A to Z Nativity Set: Christmas 2018

Our parish has been working on learning the entire story of Jesus’ birth, from A to Z. Since many of the people who we meet in the story aren’t in a standard nativity set, I reworked a set from several years ago. This set can be used as Popsicle Stick puppets, or you can cut out tabs for the bottom of each character so that they can stand on their own, as you see in the picture. I cut popsicle sticks in half and affixed them to the tabs to give them some weight and help them to be more sturdy. Access your copy of the A to Z Nativity here

As you color the characters, listen to some easy-to-follow along Christmas songs from Reawaken Hymns:

When you are ready to tell the whole story, you can use the words below:

Zechariah:  Zechariah is an old man who has given up on having children.  Then, an angel appears and tells him that he will be the father to John the Baptist.  He finds this message hard to believe, so the angel gives him nine months to think about it.  He says, “Because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” (Luke 1:20)

Mary: Mary is a young woman from the middle of nowhere.  When the angel tells her that she will be the mother of the Son of God, she responds, first with questions, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34), and then with faith, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  (Luke 1:37) This statement of faith and the belief that “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37) changes the entire course of the rest of her life.

Elizabeth:  Elizabeth is Zechariah’s wife and Mary’s cousin.  It is to Elizabeth’s house that Mary flees once she agrees to be Jesus’ mother, and at that house receives the warmest of welcomes.  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” (Luke 1:42) Elizabeth cries.  She celebrates the birth of a longed-for child in her baby, John, even as she welcomes the mother of the one who is to come.

Joseph :  Joseph is the adopted father of Jesus.  He is engaged to marry Mary, but they are not yet living together, when he finds out that she is pregnant.  We learn that God chose Jesus’ step-father well when we learn that he is both righteous and merciful, planning to dismiss her quietly.  When he dreams of an angel who explains “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 1:20) he believes the angel, takes Mary as his wife, and claims Jesus as his own.

Jesus: Jesus, of course, is the real star of the entire story. His name means “God saves,” which reminds everyone that, although he was born in a barn out in the country instead of in a royal palace, he is truly the King of Kings. God’s love is a constant surprise, and nowhere more so than in the birth of Jesus.

Shepherds:  Shepherds are the last people you would expect to receive the first news of the birth of Jesus.  They live out in the country, they are poor, and they are on the margins of society.  And yet, God chooses the least, the last, and the lowly, to reveal God’s plan of love and forgiveness for all.  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors,” sings the whole multitude of the heavenly host.  (Luke 2:14).  The shepherds believe, go and see for themselves, and just can’t stop telling everyone they meet about the miracle of Christmas.

Simeon:  Simeon is a prophet who has waited his entire life to meet Jesus face to face.  When Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for the first time, he knows that his life’s work is complete.  “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word,” Simeon sings, “for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” (Luke 2:29-31). 

Anna: Anna has also waited her entire life to meet Jesus face to face.  When Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for the first time, she also knows that her life’s work is complete.  Anna shared the good news that the Messiah had come with anyone who would listen, thankful for a long life well lived, a precious hope at last fulfilled.

Magi:  The magi remind us that Jesus was not just a miracle for the people of Israel, but for the entire world.  They see the sign of the star and follow, past the edge of their known world, to meet Jesus face to face.  “They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” (Matthew 2:11) because these people from a foreign land knew that he was king, God, and sacrifice.  They bring this message to the nations, even as they return home by another road.

Star: Did you know that people were not the only ones waiting for Jesus to be born? A star in the sky waited to appear to earth until the perfect moment, and the magi, who were probably also astrologers, saw the star and followed it all the way to Jerusalem. After meeting King Herod, they continue their search “and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.” (Matthew 2:9) 

Animals: Although the animals aren’t technically in the story, having animals as a part of our nativity set reminds us that all of creation was waiting for and excited to welcome Jesus to earth. The animals even gave up their feeding trough so that Jesus would have a cradle in which to sleep! (Luke 2:7)

God bless you and your family  during this holy season!   –Family God Time

Jesus’ Birth A to Z Week 5: Joseph & the Angel

BIBLE STORY OF THE WEEK: Matthew 1:18-25 NRSV

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

COLORING PAGE

http://www.supercoloring.com/pages/the-dream-of-saint-joseph

PRAYERS & QUESTIONS:

Sunday:  Matthew 1:18

Dear Lord, help me to keep the promises that I make, and make me faithful in all my relationships.  Amen.

What are the promises that people make to one another when they get engaged to be married?  What would it be like to think that your significant other was lying to you about something very important?

Monday:  Matthew 1:19

Dear God, help me to know the right thing to do in sticky situations.  Help me to show mercy to others, as you show mercy to me.  Amen.

What do you think that you would have done in Joseph’s situation?  What are some ways that you can do what is right, but also what is merciful?

Tuesday:  Matthew 1:20

Dear Jesus, you are with me when I am awake and when I am asleep.  Grant me peaceful rest, and an open mind to hear your voice.  Amen.

What do you dream about?  Do you listen to your dreams?  Has God ever sent you a message through a dream?  What was that experience like?

Wednesday:  Matthew 1:21

(Take a few moments to think about the ways in which you have sinned and want forgiveness)

Dear Jesus, I ask you to forgive me completely, and to save me from my sins.  Amen.

The name Jesus means “God saves.”  Why do you think that this is an important name for the Son of God to have?  How does Jesus save us from our sins?

Thursday:  Matthew 1:22-23

Dear God, I thank you that you are present in my life, in the good times, in the bad times, and everywhere in between.  Help me to know that this is really true in my life.  Amen.

What does it mean that “God is with us” in the person of Jesus?  At what times and in what places do you know that God is present in your life?

Friday:  Matthew 1:24

Dear God, I thank you for Joseph and Mary, and the commitment that they made to one another in uncertain times.  Help me to reach out in love towards others.  Amen.

Tell your favorite story of a wedding. What do you think that it means that Joseph and Mary are making a lifetime commitment at this point in the story?

Saturday:  Matthew 1:25

Dear Jesus, I thank you for claiming me as your own in the waters of baptism.  Help me to walk as a child of your light, now and always.  Amen.

In Bible times, when a father named a child, he was claiming it as his own.  What do you think of Joseph for claiming Jesus as his son on earth?  Who do you claim as your own?  Who claims you?

Jesus’ Birth A to Z Week 4: the Birth of John

BIBLE STORY OF THE WEEK:  Luke 1:39-45, 57-66 NRSV

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 Buthis mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote,“His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

COLORING PAGE:

http://www.supercoloring.com/pages/zechariah-elizabeth-and-baby-john-the-baptist

PRAYERS & QUESTIONS:

Sunday:  Luke 1:39-40

Dear God, please bless me when I travel.  Bless all those who are on theroad, or rail, or in the air today, that they may arrive at their destinations safely.  Amen.

Tell a story about a time when you went on a trip.  How did you travel?  What was the journey like?  Who did you visit and why?

Monday:  Luke 1:41-42

Dear God, watch over all of those who arepregnant today.  Keep them and their children safe, and make it a joyful time of wonder.  Amen.

Have you ever gotten to feel a baby move in someone’s stomach?  What did it feel like?  What do you think it means that John recognized Mary, even in the womb?

Tuesday:  Luke 1:43-45

Dear God, as I prepare to be a guest and a host this season, help me to remember to take the time to prepare for your coming.  Take the “bah!” out of my “humbug.”  Amen.

When is a time when you were received as a guest?  What made it comfortable to be a guest?  Uncomfortable?  In what ways can you work on being hospitable like Elizabeth?

Wednesday:  Luke 1:57-58

Dear Jesus, have care for all who are giving birth today.  Help me to rejoice at the gifts of life that you constantly give through your great mercy.  Amen.

What do you think it would have been like to have been present at the birth of John? Do you know the story of your birth? What are your favorite stories about children being born?

Thursday:  Luke 1:59-61

Dear God, I thank you for my name.  Help me to remember that names are powerful, and to use them kindly with those I meet. Amen.

What is the significance of your name?  Find out what it means, or why you were named what you were named.  Why do you think it makes a difference that God chose John’s name?

Friday:  Luke 1:62-64

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.  Help me to always use my speech in a meaningful and holy way. Amen.

What do you think it would be like to finally be able to speak after a long time of silence?  Why do you think the first words out of Zechariah’s mouth were praise of God? How do you use your speech to praise God?

Saturday:  Luke 1:65-66

Dear God, I ask for your blessing on my life today.  Empower me to be a blessing to those you place in my path today. Amen.

What do you think it means that the hand of the Lord was with baby John?  Do you think that the “hand of the Lord” has ever been with you? Could this phrase be tied to the presence of God’s blessing?

Jesus’ Birth A to Z Week 2: Zechariah

BIBLE STORY OF THE WEEK:  Luke 1:5-25 NRSV

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

    8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

    21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

    24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

COLORING PAGE:

https://www.deviantart.com/art/Advent-Coloring-Page-Zechariah-269636075

Zechariah

PRAYERS & QUESTIONS:

Sunday:  Luke 1:5-7

Lord God, I know that you can do miraculous things.  Make the impossible possible, so that all may know your power.  Amen.

Have you ever prayed for a miracle?  What are some impossible things that God has done for you?

Monday:  Luke 1:8-10

Dear Lord, you are worthy of worship and praise.  Help me to remember to honor you, on special days and every day.  Amen.

What do you pray about?  What do you hope for when you come to a worship service at church?  What do you think God desires from our worship?

Tuesday:  Luke 1:11-13

Dear Jesus, I know that you show up when I am afraid.  Help me to know that you are with me, no matter what. Amen.

Describe a time when you have been afraid.  What or who helped you to get through that scary time?  Does it make a difference to know that God is with you in times of fear?

Wednesday:  Luke 1:14-16

God of all, I thank you that you lead me and guide me.  When I stray, help me to turn around, to turn always toward you.  Amen.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you were tempted to do something wrong, and then turned away from doing it?  Have you ever helped someone else to get back on the right path?

Thursday:  Luke 1:17-19

Dear God, I thank you for the age that I am.  Help me to do the impossible with the wonderful gifts you have given to me.  Amen.

Have you ever been told that you were too young or too old for something?  What did that experience feel like?  What age of people do you think God likes to use?

Friday:  Luke 1:20-22

(Instead of using words in your prayers today, take the time to take five deep, slow breaths and listen for God to speak.)

Have you ever had a time when you were unable to speak?  What about a time when you took the time to listen?  What would it be like to not be able to speak for nine months?

Saturday:  Luke 1:23-25

Dear Jesus, you know our hearts.  Help me to look past the surface and give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  Amen.

Have you ever had a time when people changed their opinion about you for the better?  What about when your opinion was changed about someone else?  What do think God’s opinion was?

Jesus’ Birth A to Z week 1: Christ the King

BIBLE STORY OF THE WEEK:  Luke 1:46-56 NRSV

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

COLORING PAGE: 

http://insurestreet.co/crown-coloring-pages/crown-coloring-pages-crown-coloring-pages-best-king-royal-party-images-on-queen-crown-coloring-pages/

Christ the King

PRAYERS & QUESTIONS:

Sunday:  Luke 1:46-47

Dear Jesus, I have joy in my soul because of you!  Make my actions help others to see you.    Amen.

In what way does your life point out Jesus to others?  What about God causes you to rejoice?

Monday:  Luke 1:48-49

Dear God, I thank you for the many blessings that you have given me.  Help me to be a blessing to others.  Amen.

In what ways do you consider yourself to be blessed?  What are the blessings that God has given to you?

Tuesday:  Luke 1:50

Dear God, I am amazed by all that you do.  Help me to always show love and respect to you.  Amen.

What do you think it means to have a healthy respect for, or fear of, God?  In what ways do you show respect to God?  How do you disrespect God?

Wednesday:  Luke 1:51

(Offer those things which are on your heart or minds today to God using your own words.)

What are the thoughts that are on your heart today?  They might be joyful, or sad, or clear, or murky.  What it is like to know that God shares your thoughts?

Thursday:  Luke 1:52-53

Dear Jesus, you turn the world upside down.  Open my eyes to see those in need and to be your hands & feet of help and compassion.  Amen.

When is a time that you remember being hungry?  What are some ways that you and your family can help those who are hungry on a regular basis?

Friday:  Luke 1:54-55

Dear God, you are faithful, forever and ever.  Help me to be faithful in keeping the promises that I have made.  Amen.

What kind of promises have you made?  How have you been faithful or unfaithful in keeping them?  What kind of promises has God made to you?  How has God been faithful?

Saturday:  Luke 1:56

Dear Jesus, I thank you that I have a home in you.  Please make me mindful of those who have no homes, or do not have safe homes in which to live.  Amen.

Describe the place that you call home.  What does it feel like, smell like, look like, taste like?  What does it mean to you to “be at home”?  Who does God figure in to this equation?

Children’s Devotion Time December 2017: Jesus, the Word

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One of the churches in our parish has begun having inter-generational Sunday School once per month.  We call it “Children’s Devotion Time” or “CDT.”  Each child in the class has an older adult who serves as an individual mentor during devotion time.  It includes an opening prayer, a large group Bible Story, an age-appropriate leaflet about the day that they work on in child/adult pairs, a closing prayer, and a simple craft.  It is based on Family God Time, but done at church and for a larger group.  Join us in this new faith formation experiment!

You can learn more about just how we have set this up here: Children’s Devotion Time Instructions

Large Group Gathering Prayer: (Do this prayer repeat-after-me style)
Dear Jesus, we thank you for this time to learn more about how you are the Word of God, the Lord of Life, and the Light of the World.  Help us to learn and grow together.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Large Group Bible Story:  John 1:1-18
Read about Jesus, the Word in a children’s Bible, your own Bible, or you can find the story here:  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+1%3A1-18&version=ERV

We used the Whirl Lectionary Story Bible for our resource.  It was the story called “Jesus, the Word.”  You can purchase your own copy here: https://www.wearesparkhouse.org/store/product/19372/Whirl-Story-Bible-Lectionary-Edition

Work in Pairs:
Each child/adult pair has a four-page leaflet to work on which is developmentally appropriate for the child.  They work through the leaflet together, taking as much time as they need.  This month, I developed the resource specifically for our children.  You can access it here (John 1 leaflet), or use the children’s bulletin from your church.

Large Group Closing Prayer: (Do this prayer repeat-after-me style)
Dear Jesus, we thank you that you are the Word, our Life, and our Light.  Help us bring your Word to those who need Light in their Life.  In your name we pray, Amen.

Activity:  Candle Chrismons
Chrismons are Christian Christmas tree decorations that tell the story of Jesus.  They are white and gold to remind us that Jesus is pure and holy, as well as king of all creation.  You can learn more about Chrismons here:  http://www.chrismon.org/chrismons-ministry.html Because we talked about Jesus as the light of the world during this devotion time, I thought it would be neat to do a candle Chrismon for the Christmas trees of our families.  If you make extra, feel free to bring them to area nursing homes, the shut-ins of your congregation, or give them out when you are Christmas caroling this season!

Supplies needed
Candle outline, printed on cardstock (Candle Chrismons)
white craft foam
glue
gold or white ribbon, for hangers
gold metallic Sharpies
white glitter
gold glitter
white glitter glue
gold glitter glue

1. Cut out the candle outline and glue it to the craft foam PRINTED SIDE DOWN, sandwiching the ends of the ribbon in between the two pieces. This will give you both an outline to cut out and a firm backing for your Chrismon.  When the glue is dry, cut out the foam.  I did this in advance.

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2.  Outline the foam side of the Chrismon in gold Sharpie. Decorate with glitter and glitter glue, as desired.

3.  When it is fully dry, hang it on your Christmas tree, or in another prominent spot where you will see it often.

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© 2017 by Pastor Breen Marie Sipes, Tri-Saints Lutheran Parish, Byron and Hardy, Nebraska.  https://familygodtime.wordpress.com Please give credit where credit is due!

Advent 2017: #jesusbirthatoz

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This Advent, our entire parish is diving deeply into the story of Jesus’ birth, including all of the stories around Jesus’ birth from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.  I am in the process of writing a daily devotion for the entire parish, which is gathered weekly into our “The Story of the Birth of Jesus from Beginning to End” flip book.  The resource is written toward my confirmation students, who are in fifth-eighth grade, but each day has elements that can be appreciated by younger children and adults, as well.

In our house, we have decided to make it a daily time at supper.  After our meal prayer and while the food is being served, our second grader reads the Bible verses and the questions for the day and shows us the picture.  As we eat, each of us has the opportunity to answer the questions for the day at our own level (I sometimes have to rephrase them for our four-year-olds).  Before everyone leaves the table, one of the children leads us in the prayer for the day repeat-after-me style (I whisper it into the ears of the ones who can’t yet read).

We are only a few days into the devotion, but I am encouraged by how interested they are in it.  We will be talking about it at church, as well, and given opportunities to decorate it each week as we wish.

If you and your family would like to use this resource, you can find it at https://goodgodideas.wordpress.com/category/jesusbirthatoz/

New devotions will be available each week until January 21, so check back often.  I hope that this season is meaningful for you and your family!