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Bible passage: Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:18-21
Background: Since we hear this story every year, it’s easy to lose sight of how extraordinary it is. Leaving aside the whole mind-boggling concept of God taking on human form, he chooses to enter the world in a staggeringly messy way. Gabriel visits a down-at-theheel town (John 1:46) to announce to an unmarried teenage girl that she will give birth to the Son of God, while another angel has to appear to her fiancé to convince him not to break off their engagement. Why on earth does God go about this in such a complicated way? The truth is, he often does things we don’t fully understand. But he is at work in our mess. And “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
You will need: refreshments; matches
Enjoy some snacks and drinks with your young people, and take a few minutes to catch up with them. While this is happening, you could have one or two matchstick puzzles set up. You can find some example puzzles and solutions at matchstickpuzzles.blogspot.com. Perhaps offer a small prize to anyone who can solve one of the puzzles. The idea is to illustrate that life is often confusing and sometimes utterly baffling. But this doesn’t mean that God has left us to it.
You will need: flour; small sweets; bowls; plates; a floor covering; wet wipes
Fill two or three large bowls with flour. Embed a handful of small sweets (eg Smarties or Skittles) in each bowl. Pack the flour down so that it is flat on top, then invert each bowl onto a plate. This activity is likely to be messy, so cover the floor with a sheet or tarpaulin.
Ask for as many volunteers as you have bowls of flour (or if you have a smaller group, you could divide into small teams and take it in turns to play). Remove each bowl, leaving a heap of flour on each plate. On ‘go’, the players should try to remove as many sweets as they can from the flour and drop them into their bowl, using only their teeth. The player (or team) who removes the most sweets in a minute wins. Provide wet wipes to help the players clean their faces afterwards.
You could finish by mentioning that life can be extremely messy, but there is often a lot of good stuff within the mess.
You will need: Bibles; pens; paper
Divide the young people into pairs or groups of three. Explain that the bits of the Bible you’re about to read show us a couple at risk of breaking up. When a celebrity couple has a falling out, people often take sides about who is right or wrong and decide which ‘team’ they’re on. Are you Team Mary or Team Joseph?
Give out the Bibles and have your groups read Luke 1:26-38 and Matthew 1:18-21. Challenge each group to decide whether they’re Team Mary or Team Joseph. Have them write down a few ideas on:
- Why this situation is so hard for Mary or Joseph
- What each one says and does, and why they behave this way
- What this all says about the kind of people they are
Be on hand to offer suggestions to any groups who seem to be struggling. For example, it might help to point out that having a baby outside of marriage would have been a huge scandal at this point in time, and that an engagement was slightly different back then from how it is now. Joseph would have effectively had to ‘divorce’ Mary to break it off.
Afterwards, take some feedback from each group. Try to get a range of perspectives.
Following on from ‘Bible exploration’, discuss these questions: • What made this situation so hard for Mary and Joseph? • What’s the good news in it all? • Why do you think God chose to bring Jesus into the world in such a messy way? • In Luke 1:37, Gabriel says: “Nothing is impossible with God.” What do you think of that? • Can you think of any other examples (from the Bible or your own experience) of God doing impossible things in a complicated situation? Finish by emphasising that we don’t always understand why God acts the way he does, but that he is with us in our messy lives and can do amazing things.
You will need: A3 paper; magazines and newspapers; scissors; glue; pens; masking tape
Before the session, use the masking tape to create a cross shape in the middle of each sheet of A3 paper. Let the young people work on their own or in pairs for this activity. Give out the prepared sheets of paper and make the other materials available. Encourage the young people to create an ‘impossible collage’ by sticking down a collection of images that represent seemingly impossible situations. These might be global, national or local events in the news, or more personal problems.
Towards the end of the 15 minutes, ask everyone to remove their masking tape, tearing through their collage and revealing a cross at the centre. Display the finished pictures in your meeting room as a reminder that God is with us, even in messy, complicated, impossible-seeming situations.
You will need: paper; pens; contents of paper recycling bin
Give out pens and paper. Encourage the young people to write or draw something that represents a problem they need God’s help with. What messy situations do they want to see God at work in?
Empty out a paper recycling bin in the middle of the room. Have the young people screw up their finished papers and throw them onto the pile, committing their mess to God. End with a short prayer, thanking God that nothing is impossible for him, and asking him to bring good out of your messy lives.
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