Do you lead your children through Advent readings in December? When my children were young, I always intended to have regular Advent devotions. But then the Christmas season would roll in like the Polar Express, delivering a trainload of expectations for us to unpack for our kids. Watching the season lumber off into the past, I often chided myself that, once again, I’d allowed the "fun and exhausting" to squeeze out the "truly meaningful."

If, like me, you’ve never been able to maintain daily Advent devotions from December first ’til Christmas, here’s an easier challenge: Can you manage four?

Reading on, you’ll find ideas for four different Advent adventures for elementary ages – one for each of the four weeks of Advent. In essence these "Advent adventures" are simply devotional readings and discussions you can tack on to a few of your family’s usual holiday traditions. Without adding any "extras" to an already busy season, they’ll help you centre your children’s attention back on the true meaning of Christmas, and the wonder of God’s gift of Jesus.

Advent adventure #1

For the first week of Advent

Your mission
: Head out together as a family to do a little Christmas shopping.*

Oh joy!
may not be the first thought that springs to mind at the prospect of shopping with the kids. But there is a helpful lesson at the heart of this mission. And here’s something to sweeten the deal: do just a "little" Christmas shopping – as little as you like. But try to choose a shopping centre that’s very busy, and somewhere where you’ll need to wait in a lineup for at least a little while.

When you return home: Read Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-25, then Luke 2:1-7.

Discussion guide:

  • Did the store/mall/town centre seem busy to you?
  • Did you like being among all the hustle and bustle?
  • Did you like waiting in a lineup to be served?How did it make you feel?
  • When you are in a crowd of strangers, do you feel special – or not very special at all?
  • Are you wondering what all this has to do with the birth of Jesus? Let’s find out!

In our Bible reading, we read how Mary and Joseph – a young couple who were engaged to be married – both received a surprise visit from an angel. The angel gave each of them equally surprising news: Mary was to have a baby. But that baby would be no ordinary baby; He would be the very son of God.

  • If you were Mary or Joseph, how do you think you would have felt when you heard that God had chosen you to look after His son?
  • Joseph and Mary both believed the angel’s message, and prepared to become parents. But then, something very inconvenient happened. Do you remember what that was?

The Roman ruler ordered a census – a count of all the people in the Roman Empire. The census meant Mary and Joseph couldn’t stay in their hometown to have their baby. Instead, they had to travel to the town of Bethlehem. In Bible times, travelling on foot or by donkey, the trip would have taken somewhere between four days to a week. That’s a long and very tiring journey for anyone, but especially tiring for a woman expecting a baby.

And when Mary and Joseph finally reached Bethlehem, it was no place to kick back and relax. Most likely, the whole town was bustling with activity. People were rushing here and there, buying extra food, cleaning house and making room for relatives who would be coming to stay during the census. No one paid any attention to Mary and Joseph – they were just one more weary couple straggling into town.

We don’t know if this really happened, but it’s not hard to imagine Mary and Joseph thinking, Lord God, why is everyone ignoring us? Didn't You let anyone know that we're special?

As it turned out, God was preparing a special welcome for His son, but not the kind of welcome Mary or Joseph might have expected. We’ll read more about those events another time. For now, let’s talk about Christmas in our home.

Just like the town of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth, our home can get really busy around Christmastime. Sometimes, you might feel like everyone’s too busy to pay much attention to you – as if you aren’t very important or special. And people may get tired and a little grumpier than usual. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love you just as much as always.

Will you do something for Jesus? When you’re upset or disappointed during this busy season, or feeling a little neglected, will you try to be a bit more patient with others? A little bit more forgiving too? Will you make that your special gift back to Jesus this Christmas?

[Talk about some of the fun events and activities your family is looking forward to this Christmas, then close in prayer.]

* The second Advent adventure also takes place at a shopping centre. If you'd rather not return to the shopping mall a second time, make the treasure hunt from the second Advent adventure part of your shopping trip in week number one. You can talk about the treasure hunt during your Bible reading in week two.

Advent adventure #2

For the second week of Advent

Your mission: Go on a treasure hunt in your local mall or shopping district.

Pile into the car and head to your local mall. When you arrive, challenge your kids to search store window displays to find a Nativity scene depicting Jesus’ birth. If you find one relatively quickly, see how many more you can find. If, as is more likely, you don’t "find Jesus" in a storefront window, widen your search by venturing inside the stores. Celebrate "finding Jesus" with some small treats or perhaps a drink of hot chocolate. Optional: Before you leave, make a donation to a charity, or give a gift of cash to someone who seems to need it.

When you return home: Read Luke 2:1-7 (a recap of last week’s reading.) Then read Matthew 2:1-12.

Discussion guide:

  • Do you like visiting the mall/town centre and seeing it all decorated for Christmas?
  • Were there a lot of Christmas decorations, or just a few?Did you enjoy the treasure hunt?
  • Were you surprised at how hard it was to find a decoration showing the baby Jesus?
  • Do you think there was anyone else at the mall "looking for Jesus" like we were?
  • What were most people at the mall doing instead?
  • Do you think the other people would have been surprised to know that we were looking for Jesus?
  • Did you see anyone at the mall who was honouring Jesus in some other way?

Just now, we read in the Bible about some wise men from far away who suddenly showed up in Jerusalem looking for Jesus. They didn’t know Him by name – that His name was Jesus – but they did know that a special baby had been born, one who was the rightful king of God’s people. When the wise men started asking around, trying to find Jesus, everyone was very surprised. It seemed that no one else was looking for Jesus, or expecting Him to be born at that time. Instead, everyone was preoccupied with other things, caught up in the regular busyness of life.

Today, there are many people who love celebrating Christmas. They get busy buying gifts, hanging lights, baking treats and decorating a Christmas tree. But they don’t know much about Jesus, or believe in Him, so they don’t make Him part of their Christmas celebration.

For us as Christians, sometimes we can forget to "look for Jesus" at Christmastime too. We can spend a lot of time thinking about the gifts we want, and fill the season with so many other activities, that sometimes we forget our reason for celebrating. The wise men searched hard for Jesus, because they wanted to show Him respect and honour Him by giving Him gifts. Like the wise men, we need to search for ways to remember Jesus and honour Him at Christmastime.

[Brainstorm some ways that you’d like to bring honour to Jesus this season as a family, or recall some things you have done already. Close with a time of prayer.]

Advent adventure #3

For the third week of Advent

Your mission: Take a stroll around a neighbourhood to admire the Christmas lights.

To give your post-activity discussion greater impact, have Mom or Dad or someone very special to your family remain at home while the rest of the family heads out to admire the festive lights. The stay-at-home helper will play an important role in this lesson by greeting each child with a big hug or a very warm welcome on their return home. Then, walk or drive to a neighbourhood with a great Christmas light display. The location should be far enough away that your children would have difficulty finding their way home on their own. At some point during your outdoor adventure, call home and chat to the person waiting at home about what you’ve seen so far.

Bible reading: Read Luke 2:1-7 once again for review, then read John 1:1-3,14,10 and John 14:1-7.

Discussion guide:

  • Did you enjoy going out to see the Christmas lights?
  • Sometimes we passed a house that didn’t have any Christmas lights on. How did the brightly lit houses look compared to the unlit ones?
  • Did you get tired or hungry or thirsty while we were out looking at the lights?
  • After we had walked around in the dark for a while, looking at the Christmas lights, did you know where you were?
  • Would you have been able to find your way home on your own?

Last week and the week before, our Advent adventures and Bible readings focused on Jesus’ birth – how Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and how wise men came looking for the baby Jesus. This week, we are going to talk a little about why Jesus was born.

  • According to the Bible verses we just read, did Jesus’ life start when He was born as a baby to Mary and Joseph?
  • Then where was He before He was born to Mary and Joseph?

The Bible tells us that Jesus willingly left heaven to be born on earth as a baby. We don’t know what heaven is like, but we do know it’s a place that’s full of joy; there is no sadness, no pain and no disappointment there. Jesus left the glory of heaven to help us. On earth, He was no longer worshipped by angels. He got cold and tired and hungry just like we do, and as an adult, He was bullied and mistreated.

It’s hard for us to imagine what leaving heaven for all the hardships on earth must have felt like. But when we see a house decorated in sparkling Christmas lights standing beside one that’s not lit up, it can remind us that Jesus willingly left heaven and "switched off" His glory for our sake.

When Jesus left heaven, He also left the joy of being with God the Father. Remember when we called home to talk to [insert name] about the Christmas lights? Although we could talk to them on the phone, it wasn’t quite the same as being able to tell them about it in person when we got home. When He was on earth, Jesus could talk to God in prayer just like we do, but I’m sure it wasn’t as good as being present with Him in heaven. I think Jesus missed God very much. Jesus went through a lot for us.

  • Remember – when we were looking at the Christmas lights – how I asked if you could find your way home on your own? Did you answer yes or no?

Jesus was born to teach us about God, and to open the way for us to go to heaven when we die. Because of Jesus, one day we will find our way home to heaven where we belong. We’ll be welcomed home to heaven by God, and we’ll receive the biggest, warmest hug/welcome ever!

[Close in prayer, thanking Jesus for being willing to come to earth and be our Saviour.]

Advent adventure #4

For the fourth week of Advent

Your mission: Join another family and sing Christmas carols on a street corner in your neighbourhood, or attend a Christmas Eve worship service.

For this final Advent adventure, you may prefer to have your Bible reading and discussion time before heading out on your carol-singing mission.

Bible reading: Read Luke 2:1-20.

Discussion guide:

  • Would you like to quit school and wander the countryside every day, helping a herd of sheep find fresh green grass?
  • Would you be scared to sit in the dark all night long, watching over your sheep?
  • Would you be brave enough to scare away hungry wolves and stray dogs who wanted to attack the sheep?
  • At first, just one angel appeared to the shepherds. The Bible says that when the angel appeared, "glory" shone all around the shepherds. Where did the glory come from? Was it from the angel?
  • What did the angel tell the shepherds?
  • Did the angel specifically tell the shepherds to go looking for the baby Jesus? Why do you think they went to find Jesus?

In Bible times, wealthy owners of flocks of sheep often hired other people to care for their sheep. Sometimes, the sheep owner would send his own children out to the fields to look after the family’s sheep. It’s possible some of the shepherds who saw the angels were children as young as ten years old.

The shepherds believed the angel’s message. Then they decided to do something about it: they went to see the baby Jesus for themselves. Everything they had been afraid of – that their sheep would get lost, or that wolves might steal some sheep by night – no longer worried the shepherds. They left their sheep because seeing Jesus was much more important, and no one wanted to miss out.

Mary and Joseph must have been amazed and encouraged to hear the shepherd’s story. The Bible says that Mary never forgot what the shepherds told her. The people in the town must have been amazed to hear the shepherds’ story too. They would have remembered the stories from long ago, telling how God’s glory had often been seen at the temple in Jerusalem. But at the time of Jesus’ birth, hardly anyone had seen God’s glory in over 400 years. Secondly, no one expected God’s promised Saviour to come, at that time, born as a baby. To the people in the town, all this meant one amazing thing: God is with us!

As we said earlier, some of the shepherds may have been only about ten years old. But their young age didn’t prevent them from being used by God. They simply believed God’s message, and told others what they knew about God. You can do that too. When someone you love is having a tough time, simply reminding them that God is with them can make a big difference. And when you worship Jesus in public places, or share about Him with others who don’t know Him, you start people thinking, Could it be true? Is Jesus really God’s Son? Maybe I should start looking into this.

[Close with a time of prayer before heading out to praise Jesus together.]

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2012 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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