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 in the Christmas story, each a tiny porcelain figure. The figures were hidden in the church each week, moving closer and closer to the Bethlehem, 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, we explained what the next few weeks would entail, and we reviewed it for just a few moments at the start or end of each of the following weeks’ children’s time so that new children would be included. Each week, the leader showed the children the new figures being added to the scene, then hid them during the bustle of children’s dismissal. The second week (December 6 in 2020), we focused on Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem.
Our children span from 2-12, and some are very familiar and some very unfamiliar with the Christmas story.
Here is one way to focus the story:
Joseph was told by the angel that Mary would give birth to a son. Gabriel even told him that God already had the baby’s name picked out: Jesus, which means Salvation, and his nickname would be Immanuel: God with us. Joseph understand how important it was for him to support Mary, and take care of her during her pregnancy so that she could have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
But there was bad news: Mary was pregnant during a time when the king of the land demanded that all the people under his rule return to the city where their families were from so they could be counted. In the US, we do something like this every 10 years–we county every single person in something called a Census. But we don’t require that everyone return to the place where their families are from to get counted. But that is how the king did it then. So Mary and Joseph had to travel about 90 miles to get to Bethlehem. It probably took them a week to walk this far, and it would have been especially hard for Mary, because she was just about ready to give birth! The route wasn’t flat; it was uphill and downhill. And, at the time of year it occurred, the weather was mostly cold and rainy during the day and freezing at night. They had to walk by the Jordan forest, which had bears, lions, and wild boars in it. They may have faced robbers, and they would have traveled with others going to Bethlehem so that they were less likely to be attacked by robbers. They probably walked about 10 miles each day, about half the pace of other travelers who weren’t pregnant. And there were no fast food restaurants or convenience stores or highway rest stops along the way. It was hard work!
We an imagine what the trip was like. What do you think Mary and Joseph talked about? What do you think they laughed about? Do you think they felt worried, or do you think they felt confident? What promises had God made to each of them to assure them? What else might have been hard about the trip? What might they have done for each other to make it more pleasant?
Week 1, Gabriel and Mary had been hidden between the front door and the sanctuary; Week 2, these two were joined by Joseph, and they were hidden directly outside of the sanctuary. Children who found them were encouraged to tell other children who wanted help where they were located, and all children who reported where they were located received a small stone with a pregnant Mary (represented by the heart over her belly) on it. Children who had not participated the week before were also given an angel.
**Those leading story time should be sensitive to the experiences of children and adults i their audience. Children who have immigrated or those who have unstable family backgrounds (for example, homelessness) may find this story distressing, so you should teach to the children actually in front of you. This means, as much as you are able, knowing their stories and their needs.