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Advent Calendar 2016

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Welcome to Oxford CYM’s Advent Calendar. This year in our lead-up to Christmas we are using the traditional Jesse Tree which helps us connect the custom of decorating Christmas trees to the events leading to Jesus’ birth.

The Jesse Tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Jesse was the father of King David. We adorn a Jesse Tree with illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse Tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history.

You can play the Advent Calendar Game by trying to guess which picture is the one for the day (clue: think chronologically). Hover on the “i” icon on a picture to see which day it represents and then click to go to the devotional material we will all be reading that day. Or take the express route and go straight down the page to the calendar window for the day.

(Do please share this link so that other can join us – copy the address above or use the social share bar on the left of the page)

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Jesse Tree

(Image curtsey of www.nyfaithformation.org)

Our Journey

The Jesse Tree offers a traditional approach to Advent – the season of preparing for the coming of Jesus – Emmanuel  – the Messiah.

The Tree takes its name from Isaiah 11:1-5 – where we find one of the Old Testament prophesies about Jesus:

The Branch from Jesse

Isaiah 11

1  A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

 from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—

 the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

 the Spirit of counsel and of might,

 the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—

3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

This is a way of telling the story of the family tree (or genealogy) of Jesus – the unfolding story of God’s salvation and some of the many people who were part of that.

Oxford CYM invites you to explore the Jesse Tree this Advent with us.

We will be offering material to resource you and to facilitate sharing Advent with children and young people each day up to the Big One.

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Food for the Journey

You might like to take a little time at the start of Advent to reflect on your own spiritual ‘genealogy’  – the story or family tree of your own journey of faith.  Why not create a personal Faith Tree?  You could use this image or create one of your own:

What might be the root or stump that your faith is a new shoot from?

What are the branches on your tree?  Maybe key experiences/ encounters / paths on the journey.  Times which have shaped you.

Who have been key people on your journey – can you hang an image or icon for each of them from the branches?

What fruit or leaves have you grown or are you seeking to grow – can you write key prayer words in these?

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Accompanying Children and Young People

A traditional activity is to make a tree (this could be a simple drawing or a large twig or a small Christmas tree) and make a decoration each day to stick on it or hang from it which relates to the Jesse Tree theme that day.

Why not invite children and young people to take turns making the decoration and adding it to the theme – you will need to tell them who is the focus of Jesus’ family tree or the great story of salvation that day.  There are traditional symbols connected with each day – but the children and young people you know may have great ideas of their own!

Here are some examples:

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decorated tree
sm tree
tree5w
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Earth2Our Journey

God’s Grandeur (Gerard Manley Hopkins) The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil. Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And for all this nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. It says in Genesis 1:28 we were created in the image of a creative God, who carefully designed and created a world full of hidden, seemingly unnecessary beauty.

Food for the Journey

boyIf you have time, read Genesis 1:1-2:3. If you haven’t got time, skim read it. God started with a clear and logical plan, he followed it through, and as he completed each phase he stopped to reflect that it was how he had designed it to be, and appreciate that ‘it was good’. On the seventh day, he rested.   Spend a small amount of time thinking out a plan for the coming busy month, thinking about pockets of time you can defend from the busy rush of Christmas preparations, to stop, appreciate what ‘is good’ in your life, and look for the hidden, seemingly unnecessary beauty. If you can, put those in your diary now!

Accompanying Children and Young People

Ask children and young people which creative activities they regularly engage in. Encourage them to think creatively about what ‘being creative’ is – for example, baking, telling stories, building with Lego, gardening, colouring in or drawing, sewing, building dens, inventing, writing computer programs or building websites, knitting, photography, etc. Encourage them to appreciate what they do that is creative, to appreciate how that differs from other people’s creativity, and to appreciate the differences that God put in all of us!

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 ParadiseOur Journey

Today’s section of scripture begins with the beautiful account of God’s creation of the world (Genesis 2:4-14) culminating in Adam and Eve living in harmony with all of His creation where “they felt no shame” (vs 25). They were given complete freedom apart from one important rule:

15. The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

16. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17. but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

We are all too aware of the sad story of the fall that was to follow as first Adam blames Eve and then she in turn blames the serpent. God holds each of them accountable for their choices with the resulting banishment from the Garden and its consequences not only for humanity but for the whole created order (3:1-24). War, famine, Ebola and our own failings only begin to scratch the surface of the impact for our world. Or as the Apostle Paul writes, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). How could a story that begins so perfectly end in such disaster?

Thankfully we know the story doesn’t end there. Praise God for the ‘new’ or ‘second’ Adam!!

Paul goes on to proclaim:

17. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18. Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (Romans 5:17-18)

(New International Version of the Bible taken from www.biblegateway.com)

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Food for the Journey

Sin - Missing the MarkAlthough there are several Hebrew and Greek words used to describe ‘sin’ in the Bible, theologians tell us that one of the most comprehensive and commonly used words in the New Testament is Hamartia. Paul uses this word to tell us that “all have sinned (hamartano) and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God has set the standard and we have all missed the mark just as arrows were once said to have ‘synned’ (old English) when they missed their target.

Today is another opportunity to lay all of our wrong thoughts, motives and actions at the cross and acknowledge our utter dependency on God because we can only fall short left to our own devices.

Let’s take some time to remember the unattainable perfection of God. Praise Him again today for providing the way for us to be made right through Jesus’ perfect life, sacrifice and resurrection glory. He has done, is doing and will do it all – praise God!

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Craft activitycobra weave

Have a look at this YouTube video showing how to make a cobra out of craft sticks woven together and practice making the snake.

Talk together with your children about sin and how it separates us from God and then write on the sticks some things you might want to say sorry to God for. Create the snake together. Take away one of the sticks to see the snake ‘destroyed’ and then talk about how Jesus has broken the power of sin and given us a way to be friends with God again.

Game

Your young people might enjoy scribbling sorry prayers onto pieces of paper, screwing them up and throwing them into a bin or bowl. You could keep moving the bin further away! How many can they get in at the first attempt and how many ‘sin’ and fall short of their target?

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Our Journey

rainbow‘And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.’ (Genesis 9:12-13)

Today we are thinking about Noah and the flood. It is a story that is familiar to many of us. When we recall the story perhaps we think of Noah’s obedience, the precision of his building of the ark, the instructions from God for populating the ark or perhaps the revelation of God’s covenant with his creation represented by a rainbow.

I am struck by the fact that God makes his covenant not just with humankind, but with every living creature. God’s promises and act of redemption are for his whole creation. The beautiful image of the rainbow across the sky remains a meaningful and powerful reminder today of the promise God has made to his people.

Sometimes life can feel overwhelming, when our striving to remain obedient flounders or our precision is wavering and the instructions are unclear. In spite of this, God’s promise remains steadfast. You only get a rainbow with rain and sunshine. It is not a fixed phenomenon and requires perspective. God’s promise breaks through in the midst of change and uncertainty. Do you need to remind yourself of this today?

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Food for the Journey

Watch this haunting version of the song ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ and allow the images and melody to help you connect with God as today you seek to hold onto the promise that God made to Noah. Video

Having watched this you may like to use this prayer;

Heavenly Father

You used a glorious rainbow spread full across the sky to welcome Noah, his family, and all on the ark back to land as you called the great flood to an end.

Thank you for this symbol of hope and promise which we can see for ourselves illuminating the sky at times. May this image above our heads and in the distance be a constant reminder that you are with us far beyond what we can see.

May I take time to stop each time I see a rainbow in the sky to thank you for all you have given me and to renew my faith, my hope, and my love for you and for all of your creation. Amen

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Accompanying Children and Young People

make a rainbow

Create Your Own Rainbow

You usually have to wait until a storm has cleared and the sun comes out to see a rainbow, but you can make your very own rainbow

You will need:

• A shallow pan

• Water

• A torch/light

• A white surface or piece of paper

• A mirror

Fill the shallow pan about half way full with water. Then place the mirror in the water at an angle. Shine the light into the water where the mirror is under water. Hold the white paper above the mirror and adjust the angle until you see the rainbow appear.

This won’t look exactly like the rainbow you see in the sky, but it shares the same general characteristics of colours and order. When you shine the white light of your torch into the water, the light bends. But white light isn’t a single colour but a combination of all the visible colours. So when white light bends, all of its components (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo light) also bend. Each of these colours bends at a different angle because each colour travels at a different speed inside water or glass.

When a rainbow forms in the sky, the same principle applies. Many little water droplets refract the sun’s light. The angle at which we view these water droplets determines which colour we see from them.

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Our Journey

star clusterField of Stars

‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.  So shall your offspring be.’  Genesis 15:5

  • So God’s promise to Abram was made.
  • Abram became Abraham.
  • His story becomes ours.
  • That story is about following in response to a promise; it’s full of obedience and of doubt too.
  • But God remained true and faithful to His promise.
  • Apparently we really are made of stardust!

Talking of following, Advent is a call to wake up, to respond to God’s promise of eternal life, a new heaven and a new earth.  A wake up call to what God wants to do for His Kingdom within and through us.  God didn’t simply show Abram a starry sky, God asked Abram to follow Him, according to His purposes – as far as Abram was concerned at the time – to the ends of the earth.

I am sure that taking that first step into the unknown can feel as daunting to us as I imagine it to have been for Abram.

Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward Genesis 15:1

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Food for the Journey

Visitors

Spend a moment alone, give yourself time and space to use your imagination as vividly as you can.

  • Imagine a call to leave country
  • To leave community
  • To leave family

Now, in your mind’s eye, imagine Abram with Sarai and Lot, and their households – packing up.  The logistics of loading their belongings onto their livestock.  The decision about the direction on the map.

What can you see, hear, smell and touch?

Listen to the ‘Goodbye’s’ between family members and between old friends.

Imagine the hope that was in the travellers’ hearts.

Stay with Abram and his entourage for a moment.  What do you think was in Abram’s heart?  What was his prayer?

Spend a moment opening your self up to God.  Is God reminding you of a promise he made to you?  Is God asking you to step out?  Maybe it’s to make a small change in your life or maybe it’s some larger project.  Dare to ask him what it might be . . . and remember:

Do not be afraid, I am your shield and your very great reward.

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Accompanying Children and Young People

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Making a promise box

Resources:  Scissors, glue, small box, ribbons, bows, scraps of wrapping paper etc.

card box2Directions:

  • Get the child to decorate the box – however s/he wishes
  • Find a picture of a leaf, an angel and a heart which can be print and coloured.
  • Colour the pictures and place them inside the box.
  • For the next 3 days, take out a picture and learn one of God’s promises:

God will never LEAVE you (Deuteronomy 31:6)

God tells his ANGELS to take care of you (Psalm 91:11)

Nothing can separate you from God’s LOVE (Romans 8: 38,39)

  • Try to find more promises God makes and repeat the process.

By pairing a picture with a piece of scripture, it makes it easier to learn; introducing something unfamiliar (verse) with something familiar (picture).

Let this activity lead you into discussion and prayer about the nature of promises to each other, between us and God.

(Taken from The Family Book of Advent by Carol Garbourg)

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Our Journey

Genesis 2 v 1-19

Stone Alter 3Just put yourself in Sarah’s shoes. Her one son was to be offered as a sacrifice to God; or perhaps Abraham didn’t tell her what was going on. Sarah had laughed when God’s messengers told her she was going to have a child; how might she feel now? Can you imagine her simply folding her hands and saying, “It is the will of Yahweh, praise be to Him;” and just getting on with her domestic tasks, or was she human enough to be worried and angry and deeply distressed.

Imagine just what it was like for Isaac “We have flint and wood, but where’s the sheep for the burnt offering?” and then the trauma of realising that he was to be the sacrifice. Would you ever trust your dad after that sort of betrayal?

And what of Abraham, God had promised him a son, the son was born and grew, then God asked him to give up that precious child. Consider the internal conflict, was this a test of faith that God would indeed provide, or was he expected to make a stand? What sort of God was this who demanded such a sacrifice, how might God solve this conundrum?

It was not until he was poised to strike that God intervened, providing a sacrifice.

Sometimes we forget that the heroes and heroines that we meet in the Bible are supremely human, and were subject to the same fears and anxieties that we suffer from today. The three people involved in this narrative simply had to grit their teeth and get on with it. They had to wait until the end of the story to find out how it finished; unlike us they could not read ahead and see the happy ending just around the corner. It is hard to have faith that God will vindicate us, that this problem or that difficulty will finally be overcome.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Romans 8 v 26-28 The Message

You might like to take a little time at the start of Advent to reflect on your own spiritual ‘genealogy’  – the story or family tree of your own journey of faith.  Why not create a personal Faith Tree?  You could use this image or create one of your own:

  • What might be the root or stump that your faith is a new shoot from?
  • What are the branches on your tree?  Maybe key experiences/ encounters / paths on the journey.  Times which have shaped you.
  • Who have been key people on your journey – can you hang an image or icon for each of them from the branches?
  • What fruit or leaves have you grown or are you seeking to grow – can you write key prayer words in these?

Food for the Journey

Revisit Hebrews chapter 11, if you are short of time then go straight to the last few verses [36-38

Here the writer gives us a roll-call of heroes of faith, reminding us how God worked through the lives of individuals to fulfil his plan of salvation. I suspect these people were actually little different from us, they were subject to the same emotional crises; they had their doubts, and struggled with the daily process of living. The people we encounter in the Bible are so human, Noah got drunk, Sarah found her own way to fix an heir for Abraham, David absented himself from the battlefield and had to arrange an assassination to protect his good name. Yet these are God’s heroes.

Some years ago our daughter bought her mother a book, simply entitled, Heroines, the inscription inside reads, “Because you are mine”.  A fond child’s myopic view perhaps, but a reminder that God calls us all to be people of faith and to rely on Him. It is never easy to simply trust God for the outcome; being human we are only to prone to fix things, to solve problems.

Over the Christmas break why not search out one of today’s heroes of faith and be encouraged by their story, or rediscover John Hercus’ Pages from God’s Casebook.

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Abraham and Isaac Climbing Mount MoriahRemind them of the narrative of Abraham and Isaac and invite them to imagine how the story might have ended differently. Ask them to put themselves in Isaac’s position and try to imagine just how he felt. It is risky, because it might mean that they begin to ask difficult questions, or even get a slightly skewed view of God. It is also possible that they could get a clearer idea of what it cost God to sacrifice his Son on the cross.

Explore with them the idea of sacrifice, discover with them what they understand by the concept. It might be useful to direct them to Luke 21 verses 1-4

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jacobs-ladderOur Journey

Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob was on the run, he had cheated his twin brother Esau and with his mother Rebekah’ s connivance had fooled his father Isaac. Now, although he had been sent off to find a suitable wife, he was in effect a fugitive. But God had not forgotten him and had not forgotten his covenant, this man was to be the father of a nation, and the source of God’s answer to global sinfulness. Matthew at the very beginning of his gospel reminds us that the ancestry of Jesus began with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All of them, like us, were flawed human beings; each of them made huge mistakes in their personal life, yet God had a plan and a purpose that included them; the salvation of the world.

But this was not to be an instant fix, Matthew is his genealogy speaks of fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations form David to the exile and a further fourteen generations until the Messiah. However we choose to look at it, it was indeed a long, long time. I have a real problem with time, I simply do not enjoy waiting; I take my problems to God and almost demand a ready solution, but that is not the way that God works.

Jacob, the heel, was starting to discover this; his journey to find a wife was protracted and even his scheming was outmatched by cousin Laban. I just love the fact that Jacob was so smitten with Rachel that seven years seemed like a few days. Fortunately Jacob had no idea just what was ahead of him as he lay down to rest at sunset, choosing to rest his head on a rock. There, in his loneliness and anxiety, God chose to meet with him and he had this amazing vision of an angel populated ladder with Yahweh waiting to speak to him at the top. The promise was simple “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promise you.”

As you journey on with Christ, no matter how rough and stony the path, hold onto that promise

Food for the Journey

Jesus' geneologyI have often wondered why Matthew chose to begin his life of Christ with a whole list of obscure names and a great deal of begetting. It’s one of those bits of Bible that might seem quite out of place and yet it puts Immanuel in the context of his nation and underlines God’s perfect planning. The Messiah did not come in Jacob’s time, nor in King David’s, nor during the turbulent years of post exile revolts, but when the Pax Romana was in place. The Christ has a secure place in history, and the comparative stability of the Roman Empire provided an ideal place to grown the Church. Alexander the Great had opened up the Middle East, while Rome extended its boundaries to the wastes of northern England. Trade and travel ensured the spreading of the gospel from Europe to Asia and south into continental Africa.

Jacob tried to short-circuit God’s plan and lied to his father about his identity, but this resulted in many years of exile. He was indeed father of a nation, but take a look at his domestic life; two rival wives, twelve sons, by four different women; a family where selling a brother into slavery was seen as a reasonable option.

It really is most remarkable that God chooses the weak and the fallible to be the means of fulfilling his plan and promise. Be encouraged, you may not have visions of heavenly escalators, but God has a plan and purpose for you – simply be patient.

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Accompanying Children and Young People

sacred spaceIn a world of Computer Generated Images and mind altering chemicals it is sometimes difficult to grasp the reality of God-given visions and dreams. It is often far simpler to avoid referring to these other-worldly experiences; miracles we can manage, especially the Old Testament ones that could have some sort of physical explanation. Winds holding back the Reed Sea, the spring emerging from a rock, and even fiery bushes that are not consumed. But we are in danger of removing God from the situation.  But how do we make sense of Jacobs angel escalator?

After this experience Jacob set up his stone at Bethel, [Genesis 28 v 11 & 22] why not create your own stone mountain, either with genuine pieces of rock or pebble, or cardboard cut-outs stuck onto a background. On each invite the children to inscribe something they want to give thanks to God for; or perhaps their special prayer for somebody that they know or a situation they are concerned with. Encourage them to be specific, even if they wish to keep it confidential. Revisit the stone mountain at a later date and listen to how things might have changed, answered prayer, or how reading other people’s prayers have had a good effect.

“Surely the Lord is in this place” Genesis 28 v 16 Explore what makes a place identifiable with God’s presence, encourage your group to speak of awesome experiences, and help them to see God revealed in them. Plan ahead and ask them to bring in images, both visual and auditory that can be shared with the group along with something of their own story. Think how you might create a sacred space somewhere in the building that you meet in and work towards seeing it made. It could simply be a temporary setting, just for the Advent season.   Just a thought; could you create Christmas decorations that contribute to a sacred space?

 

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Our Journey

Gen 37, 39:1 – 50:21

Joseph continually recognises God’s call on his life, seeks revelation from God and is obedient to the life God has called him to. We see evidence of this in Genesis 37, when Joseph meditates on the dreams God gave him. We see it again in Genesis 38 when Joseph repeatedly resists the amorous attention of Potiphar’s wife. His dignity in the face of unjust imprisonment and his willingness to help the chief cup-bearer, the chief baker and later the king of Egypt interpret their dreams without any expectation of repayment. All speak of a strength it would be difficult to fathom without God.

When we continue in our faithfulness with God, He does provide, as demonstrated in the story of Joseph . . . although it won’t always be the way we expect.  God sees and plans on a far greater scale than we can ever imagine.

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Food for the Journey

earthLook up your house on Google Earth, or on an online map, and spend some time seeking God for His providence – for your household and thanking Him for past providence.

Zoom out. Look at your neighbourhood and do the same thing.

Zoom out again, and repeat.

Think about how great God’s planning is, that He can intimately know each household, each neighbourhood, and be in the process of seeking to provide for those who will accept His provision.

If you’re feeling brave enough, ask Him what role he would have you play in His provision for your locality.

Links to Google Earth or an online map:

www.google.co.uk/intl/en_uk/earth  www.google.co.uk/maps

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Accompanying Children and Young People

cakeA traditional activity is to make a tree (this could be a simple drawing or a large twig or a small Christmas tree) and make a decoration each day to stick on it or hang from it which relates to the Jesse Tree theme that day.

Why not invite children and young people to take turns making the decoration and adding it to the theme – you will need to tell them who is the focus of Jesus’ family tree or the great story of salvation that day.  There are traditional symbols connected with each day – but the children and young people you know may have great ideas of their own!

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[/et_pb_toggle][et_pb_toggle admin_label=”Thursday December 8th – Moses – God’s Leadership” title=”Thursday December 8th – Moses – God’s Leadership” open=”off” open_toggle_background_color=”#ffffff” closed_toggle_background_color=”#a91f24″ title_font=”Lobster Two||||” title_font_size=”24″ title_text_color=”#e09900″ use_border_color=”on” border_color=”#e09900″ border_width=”4px” border_style=”solid” module_id=”dec8″ open_toggle_text_color=”#e09900″]

Our Journey

The Burning Bush (Exodus 2:1-4:20)

Moses & Burning BushIt’s been too long since I read the biblical narrative of Moses’ birth and calling. What I discovered were all sorts of gaps and questions that I’ve got used to having filled in for me by the various multi-media versions that simply aren’t there in the text.

Moses story begins (Exodus 2:1-10) with a series of apparent ‘coincidences’ and it is abundantly clear that God’s hand was on him from the outset. Pharaoh’s daughter comes to bathe at the same place and time as the papyrus basket was afloat on the water; the baby was crying at just the right moment to make Pharaoh’s daughter feel sorry enough for him to risk breaking the edict set by her father; then the woman who is chosen to look after the baby happens to be Jochebed; the child’s mother (Exodus 6:20)!

What are the coincidences in your life? Where can you look back and see the Lord’s hand working out His purposes for you? When did you last share the stories of God’s goodness in your life with others around you.

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Moses by Ronnie CopasFood for the Journey

You might like to take a little time at the start of Advent to reflect on your own spiritual ‘genealogy’  – the story or family tree of your own journey of faith.  Why not create a personal Faith Tree?  You could use this image or create one of your own:

What might be the root or stump that your faith is a new shoot from?

What are the branches on your tree?  Maybe key experiences/ encounters / paths on the journey.  Times which have shaped you.

Who have been key people on your journey – can you hang an image or icon for each of them from the branches?

What fruit or leaves have you grown or are you seeking to grow – can you write key prayer words in these?

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Moses Video

Watch this Video

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Accompanying Children & Young People
Watch the video clip together and talk about how Moses might have felt looking at a bush that was on fire but not burning and hearing God speak through it.

Consider together the many other creative ways that God chose to communicate with people throughout the Bible. What stories can the children remember?

Cut out some leaf shapes from yellow and orange paper and with a pen write on them some of the different ways that God speaks to us today. Has God spoken to them and in what ways? (You might be surprised by their answers!) Find a twig, stand it in a flower pot in some earth and then stick the leaves onto the tree to create your own burning bush. Or invite them to draw a bush on some paper and then stick their leaves onto it.

How is God speaking to you today and what is He saying?

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[/et_pb_toggle][et_pb_toggle admin_label=”Friday December 9th – Israelites – Passover and Exodus” title=”Friday December 9th – Israelites – Passover and Exodus” open=”off” open_toggle_background_color=”#ffffff” closed_toggle_background_color=”#a91f24″ title_font=”Lobster Two||||” title_font_size=”24″ title_text_color=”#e09900″ use_border_color=”on” border_color=”#e09900″ border_width=”4px” border_style=”solid” module_id=”dec9″]

Our Journey

abraham-starsIt’s sometimes difficult to physically connect ourselves with history.  Before my Dad died he and his sister had begun to investigate their family tree.  Their father had died when they were children and they knew very little about him, their mother was Jewish and like so many who were dispersed during the wars had been separated from and lost contact with most of her family and documents.  Their investigation was intriguing and with every bit of new information they discovered our family identity began to take on a different shape.  It was almost like the missing pieces of a jigsaw being found and we were gradually completing our picture.

When I read the story of the exodus I tend to think of it as Jewish history.  I connect with it with my head but not my heart.  It’s hard to think of it as my family history, but it is.  This is what God promised to Abraham.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  Genesis 12: 1-3

 I’m included in that promise! Me! And so are you! The nation of Israel descended from Abraham. Jesus was a descendent of Abraham; and through Jesus I am saved and welcomed into the family.  This is my story!  Through the power of God, Moses set his people free.  Through the grace of God, Jesus set us free!  The Jews celebrate Passover every year, they tell the story to their children and their children’s children so that God’s people will never forget who and whose they are.  Through God’s promise to Abraham and through Jesus we are God’s people.  This is our story, the complete picture.  Let’s celebrate!

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Food for the Journey

I remember singing this song as a child, as part of a congregation in my church. The truth of the words were imprinted on my young heart.   As you listen to this beautiful old hymn, reflect on what it means to you to be part of God’s wonderful story.  His story is your story.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

 

 Refrain:

 This is my story, this is my song,

 Praising my Saviour all the day long;

 This is my story, this is my song,

 Praising my Saviour all the day long.

 

Perfect submission, perfect delight,

Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;

Angels, descending, bring from above

Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

 

Perfect submission, all is at rest,

I in my Saviour am happy and blest,

Watching and waiting, looking above,

Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

elevation worship

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Passover foodThe Passover Feast
Lay out a long length of lining paper or a large white paper table cloth on the floor.  Surround it with enough cushion for your group to sit on.  Provide some food to represent the Passover Meal, flat bread, grape juice, almonds, and raisins.  Invite your group to try the different foods as you share with your group the story of the Exodus and explain why Passover is celebrated in the Jewish faith.  When you have shared the story ask them to think about the following questions;

Why is it important for us to Celebrate God?  What can you do to help you to remember what God has done for you?   How can we as a church make sure that God’s story is never forgotten?

Provide crayons of pens and encourage the children to write or draw their responses on the lining paper/table cloth.  Give them an opportunity to share their reflections making sure that you are sharing too.

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Visit www.exploretogether.org for more ideas on community Bible engagement.

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[/et_pb_toggle][et_pb_toggle admin_label=”Saturday December 10th – God – Giving of the Torah at Sinai” title=”Saturday December 10th – God – Giving of the Torah at Sinai” open=”off” open_toggle_background_color=”#ffffff” closed_toggle_background_color=”#a91f24″ title_font=”Lobster Two||||” title_font_size=”24″ title_text_color=”#e09900″ use_border_color=”on” border_color=”#e09900″ border_width=”4px” border_style=”solid” module_id=”dec10″]

Our Journey

Today we remember the next act in the unfolding story of God’s salvation: the giving of the Law to the people of God on Mount Sinai.

SinaiThe Ten Commandments

Exodus 20 And God spoke all these words:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”

We are familiar with the summary of the Law as expressed by Jesus in answer to a question by a lawyer:

 

The Greatest Commandment

Matthew 22 34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

On both occasions God speaks directly to people – the Law is very direct and directive and yet it is a word of love.  The Law is a fulcrum or pivot, leaning in one direction back to the Fall and illuminating our propensity to sin or break the law of love, and leaning in the other direction forward to the day when God’s Law will be written on our hearts and demonstrated in our loving attitudes and actions.

 

 

 

Food for the Journey

Paul argues that without the gift of the Law from God we would not know that we fall short of God’s holiness – we would not know our need of God in Christ.

It can be very hard to see the Law as a gift of love – yet at times we are in the role of law-giver or boundary keeper in our relationships with children and young people.  Pointing out that they are breaking the rules or telling them off can make us look like ‘bad cop’ and certainly feel like it too.

How might understanding the Law as a gift of love help us to inhabit this part of our role with children and young people?

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Make a large simple heart shape out of red paper, with a fold down the centre.

heart
On one side write LOVE GOD

On the other side write LOVE OTHERS

Write out the Ten Commandments in a version appropriate to the age of the group of children or young people – and cut them up into ten separate slips.

Ask the children or young people to place each commandment on the side of the heart they think it is about – explain you are testing to see if loving God and loving others really does sum up the law.

Make a small heart shape for each person with a fold down the centre – ask them to write one way they show they LOVE GOD on one side, and one way they show they LOVE OTHERS on the other side.

Try this simple song to the tune of London’s Burning in a round:

You shall love the Lord your God with

All your heart and all your mind and

All your strength, all your strength

And your neighbour, and your neighbour

You can add actions too!

 

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[/et_pb_toggle][et_pb_toggle admin_label=”Sunday December 11th – Joshua – The Fall of Jericho” title=”Sunday December 11th – Joshua – The Fall of Jericho” open=”off” open_toggle_background_color=”#ffffff” closed_toggle_background_color=”#a91f24″ title_font=”Lobster Two||||” title_font_size=”24″ title_text_color=”#e09900″ use_border_color=”on” border_color=”#e09900″ border_width=”4px” border_style=”solid” module_id=”dec11″]

Our Journey

Joshuas walls_crJoshua had just taken over the leadership of the people of Israel. A lot was at stake, after walking through the desert for 40 years. Moses was a great leader and he had just handed over to Joshua. Israel had mourned Moses’ death and now it was over to Joshua. After crossing the Jordan, the Israelites faced the next challenge: a city with massive walls that they could not enter.

So God gave specific instructions to Joshua about how to tackle this next challenge – take Jericho, the first of many cities that the Israelites needed to take over. God starts by saying: “See” (Joshua 6:2). We don’t know if Joshua actually had a vision but Joshua was certainly invited to see beyond the current situation and imagine a city without walls. Joshua and his priests were told to blow the trumpet, most likely a ram’s horn’s trumpet. This sound symbolised the start of war. This was not a time to be sitting back, it was the time to get serious and do serious business.

In our current time we do not usually identify with God being a God of war as there are many negative and difficult connotations about this. The story of Joshua itself has death and genocide and it is difficult to marry that with the image of God who comes humbly into this world, born as a baby, defenceless.

Yet there are things that God is fighting over. What might these things be? What is God wanting to take action over in our lives and our world today? Isaiah 58 is a good starting point for our meditation on this.

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Food for the Journey

Advent for many of us is a “nice” season where we focus on family and friends.

The story of Joshua does not present many “nice” things. There is war and fighting and hard-ship and hard work. There is also displacement and genocide.

If we take a closer look at our situations, we soon realise that things are not always as “nice” as they appear.

Firstly, the reality is that many of us live inside fortified cities, with walls and defence mechanisms up. We shy away from things, hide behind well-versed façades and keep struggling on. Fear can manifest itself in different ways in our lives, as does shame, guilt, anger … the list goes on. We have become captives to these things.

Yet this story of Joshua powerfully reminds us that God does have more for us in store – the Promised Land. Jesus promises to bring freedom to the captives. There is hope, in the midst of personal struggles and challenges.

Secondly, with many of us enjoying a “nice” Christmas, we overlook and forget the struggles many people around the world experience. The story of Joshua is one of nations. This is not just an individual thing. From persecuted Christians in the Middle East, and Muslims in Myanmar.  From those caught up the drugs war in Mexico and the extreme Right in Europe.  The world continues to be a hard place for many.

It is at this point that the story of Joshua becomes a source of hope as the miraculous falling of the wall points to the Power at work. Beyond that, this miracle guides our attention to Jesus’ ministry, who proclaimed (Luke 4:18-19):

 

ramshorn1The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

The season of Advent and Christmas can so easily become about us, as individuals. When Jesus’ redemptive plan was and is much bigger than that. It involved the setting free of nations and the bringing nations out of poverty. The year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:9-10) also starts with the blowing of the ram’s horn. This same sound created an atmosphere of celebration and if it would have been practiced, would have impacted and benefited nations living among and beside the people of God as well as individuals.

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Accompanying Children and Young People

ActivityPrayer – Smash a wall

Option 1: If you have builders in your congregation, get them to set up a wall out of plaster board on a wooden frame. (I used 2 plaster boards.) Use hammers. Get someone on drums and sing a chant together, it can be a really simple chant, such as “God is a God who fights for us and wins!” Get the group to chant this, whilst everybody takes the opportunity to smash the plaster board at least once. Encourage participants to think about specific areas that they want God to break into, as they smash the wall.  This works well as an all-age activity (during an all-age service, for example) as that provides immediate oversight and support for children.

Note: Please create plenty of space behind the plaster board and ensure that no-one is behind the wall. Bits of plaster can fly quite far, so have this space cleared. Also, it does create dust which may affect people suffering from asthma. Have the room well ventilated. Ensure that you always know where the hammer is, have at least one adult stand by the wall overseeing the hammering-process.

wall from color plastic blocksOption 2: Is the safer option, especially when working with smaller children. Use Duplo/Lego. You need an already built Lego/Duplo wall. Get the children/ young people to think about which areas of their lives they need God to break in. This can then be widened (depending on age and focus) to include other areas, such as persecuted Christians, political situation of closed countries, war-torn areas, etc. Get the children/ young people to take down the building blocks, until they are all gone.

There are many other ideas of how to pray for nations and persecuted Christians on the Open Door website, for example.: Open Doors

Activity Imitating Jesus’ ministry

Research options (or get young people to research options) in your locality to help and support. That can be in soup kitchens, old people’s home, immigration centres, prisons, charity shops, etc – the important thing is that you set something up that can last beyond the season of Advent and Christmas. Care for our neighbours needs to be more than just a once-a-year event. I suggest a calendar of events for the next year, with an activity once per month.

 

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[/et_pb_toggle][et_pb_toggle admin_label=”Monday December 12th – Gideon – Unlikely Heroes” title=”Monday December 12th – Gideon – Unlikely Heroes” open=”off” open_toggle_background_color=”#ffffff” closed_toggle_background_color=”#a91f24″ title_font=”Lobster Two||||” title_font_size=”24″ title_text_color=”#e09900″ use_border_color=”on” border_color=”#e09900″ border_width=”4px” border_style=”solid” module_id=”dec12″]

Our Journey

 

gideonThe story of Gideon is one that is so familiar to us throughout scripture. God responds to a cry  for help through an unlikely character and is victorious. Maybe this narrative has needed to be re-told again and again – through all kinds of situations and people – until his people begin to understand. It’s a narrative that we still need to be reminded of in all of the situations we face today:

  • God is with us
  • He is mighty to save us
  • He is worthy of our worship

Here is Gideon’s story. As you read it, think about the things that are familiar – that we read, hear, experience of God time and time again – and think about how easily you remember these things each day.

“And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work He had done for Israel” Judges 2:10

After Joshua, God gets forgotten – again. The Israelites struggle against their enemies for several years until their situation is such that they are forced into dens and caves in the mountains. Any crops they grow are taken by the Midianites, and in their desperation, they once again call out to God.

God responds in a surprising way (though maybe by now you’d think we’d learn not to be surprised . . . doesn’t he always respond?)

The Angel of the Lord is sent to a man named Gideon. The Angel declares that God is with Gideon – but Gideon has a few questions in response to this statement: If God is with us, why is life like this?! . . . (I paraphrase – but does that question sound familiar? Judges 6:13)

But God has decided that it is Gideon who shall save Israel. Again, Gideon feels the need to question: His clan is the weakest – even aside from that, he is the ‘least’ of his father’s household (Judges 6:15). But God is adamant: “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16). God has chosen Gideon – and as we see as the story goes on, even if he is the ‘least’, everything he needs is provided… familiar?

Gideon’s task starts with destroying the altar to Baal that has been built, and replacing it with one built for God. He nearly loses his life doing this – but he is protected (and the story can’t end there!)

With an army of only 300 men (that God purposefully cuts down from at least 32000 men…) Gideon surrounds the Midianite Army in the middle of the night with no weapons other than torches hidden in clay jars, and trumpets.

The trumpets are sounded, the clay jars smashed to reveal lights surrounding the whole camp, and in the confusion, the Midianites either start killing each other – or run.

Gideon is triumphant – and with this comes the request for Gideon to rule over the people. Coming from the least in his father’s household to here would have been unimaginable – a wild dream! But Gideon declines the offer: “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” Judges 8:23

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Food for the Journey

The themes in the story of Gideon have similarities with many other narratives in scripture – with Moses, Joseph, Daniel, Jesus . . . Perhaps we can look at these stories to know that God uses all kinds of people – and He consistently does it so that maybe we would know something about ourselves: we can all be a hero. Not a ‘shout loudly about all the great things we do’ or a sparkly spandex kind of a hero; but a person willing to be useful to God – maybe with the need of some persuasion that: Yes indeed – God has chosen YOU.

Are there some actions that you need to take so that you are ready for God to lead you to the work he needs you to do?

Are there any questions you need to ask him?

Are there any altars that need to be taken down?

Are there any people that you need to take with you?

Have you remembered that it is God that is at work – and the praise and glory from your actions need to be given to Him?

Spend some time praying through your diary – the work for your day – asking these questions of the activities planned, and figure out the ways in which you will be able to hand back to God what is His.

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Share Gideon’s story with your children and/or young people – ask what they think about how Gideon responds to God, and ask in particular what they think of God’s battle tactics!

While discussing around the story, make some tea-light holders:

Using clay, create a base big enough to hold a tea light, and then fashion a dome that is tall enough that a flame from the tea-light won’t reach the top! Cut some holes out of the dome so that light will shine through –you can cut different shaped holes . . . stars might be nice?! You can dry clay out in an airing cupboard or over a radiator – (and when dry, you can decorate them to make nice Christmas gifts?! – optional extra!)

In the story, clay jars were used to hide the light so that the Midianites would be unaware of Gideon and the 299 other men surrounding the camp. The jars were smashed to release the light.

The tea-light holders can remind us of how God instructed Gideon in battle – and also remind us that God instructs us to be light in the world now.

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[/et_pb_toggle][et_pb_toggle admin_label=”Tuesday December 13th – Samuel – The Beginning of the Kingdom” title=”Tuesday December 13th – Samuel – The Beginning of the Kingdom” open=”off” open_toggle_background_color=”#ffffff” closed_toggle_background_color=”#a91f24″ title_font=”Lobster Two||||” title_font_size=”24″ title_text_color=”#e09900″ use_border_color=”on” border_color=”#e09900″ border_width=”4px” border_style=”solid” module_id=”dec13″]

Our Journey

samuel2There is so much stunning symbolism in this narrative about the calling of Samuel. There is also the stark reality of his calling and that first vision he receives from the Lord.

Right at the start we hear; “In those days, the word of the Lord was rare”.

Then we have a child being spoken to. Note that Eli at first misses what is going on.  Perhaps this explains why the word of the Lord had become rare . . . were the leaders not paying attention?  Were God’s people . . . asleep?

Then we have this, “the lamp of God had not yet gone out” . . . there is hope!  See, the lamp of God still shines!

Samuel, in time anoints first Saul and then David to be Kings of Israel.  It is from David’s line that Jesus will be born, this shoot from the stump of Jesse . . .

But, before we get there let’s pause a moment.  Let’s stay with Samuel.  This boy grows up to be both the last judge (before the Kings) and Israel’s first prophet.  He hears from God, speaks truth to the people, guides and nurtures.  And yet, when Samuel gets to the moment of anointing the new King of Israel (Saul is on his way out by this point) he misses something.  Taking what he sees with his eyes, rather than what is revealed to him by God, Samuel believes that Jesse’s eldest son must be “the Lord’s anointed” . . . a big strapping fellow, it’s got to be him! (1 Samuel 16:6) . . .

samuel 2 - Kid child listening listen ou.orgBut, it is not him.  It is none of those presented to Samuel by Jesse.  Jesse had not even bothered to include David in the line-up.  God has to remind Samuel, “The Lord looks at the heart”, (1 Samuel 16:7) Not at outward things.  Not where others might expect his gaze to rest.  Not one of the usual suspects and not even someone who is present. The Lord’s anointed has to be fetched in from the fields!

I don’t know whether Samuel had a “light bulb” moment and suddenly remembered his own calling as a child.  Maybe he wondered, ‘How could I have missed what God was doing here?  I too was called as a boy, Eli nearly missed it – and so did I!’

Centuries later, Peter stands in Solomon’s Colonnade and preaches the good news, and says, “Beginning with Samuel, every prophet spoke about what is happening today.”

Did Samuel begin to see or imagine just what God was going to do?  Did he grasp who David was going to be?

 crown sm

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Food for the Journey

Some reflections for us as youth and children’s workers.

  • Do we sometimes allow what we can see with our eyes to lead our decision making?
  • Do we see beyond the surface in our own work with children and young people – do we get to the heart of things?
  • Do we make a note of who is not with us, as well as who is?
  • Do we think we know how God works and what he will do – could we sometimes be “missing it” because we are looking in the wrong places?
  • In your own experience, has a young person ever surprised you by their faith and love for Jesus?

A Prayer

Lord, help me to see the world and those I work with through your eyes. May your Holy Spirit guide me, I don’t want to miss what you are doing Lord!

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Sometimes, in our youth work, our young people need permission to speak and give their opinion about the “work” they are on the receiving end of!  In your work do you work with young people – why not give them space today, with you, to reflect and think and speak?

What can they bring?  What are they hearing from God?  What is going on for them that we need to not miss?

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Listen to Once Upon a Winter by Len Magee (www.lenmagee.com)

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1samuel-word-cloud - for DavidOur Journey

1 Sam 16:1-23-17:58

2 Sam 5:1-5, 7:1-17

David was not looking for glory. When Samuel came looking at Jesse’s sons for the future king, David was just where he was meant to be, looking after the sheep.

David wasn’t looking for glory when he fought Goliath. He was filled with a sense of zealous indignation for the name of the Lord; the Philistine Goliath was mocking the Lord’s people.   David was filled with the knowledge that the Lord had protected him in fights with lions and bears in the past, and would lead him safely through this battle again. He was not looking for his own glory, he was looking for the glory for God.

David was not looking for glory when he sought to make a house for the Ark of the Covenant, for the Lord. He did not feel it right that the Ark of the Covenant was in just a tent whilst he was living in a house of cedar.

David is known as a mighty leader, who made some fairly big mistakes but repented of them and sought to maintain an open and healthy relationship with God. He sought God’s glory in all things.  This was what made him a courageous leader worth following.

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Food for the Journey

David playing the harpWe forget how mighty and awesome the glory of God is. There are a lot of songs about it, and it’s easy to get so used to singing them that we forget what we’re singing.

David poured all his fears, troubles, hopes and joys to God throughout his life, as we know from the legacy of the Psalms. How often do we write down out feelings and present them to God. We may not be the next Graham Kendrick but our loving Father will enjoy our offering, and we will benefit from the exercise too!

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Look at the story of David and Goliath, and encourage young people to think about what David must have been thinking as he set forward to face Goliath. What did David know about God that made him brave enough to go forward like that? Are there situations in their lives where they need to know more of God to be brave like that?

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Children and young people might also appreciate the YouTube video: David and Goliath

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Listen to Shepherd’s Song by Len Magee (www.lenmagee.com)

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Our Journey

wordOfGodWhat is holiness? We come across the word all the time in church: in the Bible, in liturgy, in songs, in prayers . . . but what does it mean to us? Well, if a person is holy, they’re dedicated to God or devoted to his service. When the Bible talks about God being holy, it’s about Him being sacred, perfect, pure and set apart. Often it is contrasted with God’s people not being holy. We are sinful, wilful and stubborn in our desire to go our own way.

The book of Isaiah is full of this contrast. God’s message to his people is that they have turned away and will be punished. In Isaiah chapter 1 he describes their mimicking of holiness – they go through the motions but their hearts are not true. It’s into this situation that God calls Isaiah.

When Isaiah sees God in Isaiah 6, he realises how far he is from holy. He knows his life is a mess compared to God’s holiness, but God still calls him. The coal with which a flaming creature touches his lips is a symbol of forgiveness and purification. He is forgiven and can proclaim the grace of God to the world.

And what a message! The strife is over, for a child has been born.

A child has been born for us.

We have been given a son

who will be our ruler.

His names will be

Wonderful Advisor

and Mighty God,

here_i_am smEternal Father

and Prince of Peace.

His power will never end;

peace will last forever.

He will rule David’s kingdom

and make it grow strong.

He will always rule

with honesty and justice.

The Lord All-Powerful

will make certain

that all of this is done.

Isaiah 9:6,7 (CEV)

Let’s take a moment to think about the holiness in our lives. Are we just going through the motions this Advent season, like the people of Judah? Or are we following God with passion and earnestness, ready to tell others of the child that has been born for us?

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Food for the Journey

You might like to take a little time at the start of Advent to reflect on your own spiritual ‘genealogy’  – the story or family tree of your own journey of faith.  Why not create a personal Faith Tree?  You could use this image or create one of your own:

What might be the root or stump that your faith is a new shoot from?

What are the branches on your tree?  Maybe key experiences/ encounters / paths on the journey.  Times which have shaped you.

Who have been key people on your journey – can you hang an image or icon for each of them from the branches?

What fruit or leaves have you grown or are you seeking to grow – can you write key prayer words in these?

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Accompanying Children and Young People

One the best ways to uncover more about God and explore his call to holiness is to read the Bible regularly. There are lots of books and devotionals to help you, but you might like to try WordLive an online Bible reading tool. Reading the Bible for yourself (rather than just to prepare a session) is an adventure and can turn your life upside-down, as responding to God’s call did for Isaiah.

In this Advent season, how often do we do what Isaiah did, having been called and cleansed? How often do we tell others about Jesus? We’re not all natural evangelists, and many find it difficult or awkward to try and start a conversation about God with friends or family. But there are other ways! Make a list of five things that you could do to show the love of Christ this Advent. Now resolve to do one of them today.

With children

Provide large sheets of paper and lots of art equipment (for example paint, felt-tip pens, collage materials) and copies of Isaiah 6:1–8. Read through the passage together and encourage the children to create a picture of the temple, the throne and the creatures. Let them read the passage again, helping any children as necessary, and then chat as the group creates their pictures. You could use these questions:

  • If you were Isaiah, what would you think when you saw the throne?
  • I wonder why the creature put a burning coal on Isaiah’s lips
  • If you were Isaiah, would you have volunteered to tell people about God?
  • What might you do this Advent to tell your friends about Jesus?

When you have finished, gather the pictures together and admire your work, continuing the discussion if the children want to.

 

burning coalWith young people

Have a barbecue using a coal fired barbecue. Gather lots of BBQ food and cook it together. As you are eating, pick up one of the hot coals with a pair of tongs. Talk about Isaiah’s calling from Isaiah 6, telling the story in your own words. Ask the group why Isaiah thought he was doomed when he saw the vision. Why should a hot coal sort things out?

Once you have finished eating ask the group to focus on the coals in the barbecue. Encourage them to meditate on the story once more, this time as you read out Isaiah 6:1–8. How devoted are they to God? How much do they need to say sorry for words they say? How can they use their words to tell others about God?

 

 

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Our Journey

getty_rf_photo_of_baby_in_the_wombToday’s readings start with amazingly encouraging words:

Jeremiah 1:4-5

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

For Jeremiah God has a task.   Perhaps we can take some ownership over these words of blessing and anointing too?  The symbol for today is ‘tears’. God sent Jeremiah to be a prophet to his people – to communicate to them His grief.

Jeremiah 9:1:

Oh that my head were waters,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night
for the slain of the daughter of my people.

God’s people have again forsaken a fountain of living water for their own broken cisterns (Jer.2:13).

The covenant made has been broken and God mourns for the abandonment of His people.

Jeremiah_1Sometimes, the number of desperate situations we come across can be daunting – in the news, our communities, with our friends and families. The world can seem to be filled with despair and it can be overwhelming – how do we even start to fix this problem?!

Through Jeremiah’s voice, God communicates His heartache… I imagine that our ache for the world is in line with the ache God knows all too well. How often do we communicate our grief with God – and with others?

Maybe today God has a task for us too?

To grieve is OK. It is a process through which we digest and come to terms with how we are feeling – and a process from which we have the potential to move into effective action.

We can communicate our grief with all those we love, work with and worship with. We can also communicate what actions we can take to be effective in relieving a situation.

During Advent we purposefully prepare for Christ’s entry into the world – an ultimate act of love and justice that responds to the Father’s grief.

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Food for the Journey

Remember today that the tears God has shed have found comfort in the gift of His son coming into the world.

In a small way today, respond to any grief you feel for any situation in the world. Contact a friend you know is having a difficult time, donate to an organisation seeking to bring comfort and peace into a war zone, write a letter to your MP about a local situation.

As you seek to make a difference in a small way, pray that God will take your action and use it to touch the right places, to send the right message. Ask that your heart be aligned with His, and take comfort in these words:

Jeremiah 1:5

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Ask your children/young people what they worry about – what they have concern for. Talk about these things and talk about how God also feels sad – feels grief for many situations that we all face each day, and that people in other countries face too.

tear mobileMake a ‘tear mobile’ – cut out tear shapes from paper and attach them to string. Get your children and young people to write down some of the things that you’ve talked about on the tears. Hang each tear on an unused coat-hanger, or make a cross out of lolly sticks to hang the tears on. You can make one as a group or individual ones. Hang the mobile somewhere it will be seen for a few days so that the children and young people will be reminded about what you have talked about.

Talk to the children about how they can do something to help them with the things they are concerned about. They can pray – and it might be useful to spend some time praying over each tear so the children/ young people are encouraged to pray for these things too. You might want to challenge any older children or young people that they can do more about their tears too – donate some pocket money, write letters to MP’s or encourage other people to think about how they can help too. You might want to create an activity around which some of these things can be done or organised.

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Our Journey

ManzanarWatchTowerReplica_crHabbakkuk complains to God – and gets this answer:

1:5 “Look at the nations and watch –

 and be utterly amazed.

For I am going to do something in your days

 that you would not believe,

 even if you were told.

Habbukkuk’s response – to further outline the complaints and then say:

2:1 I will stand at my watch

 and station myself on the ramparts;

I will look to see what he will say to me,

 and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Keeping watch is a core habitas of the Christian life – a disposition of the mind and heart.

In Matthew 24, Jesus challenging his followers to keep watch – watch what is going on in the world, watch the signs of the times, keep watch for the day of the Lord.  He follows this straight away with parable of 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins – charged with keeping watch for the arrival of the bridegroom.  Half were suitably prepared, half were not and missed the main event as a result!  Jesus concludes  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matt 25:13)

Jesus, in his hour of greatest need, asks his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane to
“Stay here and keep watch.”
(Mark 14:34)

We are all called to the watch-tower – as a place of prayer.  From its vantage point we get a glimpse of God’s perspective on the happenings in our world; we are granted vision to see God’s spirit at work in the world in amazing and unexpected ways; and we are elevated to pray with Christ for the coming of the Kingdom and the outworking of God’s salvation in the world.

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Food for the Journey

Complaining to God about all that is going wrong in the world in general and our lives in particular is just climbing the ladder – we need to make sure we take the time at the top to really take in the view, and faithfully watch and pray.

 

This advent, find a place where you can identify with the Shepherds keeping watch over their flock. Picture your own flock (those whom God has given you to shepherd and keep watch over).  Allow the phrase ‘watch and pray’ to settle your mind and spirit by repeating it silently to yourself as you breathe.  Join with the shepherd in keeping watch and seeing the Glory of God unfold around you.  Listen for God’s invitation to see his new life appearing.

 

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Go to the nearest park and climb to the top of the highest piece of play equipment / tree!

 

Having fun outdoorsWhat can you see?   What looks good?  What looks not good?  What would you complain to God about?

Take some time to watch and pray – look around asking God to give you a God’s-eye-view.

What can you see that needs God’s love?  Where can you see God’s spirit already doing something?

Finish with this short prayer:

May the Lord, when he comes, find us watching and waiting. Amen

 

 

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Our Journey

There has been silence, 400 years of it – known as the inter-testamental time. 400 years of no sign from heaven, no prophet, no God-pointers, nothing. Then there is this old couple, Zechariah and Elisabeth. Zechariah fulfils his temple duties as a priest and suddenly hears from God, yet again,  Zechariah is made to be silent (Luke 1:20). His wife eventually gets it and realises that they will have a baby – against the odds and at a really old age. There is more silence as she remains in seclusion for 5 months (Luke 1:23).

The silence gets broken and filled with praise & prophecy through Elisabeth (Luke1: 42-45) when she realises that her cousin Mary will give birth to Jesus.

Eventually, John the Baptist is born.  Zechariah can finally speak again and bursts into a song of praise (Luke 1: 67-79). The surrounding villages hear about the miracle and talk about it. It seems like some sound has been released.

Yet again, there is silence, as John the Baptist lives in the wilderness, away from the public and the noise of life. When he does speak, what he has to say is all about repentance.

Zechariah Alexandr Ivanov

Zechariah Alexandr Ivanov

The message that John eventually brings seems harsh. He is addressing things for what they are, pointing out short-comings and not being afraid to call out what needs to change.  – In fact, it’s not about what, but about WHO needs to change.  He’s not even mincing his words when it comes to addressing the crowds:

“You snakes!” he said to them. “Who told you that you could escape from the punishment God is about to send? Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins. And don’t start saying among yourselves that Abraham is your ancestor. (Luke 3: 7-8 GNT) The MSG summarises it as “It’s your life that must change, not your skin.”

 

Food for the Journey

desert from anchoryourlife.comIt’s your life that must change, not your skin! This is an “in-your-face” statement. It’s one that should wake us up and make us alert. And it probably does for a short time – yet how can there be change in a lasting way? So often we help children/ young people/ families to change. We believe in change otherwise we would not work so tirelessly to see the process of transformation take place. Yet so often we don’t see change and we get tired, frustrated, cynical, and may eventually give up  – we long for change and restoration in others.

This story of John the Baptist and his parents has two recurring themes: Silence and praise. It seems that for the Messiah, the saviour, to come, all of Israel needed to be stripped of the things of the past – needed to be silent and still before God, before a new sound of praise could be released.

These two themes of “silence and praise” offer us a way of facilitating change – both in ourselves and in our work with children and young people.

Take some time to reflect on these questions for yourself:

  • Silence – what do I do when God (seemingly) does not speak?
  • Noise – what noise is surrounding me and is drowning out the voice of God?

As we become still before God, God can show us things in our own lives. A process of becoming aware and being empowered to change can take place.  – That is repentance. Becoming aware and changing.

  • How can I become still before God today?

How can, what we say be prophetic and counter-cultural and point to Jesus, when we simply join in the noise of those around us? How can our actions point prophetically to Jesus, when we simply do the same as everybody else?

Once we hear God, just like Zechariah and Mary, we can then praise God for what God is saying and doing.

  • What song of praise do I want to release today?

(Take some time to write things down. This could be a simple list of things you are grateful for, an actual song/ poem of thanksgiving, a Psalm, a word cloud.)

While John the Baptist was harsh in his call for repentance, he pointed people to Jesus.  I am not advocating a harsh telling-people-off, but a simple yet clear pointing people to Jesus.

  • What does my voice proclaim? Is it a prophetic voice, full of boldness, wisdom and love?
  • What are the things I need to speak out against?
  • What are the things I want to speak out for/ on behalf of/ support/ encourage?
  • Who are the people that I want to join in making a “holy noise”?
  • How does what I say reflect Jesus?
  • Does what I say need to change?

Accompanying Children and Young People

Activity – Watch and Think:

Watch Nooma 020 – Shells. Rob Bell’s shells and starfish DVD explains the idea of having too much stuff in our lives and needing to let go of things, in order to hold onto the one thing that really matters. It’s a great way helping young people and adults alike to think about their priorities. There are set study questions with the DVD, for example “ What is the one thing you are called to at the moment and what does that mean you need to let go off?” but these questions can be tailored to fit a little more with John the Baptist, for example.

(The other good thing is that the DVD comes with subtitles in lots of different languages, so if you are working with young people whose first language is not English, they will be able to follow.)

Activity – Practice Prophecy

Prophecy for some of us seems a very complicated thing, or a thing of the past. It doesn’t need to be. A simple activity to help children and young people “do” prophecy is to play word association games.  Have a range of words – and ask them to say/ write down the first few word(s) that come to mind.  – When you do this as a whole group, get everybody to share. There will be some overlap and this is often where you can get a clearer sense of what God is saying. There will also be things that are not relevant, but that does not matter. It’s more about stepping out rather than getting it right.

(I did this with a group of young people before they led worship and I asked them to tell me something about “Jesus and fear”.  One key phrase that came up was “chain-breaker”. This became the phrase that the group held onto as they facilitated worship. This is also what they then encouraged others to hold onto.)

The same can be done with pictures and objectives.

This can be done literally on any topic. So for example: What is God saying about the people in “location X” which is very different to your own location? – you might want to have photos/ pictures/ objects from a particular mission partner/ people you are linked with overseas – or simply use your denomination’s mission agency and  use some of their resources.  – It’s often easier to feel like one “hears” God when it’s slightly less personal.

Then step it up to something more personal – What is God saying about the schools in your city/ village/ location?

Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to experiment.  That’s how we learn to discern what God is saying and can eventually become much clearer in our speaking and proclaiming.

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Our Journey

If you were Joseph, don’t you think a small part of you would have wanted to run a mile?  Who would have believed it!  Watching Jeremy Kyle paternity tests are big business.  Joseph knew that he was not the natural father of Jesus but in coming to believe an angel, he was able to reconcile this very difficult situation.  His faith and fidelity enabled him to give Mary the love of a husband and Jesus the love of a father.

Joseph must have put his pride to one side.  Are there situations in our lives that require us to put our pride to one side?

The latter part of today’s reading is often referred to as the Magnificat or Mary’s Song.
If we were to write a song of the ways in which God has worked in our lives what would it say?  Give it a go!

Mary herself would be considered a young person by today’s standards.  We see countless examples of God using the small people in His plan – we have already heard about Samuel , now Mary a young girl humble of heart ready to say, ‘yes’.

When I hear this story each year I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:27 (NIV)
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Mary’s fiat (her yes) began a new phrase of God’s engagement with his creation.  Why is God asking you to say yes to his new engagement with you, his creation?

 

Food for the Journey

We reflect on what must have been going through Mary’s head on receiving the news of her important baby, through the words of
John O’Donohue:

Blessing for a Mother to be

PregnantTummy2Nothing could have prepared
Your heart to open like this.

From beyond the skies and the stars
This echo arrived inside you
And started to pulse with life;
Each beat a tiny act of growth,
Traversing all our ancient shapes
On its way home to itself.
Once it began, you were no longer your own.
A new, more courageous you, offering itself
In a new way to a presence you can sense
But you have not seen or known.

It has made you feel alone
In a way you never knew before;
Everyone else sees only from the outside
What you feel and feed
With every fibre of your being.

Never have you travelled further inward
Where words and thoughts become half-light
Unable to reach the fund of brightness,
Strengthening inside the night of your womb.

Like some primeval moon,
Your soul brightens
The tides of essence
That flow to your child.

You know your life has changed forever,
For in all the days and years to come,
Distance will never be able to cut you off
From the one you now carry
For nine months under your heart.

May you be blessed with quiet confidence
That destiny will guide you and mind you.

May the emerging spirit of your child
Imbibe encouragement and joy
From the continuous music of your heart, so that it can grow with ease.
Expectant of wonder and welcome
When its form is fully filled.

And it makes its journey out
To see you and settle at last
Relieved, and glad in your arms.

Joseph’s Song (Michael Card)

Carpenter JosephHow could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be?

Lord, I know He’s not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone
Still Father let this baby be
The son of my love

Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God
Lord for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king, how can I raise a king?

He looks so small, His face and hands so fair
And when He cries the sun just seems to disappear
But when He laughs it shines again
How could it be?

Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God
Lord for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king, how can I raise a king?

 
How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be? How could it be?

Listen to this song or Google ‘Youtube: Michael Card: Joseph’s Song

 

Accompanying children and young people

Lego has to be one of the best loved childhood toys of recent generations of young people.  “The Brick Testament is the largest, most comprehensive illustrated Bible in the world with over 4,500 illustrations that retell more than 400 stories from The Bible. Started on the web in 2001, and now having spawned the popular The Brick Bible book series, The Brick Testament project remains a one-man labour of love, constructed and photographed entirely by Brendan Powell Smith.”

With children and young people read together the ‘beginning of the life of Jesus’ section from The Brick Testament. Perhaps encourage children and young people to make other bible scenes out of Lego!

Question
If an angel came to you in reality or a dream and asked you to do a seemingly impossible task for God what would you do?

Listen to Mary’s Song by Len Magee (www.lenmagee.com)

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Our Journey

Mary & ElizabethLuke 1:39-56

What I found striking about today’s reading is the joyful humility displayed.

The whole passage is saturated with the love, joy and excitement that Mary and Elizabeth feel. These two women have been incredibly blessed, and pure delight is brimming in their conversation… yet it is all attributed to their God. They cannot proclaim their faith, trust and gratitude to Him enough. They are joyfully humbled by His work in their lives . . .

Mary – upon hearing news that she will be mother to her people’s saviour, goes to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who is now six months pregnant.

Elizabeth’s unborn child – who is a miracle in himself, stirs at Mary’s presence, and Elizabeth – Spirit filled – seems overwhelmed that Mary has come to her:

“But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)

Elizabeth pours out words of blessing and favour over Mary, and Mary responds in humility – praising God for His working:

“I am not important,
but he has shown his care for me, his lowly servant.

From now until the end of time,
people will remember how much God blessed me.” (Luke 1:48)

Two expectant mothers meet, and their story is extraordinary. Their children are the promises of God. Growing within them is the knowledge that God is merciful- He has not forgotten His people.

Mary and Elizabeth are amazed and humbled. They will experience God’s mercy, His gift to the world, in a remarkable way. Elizabeth’s joy is beautiful. She is exuberant, because she knows that Mary will know love for the Saviour that no other would experience: the love of a Mother for her child.

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Food for the Journey

Magnificat by Timur Indyah PoerwowidagdoDo you feel ‘joyfully humbled’ by God’s work in your life?

Even if you are facing difficult circumstances, try to do something today that reflects the joy you feel for Christ’s action in your life.

I suggest dancing – move your whole body to express the level of exuberance you feel! Put on some of your favourite music and dance. (You may prefer to do this in the privacy of your own home . . . but why not grab a co-worker-or family member to try it out with you . . . ?) Laugh, feel happy, and thank God for this feeling of joy that He gives to our lives. Find a little bit of humility in how silly you might look to other people too – but it’s for your God – and He has worked miracles in your life . . .  acknowledge them.

If your circumstances don’t feel quite right to express yourself with a dance, perhaps take some time today to do something small that you really enjoy – a hobby, a skill you practice or meet with a person whose company you enjoy. Express thanks to God for the feeling of joy that you know to be true in your life.

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Children dancingDancing with your children and young people (30 seconds to 3 minutes of completely ‘letting go’) might be a great activity to try out! It might be a good idea to try this towards the end of a session you’ve shared. Pre-warn them that there’ll be dancing at the end so that they can prepare themselves! By the end of a session the group will hopefully feel at ease with each other, and more prepared to join in! (But you will know when an activity like this will work best for your group.)

Set out the rules:

  1. We’re all going to do it
  2. We’re all going to look really silly
  3. But that’s OK
  4. Don’t injure yourself or others

Talk with them afterwards about how they feel – hopefully they’ll feel great! Hopefully they’ll be laughing. (They might even want to dance for longer!)

Share the encounter Elizabeth and Mary had with each other in today’s passage – get the group to talk about the feelings Elizabeth and Mary are expressing. Are they similar to how the group feels?

Make sure you take some time to thank God in prayer for the joy you have (hopefully) shared, and thank God especially that Christmas is a time that we celebrate the most amazing joy!

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Our Journey

Luke 1 v 5 – 20

elizabethandzachariahprayingWhat a lovely phrase, “well on in years”, so much more pleasant than “past it”. I imagine that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth led a quiet sort of life. He was on duty at the Temple in Jerusalem for a week every six months, and for the remaining fifty weeks of the year lived in the hill country of Judah. It is likely that he was a farmer and quietly watched the changing seasons until it was his turn again to take the short journey to Jerusalem. There are many of us who are called to live a quiet humdrum sort of existence, not for us the spectacular call of God to do something remarkable, simply to be His witnesses in whatever sphere of life we live.

Sadly there is a tendency for those of us who appear to live an ordinary life to feel slightly second best. So far as we can tell the only qualification that this elderly couple had was a blameless life. Thanks to Christ’s completed work we too can live a life without blame, free from the consequence of sin. It really is not about what we can do to serve God, but rather what he has done in us. It was Paul who reminded the early church that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” [Romans 5 v 8].  We are called to live as Christ like a life as possible, and that may well be a placid and unadventurous journey, there is nothing amiss in that!

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Food for the Journey

ElizabethandZechariahLuke seems to delight in this simple godly couple. Zechariah simply could not believe that God had a role for him and his wife, and no idea of the turbulent life of this promised son; perhaps this was just as well. In the months after his encounter with Gabriel he was quite literally speechless, but it gave him plenty of time to reflect on that meeting and what he had been told. The Christmas season is often one of reunion and celebration and it is all too easy to allow the business of life to squeeze out God. Even as we sing carols and hear familiar Bible readings our minds can wander to the practical details and we can be tempted to mentally check out our plans and the all–important timetable of events.  Children delight in Christmas, and it is as much the anticipation of the event as the day itself, but I suspect few of them fret about basting the turkey or who might have been missed off the card list. Relax; take time to reflect. Reflect on your own Christian pilgrimage, give thanks for the individuals who have stood with you in those difficult times, praise God for those that you love, rejoice in His provision, and simply bask in the reality that God loves you.

Many years ago a dear friend added these words from the Living Bible to their Christmas card, ‘May the Lord bless and protect you; may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of you; may he be gracious to you, show you his favour, and give you his peace.’ [Numbers 6 v 24-26] I like the idea of God’s face radiating with joy because of me.

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Zechariah was unable to speak for months and described his experience by signs [Luke 1 v 22], challenge your group to Tweet the entire Christmas story in a series of 140 character messages. For younger ones get them to help you write the story in five short sentences.

If you are feeling adventurous then create a pass-the-parcel game with each layer not just containing a sweet treat but also a Bible reference:

Inside first layerGenesis 12 v 1-3around 1900 BCGod’s promise to Abraham
Inside second layerPsalm 89 v 3-4around 1000 BCGod’s promise to King David
Inside third layerIsaiah 7 v 14around 700 BCGod’s promise to Isaiah
Inside fourth layerIsaiah 40 v 3-5around 700 BCThe prophecy about John the Baptiser
Inside fifth layerMicah 5 v 2around 700 BCJesus born in Bethlehem
Inside sixth layerHosea 11 v 1around 750 BCJesus in Egypt
Inside seventh layerLuke 1 v 13 – 17A son promised to Zechariah
Inside eighth layerLuke 1 v 30 -33Mary’s pregnancy announced

Invite somebody to read each set of verses, be sensitive about this, and remind your group that these events all happened before Christmas.

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donkey by galileeOur Journey

Today we are thinking about Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. A man of few recorded words. The man God chose to have the responsibility for nurturing, encouraging, comforting, leading and loving the son of God.

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19)

The initial reaction of Joseph to the news that his wife to be was pregnant was natural and human. That sense of doubt, anger, hurt, frustration and the need for a coherent explanation that made sense of these circumstances, is something that I am sure is familiar to many of us. I can imagine my response to such news would include these feelings and emotions and probably still be less gracious! But, given the intervention of God – through the visit of an angel in a dream – Joseph obediently responds and becomes the man God always knew him to be. The man God chose to be the earthly father of his son. It seems that when Joseph felt he was unable to trust Mary, he found the strength to be able to trust God.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

We often talk about how Mary was chosen and her obedience but I have been struck by how Joseph can be missing from our thoughts at this time. There is very little recorded about Joseph in the gospels but I believe we would do well to remember that Joseph was chosen by God too. It would take a very special couple to nurture the son of God.

Are there places in your life today where you need to trust God? Are there situations where others have let you down and you feel unable to trust? Turn to God. You can trust Him.

 joseph-mary-jesus-31

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Food for the Journey

Watch this spoken word video that looks at the annunciation from Joseph’s perspective. This video won ‘Nativity Factor’ in 2013.

Having watched this you may like to think about the following questions:

  1. What do you think God might be trying to say to you today through this short clip?
  2. How can you make sure that you don’t forget Joseph’s role this Advent?
  3. Trust is hard. What can we learn from Joseph about trust?

You may like to use this prayer:

Heavenly Father

Thank you for the example of Joseph to us today. Thank you for his obedience, for his trust and for all we can learn from him today. Help us to make sure he is not forgotten, but that his role in the life of Jesus is remembered.

Thank you for our families, for those we will draw alongside in this season, those who represent family to us.

Help us to trust you.

Amen

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Trust- courtesy of Scientificamerican.comShow the young people the video used as part of ‘food for the journey’ and then use the following questions to provoke discussion;

  1. What is your initial reaction to this video?
  2. How do you think you would feel if you had to deal with such massive news? How would you respond?
  3. Think of a time when you heard some life-changing news? Did you respond like Joseph?
  4. Does sharing your concerns with God change your response? How? Can you think of an example?
  5. What does it mean that God is with us today?

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Listen to Emmanuel by Len Magee (www.lenmagee.com)

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we-three-kingsOur Journey

Today we are considering the visit of the Magi, (Matthew 2: 1-18).  The passage starts with the hope and promise of people with a purpose – to seek out the new king of the Jews and worship him (vs 1-2). The Magi first worshipped by bowing down to Jesus, (v 11), and then opened their treasures and presented their gifts. But their visit to the palace in Jerusalem had alerted the civil leaders to the birth of the Messiah.  The working through of Herod’s plan was to have terrible consequences for families in Bethlehem.  But through the whole of the story, we see God’s guiding , provision and protection.  The Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod (v12), and were able to set off on their journey home, well before Herod realised they were not going back to tell him of Jesus’ whereabouts.

The night the Magi left, an angel appeared to Joseph with specific instructions:

“Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Matthew 2:13 (Today’s New International Version.  Hodder and Stoughton).

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Food for the Journey

The journey of the Magi took much planning and preparation before they set out. Their primary purpose was worship, but they also brought along very special gifts.  We think of the symbolism of the gifts as described by the old carol “We three kings of Orient are”

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.

“Frankincense to offer have I,
Incense owns a deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship him, God most high.

“Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

The holy family had to leave for Egypt in a hurry without accommodation or employment booked.  But God had provided for them.  The Magi’s gifts were valuable and saleable commodities in Egypt.  Gold was, and still is, an international currency of proven value.

Frankincense, a rare tree resin, (illustration below of a Boswellia Sacra bush from which modern frankincense is obtained) was burned in temples, and myrrh was much prized as a spice to anoint dead bodies, in a land where mummification was widespread at this time.

Boswellia sacra

Jesus and his family were refugees.  This Christmas, there are hundreds of millions of displaced people living as refugees from conflict and famine.  Take a little time to praise God for the blessings of family and shelter.  Pray for those whose family lives are dysfunctional and lack safety, pray also for those who have had to flee from their homes with few possessions and with little hope of return.

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Accompanying Children and Young People

Jenga smYou could play a game of “Jenga” or similar where the removal of a key piece makes the rest fall, illustrating how fragile our security can be.

 Ask children and young people to:

  • imagine what their lives would be like if they didn’t have a home this winter
  • If they had to leave home in a hurry and could only take three, easily transportable things with them, what would those be?
  • Pray through their concerns and thoughts

If you haven’t prepared a shoe-box this year, plan what you could do for next year, and pray about the steps needed to bless a child overseas. Get some ideas here

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Listen to Star of Christmas and King of the Jews by Len Magee (www.lenmagee.com)

 

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003-shepherds-angels2Our Journey

Luke 2 v 1-20

We have now arrived at the night we celebrate our Saviour’s birth.   The account is familiar to many of us and has been played up and down the country in Nativity Plays, in schools, churches; community spaces.   Many words have been spoken so I invite you to take a moment to look at and listen to Josh Groban’s interpretation of ‘O Holy Night’. The drama says it all.

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Food for the Journey

Advent has been a time of waiting.  We have looked together at the promises God made to Abraham thousands of years ago.  We know of characters who gave up hoping on God’s promises, and those who have earnestly longed for their fulfilment.  We have seen God’s faithfulness in the lives of many of His people through the millennia.

Latterly we have witnessed Anna and Simeon who kept the faith, kept on waiting and finally- in their days – they witnessed the infant Messiah.

This waiting is like pregnancy and childbirth; the now and not yet.  Some people waited in hope and longing.   For others in the story – like the Shepherds – God breaks through unexpectedly as in the first moments of labour pain.

So what have we been waiting for?  Philippians 2 helps us to understand:

Jesus Christ,  ‘who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[a] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:6 -11)

Emanuel.  God is with us.  Yet both the Bible and our experience remind us of the ‘now and not yetness’ of life as we await the Messiah’s return.  We live in a fallen and broken world.  As we saw in Joseph’s experience; we all have many questions we ask of God; there are many aspects of life, which are simply beyond our comprehension and for which He asks us to trust Him.

Who are you praying for this Christmas?  Who do you know who is waiting and longing for a new beginning, a new start?  Do you know any children, young people or families who just need Christ to break into their story?  Keep hoping and praying.

‘For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ‘ (Romans 8:22-25 ESV)

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Accompanying Children and Young People

013-shepherds-angels1Play the track Angry Hotel Man by Fischy Music

A wonderfully humorous account of the Nativity from the perspective of the ‘Angry Hotel Man’.

Listen to the song with the children:  God surprised and welcomed the Angry Hotel Man into His story.  He welcomes us all, he welcomes you.  Discuss this with the children and if there are people they would like to pray may meet Jesus too.

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(Fischy Music is one of our favourite resources – have a look at their the CDs!)

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prayer

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Listen to Nativity by Len Magee (www.lenmagee.com)

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Our Journey

Jesus Christ is born today!  The word made flesh.  The new shoot from the old stump.  The pinnacle of the Jesse Tree.  The Nativity.

John 1:1-18 – The Message (MSG)

Pic 11-2 The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

3-5 Everything was created through him;
nothing – not one thing! –
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.

14 The Word became flesh and blood
and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

16-18 We all live off his generous bounty,
gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding –
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God,
not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
who exists at the very heart of the Father,
has made him plain as day.

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Food for the Journey

Have a jolly good sing!! Why not try Joy to the World – a great song for Christmas day.  Watch this video and think of somewhere you (and a few friends!) could spread a little joy.

Pic 3Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

 (The words by Isaac Watts based on Psalm 98)

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Accompanying Children and Young People

If you have a nativity set or scene, spend some time looking at it, identifying all the characters.  Then invite everyone to identify with the people in the scene in turn, to ‘join in’ with the nativity.  You might like to pass the pieces around the circle slowly and carefully as you say the following prayer. Or you could invite everyone to complete a simple action for each character.  Or you could use a live nativity, inviting the people playing the various parts to say the appropriate line of the prayer.  The idea is to make the nativity something we realise we are taking part in today – not just a story from long ago.

Pic2

With the animals – we share our humble lives and homes with the Living God
With the star – we guide those who seek to see and experience new life for themselves
With Joseph – we welcome everyone who comes to see the Christ-child
With Mary – we hold the baby Jesus and gaze at the Light of the World
With the shepherds – we bow our knees and worship the Prince of Peace
With the wise men – we offer our gifts to the new King of Kings
With the angels – we sing praises to God in heaven

You could finish by all sharing this simple blessing:

Lord, give joy to the world:
Joy in our hearts,
Joy in our homes.
Let the joy of God be known among us today and always.

Share the Joy of Christmas with each other!  – perhaps share the Peace or give gifts

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Listen to Won’t Someone Stop That Baby Crying by Len Magee (www.lenmagee.com)

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