This session is the third 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 third session looks at the shepherds, and how God chose to announce the birth of the promised Messiah to the lowly workers on the hillside.
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 continue this advent study, talk about what people are looking forward to about Christmas, and how they are getting ready. Have they continued to remember to light their advent spiral or ring created in week one? Did they find some time to enjoy together as a family this week?
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 shepherds’ perspective and read poem 32, The Shepherd’s Carol.
Remind the group of how we have previously looked at the stories of Mary and of Joseph. Encourage the members of the group to have access to their own Bibles. Introduce and read together Luke 2:1-20.
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
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 announce the birth of Jesus to the lowly shepherds as they sat on the hillside watching over the sheep. The way that God chose to announce the good news was as much of a surprise to the shepherds that night, as the fact that he chose to involve the shepherds in His story may be.
Invite the families to think about the different ways that we can share the news of Jesus coming into the world with people they know and love, this Christmas. You could provide a selection of craft materials to use to create some Christmas cards which focus on the message of Jesus coming into the world, that you can write together in your families to send out, or if you prefer, you could provide some Christmas cards with appropriate Bible verses for families to use.
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 remember the song of the angels, announcing the birth of Jesus. Encourage members of the group to call out a line or word of praise to God, perhaps standing together and taking turns as you go round the circle.
Encourage the families to take some time to think about how else we can share the good news of Jesus’ birth with people, this Christmas. Perhaps you could set up window nativity scene in each of your houses or choose to give to a particular appeal to help those in need, for example. 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.