How can I understand unless some one explains it to me? — Acts 8:21
It was a simple ice-breaker game. Some of the class selected cardboard discs with questions about Christmas: Traditions, travel, gifts, wishes…
As with any good ice-breaker, the idea was to elicit discussion. This one broke the ice. The six teens revealed as much about Christian culture as themselves:
- “I want a…”
- “My dad always gets a rolled up tree.”
- “We have one of those fake trees…”
- “How come we sing carols…?
- “Christmas songs are lame…”
- “When are we going to learn something I don’t know?”
Did I mention this was a Sunday school class? Did I mention all of the students were from church-going families? Did I mention they each had to state something they had learned about Christ or Christmas before the class was dismissed to go home?
The Scripture study for the first Sunday of Advent in Luke. It turned into Revelations.
- “Advent means we put up a calendar.”
It’s difficult to say what was most revealing: The stories about Christmas dreams and wishes; the cynicism around being in Sunday school; or the recognition that Christian kids who grew up in the church realm don’t grasp what Christmas means other than obligatory Christianese (“Jesus came to save us from our sins”…”so we don’t go to “the bad place”…’Christ-mass’…eternal life”). Considering that between Sundays they’re inundated by a culture where Christmas is an adjective for a department store sale or tv dating movie, this does not surprise. And yet…
So, the question came to mind: Are we who teach about celebrating the incarnation of God…the birth of Jesus…effectively connecting the message?
Granted these were middle school students and high school freshmen. Granted there was the ongoing (weekly) battle about putting away the mobile device (“My Bible is on there…”). Granted the age is fraught with a wide-range of attention spans and hormonal exploration. Yet, they are also the age of great intellectual curiosity. They are a mission field of critical thinkers with untapped thoughts. They are more willing learners than the ice reveals…beneath the surface.
They are the age Jesus was when his parents had to go look for him in the temple. Imagine: Jesus, the Middle Schooler.
In the last 20 minutes of the period, we got back to the planned Advent lesson: Simeon & Anna in the temple. The theme was waiting. This was a followup from the sermon earlier in the morning. Only 2 of the group had been there. We read from Luke. Luke 2:21-38. Aloud. Collectively. Summarized the story, then challenged them to read that passage each day during the week. Mount Rushmore became teenaged. We circled by the door to prepare for home. Provided each was able to articulate their revelations during the period…in case they were asked at home.
Among their discoveries was learning to listening for the message of Christ in the music they hear this time of year, no matter the source. This grew from the ice-breaking prompt about favorite Christmas songs which led to a You Tube comparison of Taylor Swift’s “Last Christmas” and a version of “Come Thou, Long-Expected Jesus,” one of the congregational songs in the previous hour’s Service of Worship.
Defending her choice, Taylor’s fan explained she liked the beat and that she also has a favorite church Christmas song, “O Holy Night,” as did a laconic boy, who previously was sarcastic and distracting. Two of the girls accompanied “Last Christmas” verbatim while #TheBoyWhoKnowsEverything except — apparently — this song, cried out, “That’s got nothing to do with Christmas!” One of #TheGirlSingers countered: “She said she wanted love and was looking for her heart. I mean she COULD have been singing about Jesus.” Even she admitted this was a stretch, but it also reflected a stretch of thought, leading to discovery No. 2.
A purpose of Sunday school is to prepare the students to think about faith and speak confidently about Christ for themselves rather than regurgitating what just the information they have received at church. “I guess some Christmas songs are okay,” admitted #MrLaconic before the day’s amen. This was growth.
To prepare them, adults must give structure, listen, correct and encourage.
An illustration of such interaction is a “non-Christmas” scripture: Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8.
The Ethiopian was reading scripture. Phillip asked if he understood. How can I if no one explains, said the eunuch.
Phillip took the time. The eunuch understood and came to Christ.
Such is the role of modern apostles. No matter how long we walk with Christ, have heard, taught or preached the Christmas story there remains a responsibility, a command, to tell others.
We have a lot of material to teach about Christmas. Creative. Fun. Insightful. Yet, when it comes to the annual Christmas studies, we must be careful that our traditional pageants, programs or teachings do not become commonplace so that even ardent Christ-followers turn an icy ear. As the students discovered, given time and earnest discussion, this Christmas can be more heartfelt than the last one.