Advent People: The Shepherds

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 the Christmas story, each a porcelain figure about the size of a thimble. The figures were hidden in the church each week, moving closer and closer to the Bethlehem, the manger, and the star, 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 third week (December 13 in 2020), we focused on the shepherds.

Our children span from 2-12, and some are very familiar and some very unfamiliar with the Christmas story. Our speaker during Week 3 focused on shepherds as outsiders. She shared briefly about what shepherds did (watched flocks of sheep) and talked about why that was both a needed and a dirty job. She explained that they were considered untrustworthy by the rest of society–so much so that people were discouraged from doing any kind of business with them because they were thought to be cheaters and thieves. This made it hard for them to get the things they needed. We were left with the question: Why were some of the first people God wanted to share the good news of Jesus’ birth with shepherds, of all people? What does that tell us about how God values all people? How can we make sure that people our society might call “lowly” are are included and have their needs met? We ended by singing “Rise Up Shepherd and Follow” as a congregation.

Later, children who found the shepherd and sheep were rewarded with a stone of Joseph.

Alternatives for this week would be to focus on Joseph’s faithfulness to Mary during a time of uncertainty for him or the importance of trusting the people we love when they tell us about what God is doing in their life.

**Adults telling the story of the shepherds should consider the specific children in front of them. For example, in Kansas, where I live, some communities heavily invested in agriculture or meat packing, work often done by immigrants. Adults should speak sensitively about the nature of this kind of work and its social meaning if they fear local families being demeaned by talking about the low status of shepherds.

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