I really like it when the Feast of Epiphany falls on a Sunday, because it provides the opportunity to tell the story of the Magi coming to visit Jesus with the children. It’s a wonderful faith story to share and is a fitting introduction to the season of Epiphany.
The activity of giving and receiving of gifts will be fresh in the minds of most children. Not only have they enjoyed this part of Christmas, but many of them have been encouraged to show and talk about their gifts with others. This is a good place to start an exploration of the story of the Magi with younger children. Some of them may wonder about the gifts the magi brought. They have had experience playing and interacting with toddlers. They know what toddlers like to play with, so the gifts given to Jesus may seem rather strange to them. Understanding the symbolic meanings of gold, frankincense and myrrh is probably beyond the capabilities of most, still they can understand that the magi brought the very best they could. It might be helpful to prompt the children to think about the gifts they might bring before Jesus. They may wonder what they could possibly give, especially as they probably don’t have any gold hanging around. We can reassure them that following in God’s loving ways like Jesus is one of the best gifts of all.
Of course the story of the Magi marks the beginning of a whole season in the church. Some children (and adults) will experience this time of year as a bit of an anticlimax. Christmas is over, the decorations are coming down, and now it is time to get back to the normal routines of life. One of the things we can try to convey is that Christmas may be over, but the birth of Jesus is the start of something really incredible. In the church the season of Epiphany is one of glory and wonder. It is filled with wonderful stories and rich imagery. How will you celebrate this season with the children? How will you incorporate the themes and images of Epiphany into your education program?
I have found that one of the best ways to incorporate the flow of the church year into Sunday school is to take the colours and symbols found in the sanctuary and duplicate them in your learning area. Perhaps you can set up a small worship table with an appropriately colored cloth. Maybe you can use colored streamers or use the liturgical colours as the background paper for bulletin boards.
The central symbols of Epiphany are light and stars. Take some time to think about how you could incorporate those into your learning area? Can you hang up twinkling white lights? Could you use candles, or lamps to create an atmosphere of mystery and wonder? What about stars? There are myriads of ideas for crafting stars on the Internet and Pinterest. Choose some and invite the children to help you make many stars. Then hang and display them everywhere!
One of the stories we will enjoy during the season is that of Jesus’ baptism. The words of affirmation spoken by God can be adapted to create a blessing for the children at the end of each session. You might say to each child in turn, “(Child’s name) you are God’s beloved child. God is pleased with you.” Invite the children to say the words with you and say the blessing over you too.
Art and music can be used to embody the themes of the seasons. One of my favourite pictures is Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. It is readily available as a poster here and could be used in a number of ways throughout the Season.
One piece of music that comes to mind is We are Marching in the Light of God. Children could create actions to the words, dance to the music, and create new verses.
Throughout the season older children might enjoy creating and producing a board game depicting the journey of the Magi. You will find some instructions for creating Bible board games here. Have fun creating some imaginary situations for the Magi to encounter on their journey to Bethlehem. Leave the game out for children to use all season.
Finally I came across this really neat trick a few days ago. You will see how five bent toothpicks can change positions on their own to make a five-pointed star. All you need are toothpicks, a plate and a little water! I haven’t worked out how it could be used yet, but it is really fun and would impress most children and quite a few adults too! Try it and see. HOW COOL IS THAT? Got any ideas for using it?
What do you have planned for the Season of Epiphany? How will you help the children grasp the distinct flavour of the season? How will you focus on the theme of God’s light shining in unexpected places and spreading throughout the world?