Bible Readings: Matthew 1:1-17; Matthew 2:1-23
Free Resource: Extra, Extra, Read All About It! (Cross+Gen Education)
Unit Theme (December 25 – January 20): God’s Promise of Jesus
With Christmas and winter break almost (already) here, I’m covering two Sundays in one post. This is also what we do with many of our faith formation products. We combine the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s (not a big attendance nor education day) with the following Sunday into one, extended lesson covering both readings. Leaders can use the lesson on both days or just one.
Genealogies for Children (or Any Age)
How the heck do you engage children in Matthew’s genealogy, especially when you are looking only at Matthew 1:1-17? I see a couple of paths here that can be taken for a children’s time, children’s church, or even a part of a cross+gen worship service.
- Explain the genre. Basically, instead of directly addressing the content of the reading, teach children about what a genealogy is. Genealogies are not just a list of random names, but they tell a story about a family. Connect this to their family tree. Be cognizant that not all families look the same, and family trees can be complicated. You don’t want to be too generic, but you also don’t want to leave anyone out.
- Answer the why. Why does the writer of this Gospel start with a genealogy? Doing so goes against any writing convention today as this is definitely not a hook. For this, you would need to consult a scholarly source (perhaps our Contexts & Connections guide for this reading). One reason though is to connect Jesus to the promises of Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3) and David (2 Samuel 7:16), which is even stated in Matthew 1:1.
- Tell the stories. For a longer activity, tell some of the stories of the people mentioned. You can go with everyone, though that would take a long time. You can focus on the stories of Abraham, David, and the Babylonian exile. Activate prior knowledge by referencing stories you’ve covered this year. I would definitely recommend a focus on the women of the story (check out the fascinating article Subversive Women in the Genealogy of Jesus).
Herod, Magi, and Refugees
When we move to the Epiphany reading (Matthew 2:1-23), we’re back to a story (whew!). It might be tempting to focus on the Magi, but that this is only part of the story. If children are present in worship for the Scripture reading (I hope they are!), they will hear the disturbing parts, too. If your audience hears a disturbing part of Scripture, then you have to address it. But, how? For children, youth, adults, or all the above together, here are some ideas for the whole chapter.
- Talk about it as a story. Participants of any age are familiar with stories. You can simultaneously make the reading more accessible while softening the horrible story of the massacre by looking at this like a fairy tale. Herod is the clear villain of the story, assisted by his minions. He is crafty and manipulative, and he shows his evil side by doing something really, really bad. Joseph is the hero of this story, who listens to, and obeys God. He escapes the clutches of the villain, saving his son, the true hero.
- Act it out. One of my favorite suggestions for stories, using multiple voices, expressions, and movement makes the stories come alive and keep people’s attention (even adults). It can be a puppet show, a dramatic reading, a readers-theater skit, or something the participants make up on the spot. Telling the story in a melodramatic way to soften the massacre. If this is a cross+gen setting, get the kids involved!
- Reset the story. This is the direction that our free activity this week takes. “Extra, Extra, Read All About It!” from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education product encourages one or more cross+generational groups to get creative and tell the story as if it happened today (Magi following GPS?). This also gives you the opportunity to address current events, especially the refugee crisis around the world.
Church Year Connections
Connecting the Bible passage with the liturgical year isn’t important to everyone, but if it is important to you, then plow on ahead.
- A Christmas genealogy. Matthew’s genealogy is a part of the Christmas story. In fact, the first verse can be translated: “The book (account) of the birth of Jesus.” Just like Luke gives background before narrating Jesus’ birth (in a more engaging form), this is how Matthew does it. Merry Christmas, here’s a list of names!
- An Epiphany. This year, the festival of Epiphany falls on a Sunday, and the story of the Magi is one traditional story for Epiphany. This festival is about the revelation of Jesus, the son of God, and here Jesus is revealed to and by the Gentiles. The Magi recognize how important Jesus is, and so does Herod, though they react in very different ways.
Hopefully, these ideas stir up your creativity as you consider how to present these Narrative Lectionary readings to your particular faith formation context.
Merry Christmas and a blessed Epiphany!
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
Epiphany is upon us, but it’s not too late to order faith formation resources! If you had ordered Fall Living the Word resources or are interested in just getting started, order your Winter resources now, which start on the first Sunday of Advent and go to Transfiguration Sunday. As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Winter (and Spring) quarters immediately and start using them!
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!
The image above is a photograph of fabric art my grandmother, Bertha Rawn, made many years ago.
Photo (c) 2018 Gregory Rawn – Do not use without permission.