At this time of the church year we have the opportunity to focus on the mystery and wonder of the incarnation. This is a challenging task for Christian educators. While most children will readily identify with the baby in a manger, they may have difficulty in grasping the more abstract concepts of the incarnation. So where do we start? How do we begin to introduce this topic with children?
I have found that the best way to introduce any spiritual concept is to keep things very simple and start with the children’s life experiences. Most young children have seen a newborn baby. They may have younger siblings or cousins, or have seen a newborn at a friend’s house. Generally speaking young children are drawn to babies, so this is a good place to begin a conversation.
If you have a family with a young baby you might ask the parents to visit your group with their child. Ask them to talk about what it is like to parent a newborn and encourage the children to share their own experiences with babies. Then simply explain that at Christmas we remember how God came to live among us as a tiny baby. Mary and Joseph would have had to do everything for him.
If you have no young babies in your congregation bring in some baby dolls and invite the children to hold them if they wish. You can then engage in a time of sharing and discussion as detailed above.
If you have a multiage group, ask the children to sort themselves according to age. Remind the group that Jesus was a child too and was once the same age as each of them. Together identify some of the things the children have in common with Jesus (played with friends, helped parents, heard stories, went to school, attended worship, ate, had toys, grew out of his clothes, fell over, sneezed ….). A good song to sing would be “Jesus Came a Child Like Me” by Walter Farquharson available for download here
A different approach with older children is to bring in some interesting natural objects, rocks, shells, or live plants. Provide some magnifying glasses and invite the children the look closely. Alternatively look at some of the pictures from the Hubble telescope. Enjoy the beauty of creation. Marvel the same God who created the world and everything in it came to earth as a tiny baby.
Tweens and youth can understand much more, especially as their abstract thinking skills develop. Instead of trying to providing answers through exploration of texts such as John’s prologue, you might simply encourage them to enter into the beauty and mystery of the words. Perhaps the most effective you might do is to excite their spiritual imaginations through the use of poetry and music and art.
The song On Christmas Day by Matt Osgood explores the mystery and wonder of the incarnation. (For those churches trying to use inclusive language be aware that the song uses masculine imagery.)
A powerful poem to use is Incarnation by Sheila Bertrand (inclusive edit by F. Johnson)
Eternal became time-bound
Lying in a trough.
Almighty became human
To show us Great Love.
Who formed the universe,
Who stretched out all the skies,
Who sprinkled stars in space
Now, helpless, there He lies.
Once enthroned in the heavens,
The earth a footstool then,
He cannot take a single step,
Who once walked on the wind.
The everlasting Word of God,
Speechless as a babe;
The God who filled up all of space,
Confined now in a cave.
Who formed the hairs on every head
Suddenly can bleed.
The God by Whom all things were made
Now suffers want and need.
Who blew life into every man;
Now He takes His first breath.
Immortal God, the Timeless One
Can now feel pain and death.
Finally while this season encourages us to consider the wonder and mystery of who Jesus is, I do not think that we are obliged to provide an explanation for the Incarnation. The author of John’s gospel did not think it necessary to explain the mechanics in the prologue, so perhaps we can follow that lead.
I would like to hear from you. How do you approach this topic with the children and youth in your church? What music do you utilize? Is there a particular piece of art you have found helpful?