I was invited to be a special guest again at Cherry Hill Community Church, where they have a wonderful children’s ministry. Whenever you are given the opportunity to teach at Christmas time, it presents a unique challenge. You are, of course, teaching the greatest story in HIS-Story – but it is also a very familar one. So how do you tell it in a new and creative way that will still engage children who can easily “check out” when they start to hear the familiar parts of the story. I searched my computer for countless ways I have addressed Christmas in over twenty years as a children’s pastor – and then walked into my vast kidmin prop warehouse and started seeing things that could be used to tell the story! At the same time, as I prayed about it, I was wanted to elevate the story above the mere facts of the traditional story to WHY did God sent Jesus? The story is truly epic and transcends the birth of Christ from the origins of time all the way to Christ’s Resurrection all the way to today!
Then it hit me! Why don’t I tell the ENTIRE STORY OF CHRISTMAS FROM CREATION TO TODAY!
I know, sounds crazy. But I’m known for crazy ideas. So I sought out to bombard the children with an onslaught of props to capture their eyes and engage their imaginations and begin with eternity past, creation, the problem of sin (yes, you can get philosophical with kids!) carry it through to Christmas, explain several of the rarely taught truths of Christmas such as why did the wise men know about the star (from missing writings of Daniel in Babyon) to the fact that they were not even at the stable as is often depicted! And then carry the story through Easter and then through to it’s conclusion today by presenting a child from the audience with the same choice Adam and Eve had – only a forbidden gumball from a gumball machine instead of a forbidden fruit from a tree!
I ended up with four trunks of propped, a few tables and a lit up star up on a pole!
Click to view larger
The kids enjoyed it and leaders even told me they learned some things they didn’t know! By the end, included were God, Adam, Eve, Satan (Snake), Cain and Abel, Noah, Moses, Prophets, Mary, Joseph, Caesar, George Bush, King Herod, Wiseman (just one), David, Solomon, Daniel, Shepherds*, Angels, Simeon, Jesus (baby and grown), Mary Magdalene and Mother of Jesus, Disciples, Roman Soldiers Angel and… and a boy from audience to represent today. (My son!) I think that’s everyone I covered!!
(And yes, my son was the boy who helped at the end. He did a great job!)
Note: I included a bit of the Cherry Hills opening to show how they do it, since they do such a great job and model how to start with a bang and lead into the teaching time with songs that start out upbeat and fun and gradually get more slow paced. It is a model of how it should be done. (I edited out their welcome time, it is extremely well done, but didn’t want to put visiting kids on YouTube without permission.)
There was A LOT to put away at the end! I didn’t even USE all the stuff I brought, later I kept seeing objects and agonizing, “Oh, I forgot that!”
This is a panorama, so click to view full size.
What have YOU done to bring the Christmas Story ALIVE for your kids?
*Note: I think during this second service recording I left out the shepherds… oops!
My favorite Christmas movie is A Christmas Carol. by Charles Dickens. But not just any telling of it. It has to be the The Muppet’s version. (1992)
It is truly the best version ever made. If you have not seen it, you must. Even if you aren’t in kid’s ministry and yes, even if you typically don’t like puppets. It is as touching as it is funny. And Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat, as narrators make the movie. They are simply hysterical. Micheal Caine does a great job as the Scrooge as well. Of course, Kermit and the Gang all do great filling in the rest of the cast.
So, in 2004, I created my own parody of the movie in ToyBox Tales fashion. If you are not familiar with ToyBox Tales – for several years I performed stories with action figures on a set in front of a live audience of kids at my church as a way to introduce lessons or re-introduce familiar stories in a new and fun way. (From 2001-2005) Long before the phrase “going viral” existed, the videos I made “went viral” and as people found them on my church website and I was forced to start a website called toyboxtales.com to share them. YouTube.com did not exist at the time! So they were converted to flash and hosted on my own site. They are there still!
But as a Christmas gift this year, I decided to take my favorite Christmas movie and upload them to my YouTube channel and share them here on my blog for your enjoyment.
We still enjoy sending out a traditional Christmas Card greeting to a select list of family and friends – though it is a challenge every year! But it is a great opportunity to get updated addresses on people you know and love.
But it also forces you to make tough choices too.
Have we heard from them in while?
Do they still live there?
Are they still married?
Have they ever written to us?
Who are they, again? LOL
Often you see a name and such fond memories come back. A smile appears on your face as you remember years of ministry together. Once in awhile you crack up laughing over something that happened. Sometimes sadness sinks in. They’re divorced. You were at their wedding. What went wrong? Other times you wonder, why haven’t we heard from them? What’s changed in their life? You hope they are doing OK. Life happens. Other people’s addresses change and their cards come back. You wonder if you’ll ever reconnect. Then there are those who pass away. Memories are all you’ll ever have. Until heaven, of course!
Relationships and networks have only grown with the Internet, e-mail, and facebook and Twitter! (I suppose I should include circles on Google, though I only dabble there.) It’s hard to manage them all! Life is too short and too busy to keep up with everyone we have ever worked with, played with, laughed with, liked, loved, or been related to!
But at Christmas we try to catch up… even if it’s just a card, or letter or a blog post or a video or even just a quick e-mail.
That’s one comforting thing about being a Christian and belonging to the Family of God. We will have all of eternity to catch up with all the people we feel behind on here on earth. A new heaven and new earth without the pressures of work and deadlines and a calendar that reminds us we are getting older and no hurry that pushes relationships aside because of things we tell ourselves are more pressing. (When they probably really aren’t most of the time.)
We won’t need Christmas to play catch up. We’ll be able to walk and talk and catch up all the time. I’m looking forward to it. But in the mean time… I’ve got to get some Christmas Cards in the mail. If you don’t get one, don’t be offended. I’ll be posting a video and blog post as well soon, but “catch all” strategy. And no worries, I take no offense at those who ‘forget’ or skip me. I’m planning to spend some quality time with all of you Someday. Let’s make a point of it!
If they are willing to be the rear end of a cow with you!
This is Sara and me practicing in my Cow Costume (which I still have 20 years later!) eight months before we were married.
I got it for a Christmas Play where Hark, from the Herald, traveled through time to interview different characters from the Christmas Story (shepherds, wise men, innkeeper, etc.) in order to discover the “True Meaning of Christmas.” However, I thought it was too sacrilegious to have “Hark” interview Mary or Joseph in the Nativity, so I had him interview a cow off to the side instead.
I was very excited when I got my two-man, er, one man – one fiance cow costume, and Sara was happy to help me figure it out and practice with it while were on a Thanksgiving retreat with my family that winter.
Cow or no cow, we’ve made quite a team over the last twenty years!
Finally, we went outside… and there he was… at the nativity, worshiping Jesus.
What did he bring? Was it Frankincense? Myrrh? A toy car?
OK, so the picture was posed, but it has been wonderful to see our son’s understanding of Christmas blossom this year, especially as this was the year he asked Jesus into his heart, and all by himself one evening when he was alone.
“Quizzed” by his parents later, he assured us he knew what he was doing. We’ve seen so much fruit to reflect a change in his heart and vocabulary we are assured that the Christ of Christmas now lives in our little boy. Now he won’t let a day go by without Dad teaching him something new about Jesus!
It’s made this Christmas all the more special to us.