:1-12, is wonderful for reading directly from a real Bible translation for most of our age groups. It is also a very popular story in our children’s Bibles and some of our storybooks (in the Christian Education library).
Respond to the Story
1. Act out the Story: After reading the story, grab some of the costumes and accessories from our supply closets and act out the story in groups of three or four. Discuss the long travel, the Magi’s experience in the company of Herod, their encounter with the Christ child, and their return home. What were their experiences? What did they think when the encountered Jesus and did it make any difference for them? Why did they return home another way, avoiding a second visit with Herod?
2. A Gift for Christ: Discuss the three gifts that the Magi bring to the Baby Jesus. Wonder together about what they mean and why these gifts would be given to a baby. What use did Mary, Joseph, and Jesus have for these gifts and what do you think they did with them? I mentioned above what each of these gifts was used for, are these symbols significant? Do they help us reflect on the life (or death) of Jesus? Discuss also what gifts we bring to Christ. Teachers might share about a gift that they have given to Christ. Ask your students to create a poster of the gifts they have to offer to God and God’s people. Share our “gifts to God” with the rest of the class.
3. Star ornaments: You can make a star ornament for the children to put on their tree or near their household creche. A simple Popsicle stick ornament made from three overlapping Popsicle sticks may work well. For older children, invite them to write part of the story (Maybe Matthew 2:10) on the back of the ornament.
4. Three Magi Popsicle stick craft: Make this three Magi craft together. Crafts like this work well when we invite the children to share the story with us after. We are doing more than just creating a cute craft, we are helping them find and create resources to explore the story further when they go home. Ask you students to practice this by having them share the story with one another using their magi figures. Remind them to do the same thing from their parents, grandparents, or siblings.
5. Wise Men visit Jesus Finger Play (our 3+4 year old class will love this!): Learn this short finger play about the Magi’s visit to the Baby Jesus by watching this video.
6. Mosaics: By now you may well know my love for mosaic and collage responses. You can use this collage mosaic of a star (there is one of the three magi right below it) as inspiration for a class poster of your own.
7. We Three Kings: Teach your students all the verses to We Three Kings (lyrics can be found here), a carol composed by an Episcopal priest in Pennsylvania in 1857. In this song, all of the singers sing the first and last verse and the refrain. Each of the three kings sings about the gift they are bringing to the infant king. Spend a bit of time looking at the words and discussing what they mean.
Bonus: As a bonus activity, once you finish working with the song by talking about it and singing it together, each child may enjoy pretending that they are bringing one of these gifts to Jesus. Write a letter to a friend explaining why the gift is important and what it means. They may want to choose a different gift–maybe one of the gifts that they personally offer to God–and write a letter to a friend explaining what the gift it and what it means.
8. Bible Verse Memorization: First, each child can find the story in a Bible. Then, choose a part of the story or a verse that your class would like to memorize together (good options are 2:5-6, 9, 10, 0r 11). Use group and small team memorization games to learn part of the story by heart.
Close with Prayer and a Feast
We share a small