This session is the first in a series designed to prepare for Christmas through four sessions in advent, looking at the story from different perspectives, through the medium of poetry, using a selection of poems from 100 Best Christmas Poems for Children, edited by Roger McGough. It is intended to be used by all-age homegroups, those who meet intergenerationally with members from babes in arms to great grandparents included in the mix. The activities and discussion points are designed to include all members, as they feel able.
Each session looks at the events of the first Christmas, through the lens of one of the key characters in the story. This first session looks at Mary, and how she may have felt knowing that God had chosen her.
Where possible, begin the time together with a shared meal, or if this is not possible, some light refreshments. Use this time to introduce an all-age atmosphere, by gathering all members together in a shared time of food and friendship. As you begin this advent study, talk about what people are looking forward to about Christmas, and how they are getting ready.
Introduce the book, 100 Best Christmas Poems for Children. You may like to provide copies of the book for families to enjoy more of the poems at home, as you work through this series. Talk about the way that the Biblical narrative tells us about the events that happened, but only gives us a glimpse of how people may have felt as they played their part in the story. This story has inspired many artists, storytellers, musicians and poets to imagine further details of what may have happened and how people may have felt.
Explain that today, we are looking at the story from Mary’s perspective and read poem 24, Mary’s Burden.
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
Remind the group of how Mary discovered she would give birth to Jesus and how she responded. Encourage the members of the group to have access to their own Bibles and read together Luke 1:46-55, reminding people where this comes in the story.
Provide a story basket with a nativity scene that children can play with, and some nativity story books.
Invite the group to discuss some of the following questions as are most appropriate. Be intentional about including all ages in this time of discussion, so far as you are able, rather than expecting the children to listen quietly while the adults talk. Allow the conversation to flow naturally, rather than rigidly following the questions below. Alternatively, you may prefer to set up the response activity and encourage participants to discuss these questions as you complete the activity.
Talk about the way that Mary had nine months to prepare for Jesus’ birth. We also prepare for Christmas. Some people begin their Christmas preparations months in advance and may have all their presents bought, wrapped and packed away already! But advent is also a time for us to prepare ourselves; to be ready to receive Jesus, and to celebrate His coming to earth, once again.
Provide clay and birthday cake candles and invite families to work together to create a simple advent spiral, (a line of clay curved into a spiral with 24 small holes along it’s length to slot the candle into, moving it along one position each day and lighting it). Alternatively, you could make a simple advent ring (a simple circle of clay, with four holes positioned around the ring which each hold a candle, one for each Sunday of advent. You can also provide a tea light for the centre.)
Encourage families to use their advent spiral or ring to take some time each day, or each week, to pause together and to pray, as you prepare yourselves to remember Jesus’ birth.
Some groups enjoy a time of shared sung praise together, whilst for others this is not helpful. Treat this time as optional, depending upon the needs of your group. For younger children, this can be a great time for joining together with the adults in praise, perhaps using percussion instruments, scarves or ribbons as you sing. Through this advent season, you may like to invite members of the group to choose their favourite advent or Christmas carols.
Invite members of the group to look again at Mary’s song and in family groups, to choose a line that they want to use as a prayer to read it aloud. Pause between each line, as you use Mary’s song to pray together, worshipping God, as Mary did.
Encourage families to take their advent ring or spiral home to use this week and invite participants to take some time to look at what happened when the angel visited Mary and told her of the coming of Jesus. You may like to give each family a copy of the book, 100 Best Christmas Poems for Children and invite them to take some time to enjoy some of these together this week.