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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Bethlehem Gate

Image by almasudi via Flickr

In earlier posts I’ve shared ideas for doing Vacation Bible School creatively and inexpensively.  Click here for a review of a curriculum that focuses on clean water and living water.  Click here for a post about ways our church has done VBS on a shoestring and a list of some more resources.

Here’s an idea for using summer VBS to look more deeply at the Christmas stories.  This past Advent, one of our adult Sunday School classes enjoyed Adam Hamilton’s book and five-session dvd study entitled The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem.  In the dvd Hamilton takes viewers to see Nazareth and Bethlehem and the likely route Mary and Joseph took on their journey.  A youth edition and a children’s edition of the study are also available.  You can see them all on the Cokesbury website.

While I haven’t reviewed the youth edition, I do have a copy of the children’s edition, written by Daphna Flegal, and it is full of great ideas and reproducible materials, readily adaptable to just about any situation.  Here are its contents:

  • Art Show (invitation)
  • Suggestions for an All-Church Event
  • Lesson 1: Mary
  • Lesson 2: Joseph
  • Lesson 3: Elizabeth
  • Lesson 4: The Journey to Bethlehem
  • Lesson 5: The Shepherds

With all these materials you could plan a VBS for ages four through adult.

Image: Bethlehem Gate

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Rech St.Luzia Fenster742

Image via Wikipedia

There is a shepherd in Matthew’s Christmas story, and it is easy to read right over him.  Here is a Christmas sermon that points him out.

Our Shepherd Is Born
A Sermon on Matthew 2:6, Matthew 9:35-36, and Luke 2, with allusions to Isaiah 40 and Ezekiel 34.

If the people are sheep and the leaders are shepherds, then the world Jesus was born into was struggling under the rule of two very bad shepherds.   The propaganda of the day declared that Caesar Augustus is son of God, lord and savior and bringer of peace on earth.  You can still see this message etched in stone in Roman ruins.  What Rome called “peace” could be more accurately called “forced order.”  Maybe it was a kind of peace, but what it means for the people was relentless oppressive taxation.  It meant the threat of torture and death.  Crucified bodies lined the roads—the message being: this will happen to you if you don’t cooperate.  The Empire jerked all its subject peoples around.  That’s what’s happening when Joseph hitches up his donkey, lifts a very pregnant Mary up on it, and leads it the hundred miles or so from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register.  Roman orders.

King Herod was a henchman to the Romans.  Rome ceded some local authority to him, and he guarded it jealously.  History books list him as Herod the Great because he was a most impressive builder.  Under Herod the majestic temple in Jerusalem that Jesus visited was built.   Its remnants are still visible.  The Wailing Wall is left from Herod’s temple.  But Herod was also a butcher.  He assassinated members of his own family that might pose any challenge to him.  It was nothing to him to order the slaughter of Bethlehem’s little boys.  It was all in the name of security.  His.

Bad shepherds were nothing new.  Through the centuries people longed for a good shepherd, one who would feed the flock, not eat the flock.  One who could carry the flock, not exploit the flock.  One who would gently lead, not jerk people around.  One who would strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strayed, seek the lost, feed the hungry. (more…)

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Cover of "Joyeux Noel (Widescreen)"

Cover of Joyeux Noel (Widescreen)

It is very difficult to kill the enemy once you have seen his face and discovered his humanity.  That is what happened during the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914, when French, British, and German troops came up out of their trenches and met one another in no man’s land.  And that is the point of Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas), a beautiful film based on the accounts of those who were there.

The film begins with flashbacks of schoolchildren reciting nationalistic litanies of hate, and then shows the war interrupting people’s lives in Scotland, France and Germany.  Soon we see soldiers hunkered down in trenches and moving out here and there to slaughter each other.  The enemies are near enough to hear one another, and on Christmas Eve, the sound of music coming from the trenches of their foes catches their attention and arouses their curiosity.  The German soldiers begin to bring small Christmas trees decorated with lighted candles up out of their trenches.  Officers of the three armies meet and agree to a cease-fire for the evening.  Soldiers from all sides begin to come out and meet in the middle to exchange gifts of chocolate and wine.  They share photographs and stories of their families.  A priest with the Scottish unit celebrates a mass in Latin, expressing the Christian faith that is common to many.  The next morning over coffee the officers agree that their units will bury the dead from all sides on the day of Christ’s birth.  Later we see soldiers playing soccer together.  On the following day the commanders decide that they must now go their separate ways.  The commanders and troops are now extremely reluctant to shoot at one another.  Word of what has happened soon spreads.  The military and civil authorities are not pleased.  The commanders are reprimanded, and the units are broken up and moved to other fronts of the war.

In the film, the religious authorities are not pleased, either.  One of the storylines follows the Scottish priest who serves as a chaplain and stretcher-bearer.  He says very little during the film.  Most of his story is told in his face.  Early in the film, for example, we see his face fill with pain when the young men of his parish rejoice at the outbreak of war.  After the Christmas Truce we see him caring for a dying soldier in a hospital.  His bishop arrives, announces that he is to be sent back to his parish in Scotland, and rebukes him for his actions during the Truce.  The quiet priest responds, “The Lord Jesus Christ guided me in the most important mass of my life.  I tried to be true to his trust and carry his message to all.”  He listens as the bishop exhorts a group of new soldiers.  The bishop tells them that they are wielding the sword of the Lord on a holy crusade. The Germans “are not like us,” he declares, “and with God’s help you must kill them all so that it won’t have to be done again.”  While the bishop moves on with his liturgy, the priest removes his cross, hangs it up, and leaves the scene.

Joyeux Noel shows us what a small outbreak of peace looks like, and it longs for more.  O come to us, Prince of Peace, Prince de la Paix, Friedefürst.

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” Luke 1:78-79.

**Joyeux Noël (2005) Rated PG-13, Sony Pictures.   If you’d like to read more about the Christmas Truce, see Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub.  Plume Books, 2002.

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