Advent People: Mary and Joseph

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.

Advent People: Mary and Gabriel

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.

 

 

Advent People: Journey to the Manger

Last year, our church focused on the gathering at the manger during our children’s time during Advent. This year, Advent begins in three weeks, so I’m sharing what we did now so that if you are interested in engaging these ideas in your own children’s time or home worship, you have time to prepare.

For each of the four Sunday of Advent, we focused on a different people at a different moment of the story: the Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel, Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, the shepherds seeing the star, and the birth of the infant Jesus. We kept our focus on our theme through Epiphany, bringing in the magi, and we returned to it for Candlemas. Thus, our manger scene remained in our sanctuary for four Sundays of advent and for several weeks after. If you are following along at home or in your church, this year that would be November 29 to January 31 (the last Sunday before Candlemas).

Our children’s time is offered by volunteers in the congregation. Each week, children from infants to about age 12 come forward to the front of the sanctuary for a time dedicated to them. Volunteers may tell stories, do brief activities, read books, introduce material culture related to the scripture reading of the day, etc.

During our Advent activities, we used a creche of fève figures. These very small (about the size of a thimble) porcelain figurines were hidden in the sanctuary each week, and the children were tasked with finding them after the service; if they did so, they were free to share where they found them with other children. After they reported the location back to the adult leading children’s time, they were rewarded with a small figurine of the focus of that day’s story. These were created by painting different figures (an angel, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus) on small stones sealed with Modge Podge. It took me about 2 hours to paint 30 4-figure sets.

Collection de Bethléem Nativity 10 figurines image 0

The nativity set we used. Consider using one you already own or supporting local artists in purchasing one or purchasing a fairly traded one at Ten Thousand Villages.

Over the next weeks, I’ll share more about each lesson, but if you are interested and want to get started, here is what you need:

  • 4 small stones x the number of children in your congregation + more for visitors and some for adults who may want a set (Several in my congregation did)
  • acrylic paint and brushes to create characters: I recommend very small brushes and white, medium brown, dark brown, black, blue, green, gold, and red. Use the medium brown + no white or various amounts of white to create varied skin tones, as meets your congregation’s needs. Use dark brown and black for hair.
  • Modge-Podge or other sealer
  • a fève set, an additional set of painted stones for your use in the church, or another tiny nativity
  • a star
  • a manger, if desired

 

 

Happy Halloween!

When did I become a person with a Halloween door hanger? This year, apparently.

This year, we “booed” some of our favorite local teachers. They got an after-dark present on their doorsteps. The witches at top are made from milk jugs painted green with faces drawn on them, topped with witches’ hats. Inside was candy and a bottle of wine. The mummies are toilet paper-wrapped bottles of wine with googly eyes (which we try to keep on hand by the gross). It was so fun to say “thank you” to teachers for their work this year this way!

Listening Hearts:

Our family has been working on a new daily practice: listening. Active, reflective, engaged listening that says to the other person. My desire is to understand you as you are, not to correct you or improve you or educate you.

To that end, we’ve been writing questions to help us get to know each other better. Some of these questions are serious; many are silly. Sometimes we laugh at things that are meant to be serious, and sometimes our silliness leads us into serious places. Our goal is to publish one each day on our blog. We hope you find them useful, either as prompts to think about yourself or as questions you bring to the car ride or the dinner table. They’re written by all of us, and you’ll see the diversity of our thoughts and interest in them, so in the questions themselves, you’ll get to know us a little better too.

Subscribe to our blog (or follow our Twitter account @familyfoxhole) to have them appear in your inbox or Twitter feed daily.

Today’s question:

What is one happy memory you made this month?

Listening Hearts: Day

Our family has been working on a new daily practice: listening. Active, reflective, engaged listening that says to the other person. My desire is to understand you as you are, not to correct you or improve you or educate you.

To that end, we’ve been writing questions to help us get to know each other better. Some of these questions are serious; many are silly. Sometimes we laugh at things that are meant to be serious, and sometimes our silliness leads us into serious places. Our goal is to publish one each day on our blog. We hope you find them useful, either as prompts to think about yourself or as questions you bring to the car ride or the dinner table. They’re written by all of us, and you’ll see the diversity of our thoughts and interest in them, so in the questions themselves, you’ll get to know us a little better too.

Subscribe to our blog (or follow our Twitter account @familyfoxhole) to have them appear in your inbox or Twitter feed daily.

Today’s question:

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

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Blackbear Bosin, Indigenous Artist

Sometimes I get to share children’s time teachings with my congregation. When I do, I share them here. 

Today’s children’s teaching focuses on Blackbear Bosin (also called Tsate Kongia), one of the most famous indigenous people from our area. As you watch today’s video, you might ask yourself:

1. What is a detail from his paintings or sculptures that I like?

2. What is one thing I learned about or was reminded of about indigenous culture from his artwork?

Have you seen any of Blackbear Bosin’s work in real life? Share your experiences, please!

And you can find the whole service online here.

“The Lord Knows Them That are His” and other little signs of reassurance

We had a little back-to-school display planned for our dining room but when back-to-school didn’t happen, we changed plans. Here are some small things bringing us joy in our house these days.

A windmill and wheat made of metal sit inside a small heart fashioned from barbed wire. June-July is wheat harvest here.
A small sunflower made of wood, framed. Sunflowers bloom August-September. The last of the ones by the sides of the road are dying now.

We ate, dried, or froze over 100 peaches. We’ll use these pits for tea all winter.

A card with an illustration of Timothy. In Kansas, you learn to love all grasses.

Above, a handmade card from a friend that came with a gift certificate for 12 quarts of ice cream from our favorite local ice creamery; a little lantern; another card from a friend reminding us to enjoy the last of the fireflies this year; a compass in a heart, yet another gift.

A card showcasing our state flower; a little wooden plaque referencing 2 Timothy 2:19. I am not a fan of Timothy, but I’ve been exploring the idea of being known by God for awhile now, like here and here.
On the back, a label saying “In remembrance of Christmas 1945,” J.E. Entz. If you know of J.E. Entz or what was happening Christmas 1945, please share the story!
Fall means we bring candles back!

Listening Hearts

Our family has been working on a new daily practice: listening. Active, reflective, engaged listening that says to the other person. My desire is to understand you as you are, not to correct you or improve you or educate you.

To that end, we’ve been writing questions to help us get to know each other better. Some of these questions are serious; many are silly. Sometimes we laugh at things that are meant to be serious, and sometimes our silliness leads us into serious places. Our goal is to publish one each day on our blog. We hope you find them useful, either as prompts to think about yourself or as questions you bring to the car ride or the dinner table. They’re written by all of us, and you’ll see the diversity of our thoughts and interest in them, so in the questions themselves, you’ll get to know us a little better too.

Subscribe to our blog (or follow our Twitter account @familyfoxhole) to have them appear in your inbox or Twitter feed daily.

Today’s question:

What is one happy memory you made this month?

Party Tricks: Nelda Siebold’s Meatballs

When can we gather again together? I don’t know, which means that I’ve not gotten to make my favorite meatball recipe in a long time. It’s hard to justify making 3 lbs of meatballs when I’m only cooking for four people. I could scale this down, but it freezes well and reheats nicely, so it’s a good choice for cooking on a weekend and eating now and later.

The recipe is based on Patti Clark’s contribution to the Clay Center, Kansas Evangelical Covenant church cookbook from 1999. It’s in honor of her mother, Nelda Siebold. I know neither of these women, and the cookbook was a gift to me from a former church member. The recipe is titled “Mom’s Barbeque Meatballs,” but since Nelda isn’t my mother, I call them “Nelda Siebold’s Meatballs.” I don’t know Nelda Siebold or anyone related to her, but I thank God for her meatballs about a dozen times a year.

This recipe makes a significant number of meatballs–a 9×13 pan and another 9×9 pan. So they’re good for a potluck or a party. If you use certified gluten-free oats and make sure that your onion powder and liquid smoke are gluten-free, you can make a gluten-free main dish that your friends who avoid gluten will appreciate.

a casserole pan of meatballs.

Ingredients

for meatballs

  • 3 lbs hamburger
  • 2 1/4 c. oatmeal
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 2 1/4 tsp. liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 2 1/4 tsp. chili powder

for sauce

  • 2 2/3 c. ketchup
  • 1  1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 3 tsp. liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion (or, really, a whole onion, chopped any size you like, of any size)

Directions:

Briefly mix meatball ingredients until combined. Shape into walnut-sized balls and place into a 9×13 pan and a 9×9 pan. They should be crowded in the pan, each meatball lightly touching the ones around it.

Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes.

Add sauce and bake for 60 additional minutes.

We tend to eat these with egg noodles and Brussel sprouts.