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Bible passage: Matthew 2:1-12
Background: As Jesus is born in Bethlehem a star appears in the east and, believing it to be of the utmost significance, some wise men follow it to find Jesus
As you begin the session, invite the children to sit together in a circle and pass round a simple object. When a child has the object they can share their response to the question. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a sand timer so you have time for each person to share if they want to. If a child doesn’t want to say anything they can just pass on the object. Ask the children to talk about which superstar celebrities they follow.
Going on from talking about superstars, ask the children what kind of ideas and behaviours you see if you follow these people. It won’t all be bad! For instance, if you follow some pop stars it might be drinking and bad behaviour, but if you follow a fitness star you might learn about health and well-being.
You will need: simple props and costumes; three wrapped gifts containing objects to represent gold, frankincense and myrrh
Ask who can recap the story so far. Who knows what happens next? Tell the next part of the story:
The story now shifts a bit further east, where some people who knew all about the stars saw something a bit unexpected. We often have three wise men in our Christmas story because they bring three presents, but the Bible doesn’t say there were three, or, for that matter, that they were men. Choose some children to be star experts and dress them up in the costumes.
People paid much more attention to the stars to tell them things 2,000 years ago. These star experts saw a new star rising and felt it meant that a new king had been born. They decided to follow the star and pay honour to the new king.
When they came to Jerusalem, they did the sensible thing and went to the royal palace where the king was. Who was this king? A man called Herod, who was a nasty piece of work. Have someone be Herod and put a crown on their head. The star experts asked King Herod about the new king. Herod was a bit rattled. He was the king and no one was going to take that from him! Herod knew there were messages in the scriptures about a new king coming, so he asked the religious teachers where it was supposed to happen. They told him Bethlehem. Herod sent the star experts to Bethlehem and told them to come back when they had found the baby king. He said that he wanted to worship him too, but I don’t think that was really his plan! Have your star experts and Herod act out the conversation.
In our nativity plays the wise men always get to Jesus when he is still a tiny baby, but they probably didn’t get there until a bit later. Joseph and Mary had found a house to live in (the census must have been over) and Jesus may have been several months old or anything up to 2 years old. The star experts were thrilled to find Jesus and gave him presents; not usual gifts, but items with symbolic meanings.
Choose a volunteer to open each of your three wrapped presents as you talk about the symbolism. First, gold, to show that Jesus was a king. Second, frankincense, which was something used by the priests. A priest was someone who connected people to God, and that was what Jesus would do. Third, myrrh, a very strange gift for a baby, as it was an ointment used on dead people. It showed that Jesus’ death would be important and special in some way. After they had given their presents, the star experts went home without going back to see Herod because they had been warned in a dream that he was a very dangerous man. And he was!
Ask the children these questions, encouraging everyone to take turns to contribute:
- Why do you think people took notice of the stars in this way in history?
- Why do you think the wise men bothered to follow the star?
- Why was Herod so upset?
- How do you think Mary felt about the three gifts that were given to Jesus? Why did the wise men believe their dream was a warning?
- Should we pay attention to our dreams?
You will need: small boxes and stones from “Session 2’; permanent markers; hay; gold card; scissors; glue sticks
Continue to make your stone nativity scene. Put a little hay into the box, and as you decorate the stones you can place them inside. Today, use the markers to decorate stones to look like wise men with their gifts. In addition, cut out a gold star shape and stick it on the outside or lid of your box. As you work, chat with the children about the story and what God might be saying to them.
If you didn’t do session 2 or 3, you’ll need to create stones for Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds and the angels to add to your nativity scene.
If you can’t get stones, you could form some flat pebbles out of air-drying clay a few weeks in advance so they are dry enough to be drawn on. Or you could make salt dough pebbles and bake them in the oven ahead of time.
You will need: a Christmas tree decorated with stars
Remind the group that a star can point you to something, like the superstars we talked about at the beginning and the star in the story. Ask them what they would like to be pointed to and what sort of things might do that for them. As they think about this, the children can come and collect a star from the tree. Pray and thank God for each person, asking that they would find things that point them towards Jesus.
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