This session is the fourth 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 fourth and final session looks at the Magi, or ‘wise men,’ and how God chose to involve learned scholars from distant lands in acknowledging the wonder of Jesus’ birth.
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 conclude this advent study, talk about what people are looking forward to about Christmas, and how this series may have helped us all to prepare ourselves to celebrate Jesus’ birth.
Reintroduce the book, 100 Best Christmas Poems for Christmas. 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. Remind the group how 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 the perspective of the ‘wise men’ or Magi and read poem 34, Balthasar: ‘a cold coming we had of it.’
Remind the group of how we have previously looked at the stories of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Encourage the members of the group to have access to their own Bibles. Introduce and read together Matthew 2:1-12.
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
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 God chose to involve the wise men, or Magi. Their involvement brings an entirely different perspective to the story; travellers from distant lands who studied and understood that someone special had been born. They were not waiting for the Messiah, as Mary, Joseph and the shepherds had been, and yet God chose to alert them to His coming.
Invite the families to think about the importance of the star in the story, signifying the birth of the new king, and leading the Magi to his place of birth. Provide a selection of craft materials and invite the families to make some star decorations that they can take home with them, to hang up this Christmas. You may choose to teach everyone how to make a specific decoration, such as through origami, perhaps, or sticking lolly sticks together, or allow everyone the opportunity to explore the craft materials for themselves.
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.
Remind the group of the gifts that were brought by the Magi, and provide gift tags which can be used by members of the group to write or draw prayers of praise and worship to Jesus. You could set up a small Christmas tree which can be used to hang up the gift tag prayers, or a wrapped box which could be used to gather the prayers together, as appropriate.
As you draw this series to a close, take the opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Christmas, and encourage everyone to take some time out over the Christmas season to celebrate the birth of Jesus and His coming into the world. If you have given each family a copy of the book, 100 Best Christmas Poems for Children, encourage them to take some time to enjoy some of these together this week.