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Talking about the Incarnation

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?

Sharon Harding

About Sharon Harding

I was born in England and immigrated to Canada almost 30 years ago. A graduate of Gloucestershire University (B.Ed.), I have been involved in children’s ministry since I was 16. Over the past 12 years I have written for a variety of Christian Education curriculum resources. I also write a blog at rediscoveredfamilies.com encouraging parents to build strong connections with their children. When I am not working I enjoy painting, reading, and pottering around the Internet.
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0 Responses to Talking about the Incarnation

  1. Sharon Harding

    Happy New Year to you too Jesse.

    Thank you so much for your comment. I am now looking at that text in a totally different light. I have never thought about the fact that Jesus was being very much a teenager in this story. Even his response to his mother is akin to the typical teenage  “What??” When asked by their parents “What were you thinking?”

    The one thing I enjoy about teens is their refreshing honesty. I also appreciate the way they question everything (especially the status quo), and their passion for justice … I guess that is when I see Christ in them. I never really thought about that before.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. It really changes the story, doesn’t it? I think sometimes, we like to talk about Jesus being fully God and fully human, when what we really mean is fully God and a little bit human. This is one text that challenges me to see it differently.

  3. Kate Newman

    Jesus Was Once a Teenager Too! That is a song by one of my favourite Canadian bands the Rheostatics. Thank you, Jesse. I hadn’t thought about that song in a long while.

    Being a mother makes me wonder about this stage in Jesus’ life. Why don’t we hear about it more often? Was it because it was simply uninteresting? Or was it because these were Jesus’ challenging years? Was Jesus always miraculously well-behaved? ( I could believe that.) Or did Mary have to sometimes set her son straight. ( I could believe that too.) You would have to be a outstanding person to have to instruct Jesus Christ. How in the world would Mary and Joseph accomplish that? Only with the help of God, like any other parent I suppose.

  4. And thank you! I’d actually never made that connection. I’m going to pull the song out next time the lectionary brings us there! 🙂

    In regards to your final questions, I’ll be honest: I’ve always assumed the exclusion of those years had more to do with the redaction of those inspired to edit and compile the canon of scripture (bless their hearts) than the [non]event of Jesus’ childhood. Only God knows. Some extra-biblical sources, like the Gospel of Thomas or the Syriac Infancy narratives tell stories about the child Jesus. Hmm… you’ve raised some really interesting questions for me about children in society.

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