As the Christmas countdown draws us ever closer to the big day, the general mood and priorities of people can tend to grow slightly frantic and frenzied, perhaps almost panicked at times. With lists to fulfill, stores to visit, and relatives to invite, our minds might be busily buzzing with any number of things. But this is the time when it is so essential to think about what we are doing and why. This week, the Advent wreath candle is one representing joy, and our emphasis is on what joy is and how it inspires us to spread the great news to others.
As we have discussed, each Advent candle is laden with significance and also has a special color associated with it. Three of the candles are purple, and there is a white one at the center to represent Christ. This week, though (the third Sunday in Advent), we light a pink candle, in honor of the shepherds who heard the good news of Christ’s birth from the angels and ran to visit Him and share the word. Why pink? According to some customs, priests would give out a pink rose during Lent to lighten the mood during the somber season. Advent used to be similarly contemplative and grave, so in order to infuse it with life, church leaders often did the same thing. Clearly this was prior to the giant electrical snowmen lining our streets today…the pink candle follows the tradition of the rose, as the story goes.
The celebrated feature of this week’s Advent emphasis is the grand announcement of the Messiah’s birth. It is rather interesting to consider who it was that first heard the news. Who were shepherds? In Bible times, tending flocks was far from glamorous, and in some ways could even be used as a detestable punishment (Numbers 14:33). Shepherds were often considered unclean and could not go through with the usual temple procedures, even if they were caring for the very sacrifices that were to be used in temples. If they were Jews, they were looked down upon by more orthodox believers and could not follow the same rituals. Their work could be tedious and tiresome, and they were very lowly commonplace people.
But God specializes in reaching out to the lowly commonplace types. He did one dark night in Bethlehem, sending singing angels not to priests or palaces but to pastures.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” -Luke 2:8-12
Surprise! This was definitely unexpected, and so of course the first thing the angel says is an admonishment not to fear. It tells the shepherds what to look for, and then
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. –Luke 2:13-20
So the original herald is joined by a whole crooning band, and all celebrate what has been proclaimed (cue Handel’s Hallelujah chorus here…). Look at the reaction of the shepherds. They didn’t doubt it or question. They went immediately to see what the party was all about. They rejoiced first. Then they spread the word. They were so thrilled that they couldn’t wait to tell everyone what they had seen.
Do we get that excited? Does Jesus make us so thrilled we are bursting to share of His love? Don’t hesitate to remind children or students that sharing and announcing Jesus is not always done with words. We can share Him through actions, caring, or simply living lives of joy. Emphasize that joy is not quite the same as happiness. Being happy can be circumstantial and fleeting. But joy comes from Christ, and it resides deep within the soul. Joy cannot be snatched or destroyed by events.
So as we go through this week, we ponder lives of joy and celebration. And to liven things up, consider adding a few extra activities, too, like…
- Play a few rounds of “hide and go sheep.” Using cotton balls or pom-poms, hide several around a room and have children hunt for them like shepherds. You may want to use the items for a sheep-themed craft afterwards.
- Experience some sheep products. Feel wool or perhaps sample some sheep’s milk cheese.
- Think about lights in the dark by playing with glow in the dark toys or tools, or experiment with a “moonlight.”
- Look at other instances in the Bible that reference sheep or shepherds. Do a concordance or Google search. Why do you think sheep come up so often?
- Talk about candy canes and their resemblance to a shepherd’s staff. Read the “Legend of the Candy cane” story to accompany.
- Make a heavenly herald craft. Create a “trumpet” from cone-shaped paper. Or make an “angel” using paper plates, doilies, pipe cleaners, and glitter.
- Make a list of ways to announce Jesus or live out His joy. Post it somewhere prominent and check in with how you have accomplished this goal.
Whatever you do, remember that it celebrates Christ, and the season of joyous proclamation. EnJOY!