This year, I’m sharing a bit about an Advent activity my church did last Advent during our time dedicated to children. Each Sunday of Advent, we introduced a few new characters to our manger scene, a tiny one made from small porcelain figurines. Or, to be more precise, each week, we brought more of them toward Bethlehem and the manger. The figures were hidden in the church each week, moving closer and closer to the Bethlehem, the star, and the manger, and children were invited to search for them after church each week, sharing where they found them with other children so that everyone could find them. If they shared the location with the adult who led children’s time that Sunday, they received a small stone with one of that week’s figures painted on it as a prize, so that by the end of Advent, they had a Holy Family + Angel nativity scene.
The first week of Advent (November 29 in 2020), we explained what the next few weeks would entail. Children were quickly excited about finding the figures, which I showed them at the start of children’s time (then hid between the front door and the sanctuary during the first moments after children’s time ended), and nearly all of them located the figures and claimed their prize–this week, an angel.
Our children span from 2-12, and some are very familiar and some very unfamiliar with the Christmas story, so I aimed for 5-8 minutes of attentive time and tried to make no assumptions about their knowledge. After showing them to Mary and Gabriel figures, I briefly told the story this way:
This week begins Advent, the four weeks before Christmas when Christians around the world Jesus’ birth. Because Jesus is God, when Jesus is born, this is one way that God has come into our world so that we can understand what God is like.
The first person God told about this plan was Mary, a young woman. Through the angel Gabriel, God asked her to carry the baby Jesus in her belly and then give birth to him so that people could have a first-hand experience with God. Before, they only had ideas about God; now, they would get to meet God in person and see how God wanted them to act by how Jesus acted. God trusted Mary to take care of herself and baby Jesus so that people could learn about God’s great love for the world.
Mary found out that she was pregnant when an angel named Gabriel visited her. Gabriel told Mary that God was always with her, even if she felt scared about having a baby. Because Mary loved God and wanted everyone to know how much God loved them, God had chosen her for this special job. The angel Gabriel asked her if she was willing to do this hard task, and she said yes. Like other women in her society, she was excited that God was promising to come into the world! In the Bible, her response to God was written down as a song. In it, she says that she knows that God has blessed her and that she is happy to be part of God’s plan to make the world a more fair, just place. She says she trusts that God will take care of people who are poor and hungry, and she will help make this happen by being the mother who will take care of baby Jesus.
I then discharged the children, providing the older children with a two-column handout: the lefthand column included the Magnificat, and the righthand column was empty so older children could paraphrase it on their own word or draw an illustration of it. Finally, I explained our activity for the next few weeks.
Children who located the figures of Mary and Gabriel were awarded a stone painted with an angel, the first of four figures they could collect.