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 from the Christmas story, all of them tiny porcelain figurines. 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 fourth week (December 20 in 2020), we focused on the baby Jesus, placing him with the other figures under the star, which we had hidden at the front of the sanctuary.
Our children span from 2-12, and some are very familiar and some very unfamiliar with the Christmas story, so I aim for about 5-8 minutes of total time with them.
This week, our focus was on babies. I shared the story this way:
This week, Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus. There is a lot we don’t know about Jesus’ birth, but there are some things the Bible tells us: His parents had been told by God that he was special, and they were excited for his birth. His name was already chosen by God and symbolized his role in our world: to save people and to be with us. We know that when Mary and Joseph arrived at Bethlehem, they couldn’t stay with Joseph’s family, probably because so many relatives were already in town. There wasn’t even room for them to stay at a hotel, so they had to sleep with the animals. Some people think it was a barn, but others think it was a cave where the pack animals that people had ridden into the city were kept.
Even so, it was special that Jesus was born. Have you ever held a baby animal or a baby person? (Ask children about their experiences with babies.) What makes baby animals and people so adorable? Why do we love them? (Solicit their ideas about why babies are cute–their big eyes and soft skin, for example.)
When babies are born, grown-ups fall in love with them right away. We have a special hormone that our bodies produce when we see our babies. The hormone tells our brain, “This baby is the cutest thing ever! Love it and take care of it!” God wants us to love children so much that our bodies are designed to make a chemical to help us feel love. I know that someone felt that way about you when they first saw you as a baby.
Have you ever looked at a baby person or a baby animal and thought “That is so cute I can’t stand it!” or even “That baby is so cute that I could just EAT. IT. UP.”? That sounds weird, but and it’s not true–we don’t really eat babies because they are cute. Sometimes, though, we do nibble (nom, nom, nom) on cute things, giving them little gummy bites. But we get “cuteness overload”–we love babies so much that our feelings get SO BIG that we have express them with little loving nibbles that show that we’re trustworthy and won’t hurt the baby and to help us manage our big feelings.
I know that Mary was very tired when she gave birth, especially because she had been walking all day. But I am also sure that when she and Joseph saw Jesus, they both felt the kind of love that people felt about you when you were born and that the people who love you still feel about you now.
Children were dismissed, and those who later found the nativity scene (which was a bit hidden in our sanctuary) were rewarded with a stone with Baby Jesus painted on it.
**Adults speaking about infants should be thoughtful about the children and other adults in their midst. While this sermon is positive about pregnancy and childbirth, it also recognizes that pregnancy is difficult and childbirth is tiring. Any additions should remember that 1/4 pregnancies in the US ends in a miscarriage or stillbirth; people in your congregation have suffered pregnancy loss. Others have struggled with both primary and secondary fertility challenges (that is, unable to achieve pregnancy ever or unable to achieve it after the birth of one or more children). Speakers should remember that not all people have the families they dreamed of–and that others experienced pregnancy, childbirth, and post-partem time as stressful or unpleasant. Finally, speakers should remember that many children will not have knowledge about their biological parents due to adoption, death, single-parenthood-by-choice, etc. Avoid comparisons between the Holy Family (two parents of different genders) and the families of children in the congregation.