Following the light — Weekly Christian ed lesson

In this lesson, children will explore the Epiphany story (Matthew 2:1-12) and will consider the significance of a group of unlikely people honoring and caring for the baby Jesus.

Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash

Lesson background

Christmas day has happened! Jesus was born! The story is over, right? While we tend to focus on the lead-up to Christmas and joyfully celebrate “God With Us” arriving on earth as the baby Jesus, we don’t fully understand the widespread impact of the Christ child’s presence unless we also look at the story of the magi. These visitors from the East – men who likely had no previous ties to the people of God – follow a wild star and end up bowing down to and protecting a tiny baby. In this lesson, children will explore the Epiphany story (Matthew 2:1-12) and will consider the significance of a group of unlikely people honoring and caring for the baby Jesus.

You will need

Starting out

Greet the children as they arrive.

If turning off the lights in the classroom makes it very dark, do so. If not, have the children to close their eyes and imagine the room is completely dark. Ask them to notice what it feels like to sit in the dark. Then, ask them what it would be like to have class in the dark. What would be difficult to do if we had no light?

Hold up the nightlight or flashlight. Ask the children to share ways that this object helps you when the room is dark. How could it help us have class if the room was dark?

Hearing and exploring the story

Prepare to read aloud Matthew 2:1-12.

Provide the children with a context for the reading:

  • This story takes place a few weeks after Jesus’ birth. We usually think of it as happening 12 days after Christmas Day.
  • The magi are important to this story. (NOTE: Use the terminology that the Bible translation you’re reading to the children uses (Magi, wise men from the East, etc.) There isn’t a lot of information about the characters in the story other than they are “from the East.” They likely lived far from Bethlehem and may have been astrologers, people who studied the stars. They notice an unusual star in the sky and follow it bringing them to the location at the beginning of this story.
  • Another character in the story is King Herod. He is the ruler at the time when Jesus was born. He was known to be incredibly cruel.
  • In the story, the magi give gifts to the baby Jesus. These may seem like unusual gifts for a child, but they are meant to show a few things about Jesus. Gold shows that they consider him a king, myrrh was used in an oil for preparing a body when it was being buried, and frankincense was burned during religious rituals.

Read aloud Matthew 2:1-12.

After reading, ask the children:

  • What do you imagine the magi looking like?
  • Why do you think they followed the star?
  • How are the magi and King Herod different?
  • Why do you think the magi protect Jesus from King Herod?
  • Why do you think they bow down when they see the baby Jesus?
  • What might the magi have been thinking when they left Bethlehem?
  • Why do you think it’s important that the magi visited the baby Jesus?

Connecting the story to our lives

To help the children connect the Bible story to their own lives and experiences, invite them to engage in one or more of the following activities:

  • Presents for Jesus: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: copies of the gift template and crayons or markers. Ask the children to recount the three gifts the magi give Jesus. Recount what each of the gifts represents. Note that the magi didn’t know Jesus when they brought these gifts, but the gifts show us some important things about Jesus. We know what Jesus did during his ministry and we know about his death and resurrection. Ask the children to think about why Jesus is meaningful to them. They may choose one of his traits or they can focus on something he did. Then, ask them to think of a gift they could give to Jesus that represents that idea. Give each child a blank gift sheet and ask them to draw a picture of the gift inside the outline of the gift box. Invite the children to share their drawings and what their presents represent.
  • Loving beyond borders: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: a computer with Internet access connected to a data projector or television and the video “Columbia Presbyterian Church as a Samaritan to Local Refugees.” Ask the children to wonder about why “wise men from the East” come to visit and bring special gifts to Jesus rather than people in his own community. Note that the Jewish people (the people of God) were waiting for God to send them someone to lead them. They were the most likely people for God to reveal God on Earth (Jesus) to, but instead God sends people from far away who likely had practiced different religions. Throughout time, God continues to draw together people from different places and faith practices to care for and love one another. Show the video. Have the children reflect on what they heard.

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