January: Faith in the Family Activities

January: Speaking and listening

God speaks to Samuel (1 Samuel 3: 1-10)

Samuel heard it as he lay on his bed in the room with the golden chest – the one that held the laws God gave to Moses. It had been busy in the Temple all day, but now he listened to the silence and watched the light from the oil lamp flicker on the bare walls.

“Samuel!”

That must be Eli, his guardian, wanting him to fetch something. He’d go and see what he wanted. The old man could hardly see now.

“Here I am!” he said, running in to Eli. “Here I am, you called me.”

But Eli said, “No, I didn’t call. Go back to bed.”

Samuel obeyed. That was strange. He was sure he’d heard his name called. He tried to sleep, but couldn’t. He thought about his mother and wished she wasn’t so far away. If only she could tell him a bedtime story – like the one about her praying and praying for a baby before he was born. He smiled. She’d chosen the name Samuel for him because it meant “asked of God”.

“Samuel!” There it was again. That must be Eli. He ran in.

“Here I am! You called me.”

“My son, I didn’t call!” said Eli, puzzled. “Go back and lie down.”

Samuel was wide awake now. Was the old priest getting forgetful? This had never happened before, not since his mother had brought him here when he was very small. How homesick he’d felt at first. But his mother had made God a promise. Her son would serve God all his life, as a thank you. He’d soon got used to helping Eli in the temple, learning how everything was done. And now it felt like home. Except, he did look forward to his mother’s next visit . . .

“Samuel!” There! He wasn’t imagining it. What was going on?

“Here I am, Eli! What do you want?”

The old priest sat up, paused for a moment, wondering.

“My son, I think the Lord is calling you,” he said. “Go back and lie down. If he speaks to you again, say, ‘I’m listening, Lord. What do you want me to do?’”

Slowly, Samuel went back to bed. He lay down. Could it be true? The one who’d made the world, talking to him? He lay still as a statue, straining to listen above the beat of his heart, roaring in his ears. It would drown out every other sound!

But when it came, the voice was as clear as if the Lord were standing right next to him.

“Samuel!”

“I’m listening, Lord,” Samuel answered. “What do you want me to do?”

Pause for thought: As we gaze out of our windows at this time of year, we see the bare branches of trees silhouetted against pink sunsets. Ponds may be frozen, and gardens sometimes lie under a blanket of snow, muffling every sound. Silence! There is no doubt that we have arrived in the depths of winter.

At the time of the Bible story, God hardly ever spoke directly to people. Silence! But one night he did speak, not to Eli the experienced priest, but to his young helper, Samuel. The boy didn’t recognize God’s voice, and so it was up to Eli to explain whose voice he’d heard and how to respond.

There are many instances in the Bible when God speaks to someone unexpected. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when the children we know show amazing spiritual insight. Then, like Eli, we need to listen to what they say and take it seriously. However, it may be up to us to interpret what they are experiencing and to advise on how they should move forward.

 

God speaks to Samuel: Read the Bible story together. Wonder about it, as follows:

  • I wonder why God chose to speak to Samuel
  • I wonder how God speaks to people today
  • I wonder if prayer is about two-way communication
  • I wonder if you have ever felt God speaking to you (perhaps through a Bible story, through the words of a Christian friend, or a quiet voice in your head)

 

The listening game: How good are we at listening to each other? This game could be played on a long car journey. One person tells a story about something funny/embarrassing that happened to them. Then someone else has to repeat their story, eg “One day when Mum was six, she was riding a donkey along the beach when . . . “ Take turns at telling and relaying the stories. How much detail can everyone include?

However old our children may be, they always need us to listen to them, whether it is that important time straight after school or on the odd weekend when they come home from working away. Sometimes having someone to listen is enough. At other times, we may be able to interpret a situation for them, saying, for example, “Well, perhaps your friend was just having a bad day,” or, “Hmm, if you keep feeling like that, do you think God might be telling you something?”

 

The name game: You could play this while sitting at the table before or after a meal. Put a baby name book on the table. Does everyone know what their name means? Have a guess and then look them up. Chat about why those names were chosen. Look up the names of other relatives. You might like to draw a family tree together on a big piece of paper, with the names in circles. Add the bare branches of a wintry tree and its trunk in the background. Can anyone remember what Samuel means?

 

I hear with my little ear! Go on a wintry walk. Stop still for a few minutes in different places to find out what you can hear, for instance

  • In your street
  • On the bench in a churchyard
  • On a footpath
  • In your garden
  • In the woods

Have you noticed these sounds before? Next, when each person wakes up in the morning, try guessing what time it is by what you can hear, before checking a clock. How did everyone do? Can you get more accurate as the days go by?

Link this with the idea that prayer is all about listening to God as well as speaking to him. As a family, agree that each person will try to pause for a short while between their prayers in order to listen to God, perhaps saying, “I’m listening, Lord.” This could be a New Year’s Resolution!

 

Feed the birds! We don’t hear the birds singing so much in the early morning at this time of year. But they may be hungry. You might like to get or make a bird table as a family project. To make a simple one, use a piece of plywood for the base and thin strips of wood for the edges. To hang it from a branch, fix a screw-eye at each corner and make two loops with thick string. Put food on the table (seeds, dried fruit, cooked potato, bacon, hips and haws, acorns) and keep a record of the food different birds eat.

You can make a bird pudding by mixing kitchen scraps and uncooked porridge oats with melted fat. Pour the mixture into an empty yoghurt pot with a hole in the bottom and string threaded through for hanging upside down.

 

Big ears! Make bunny/alien ears from a paper plate! Turn it upside down and, starting from the inside of the crinkled rim, draw two bunny-shaped ears (ie, within the middle of the plate). Cut out the inner circle of the plate, going around the ears and being careful not to cut across the place where the ears join the rim. Colour the ears and then fold them up. Write, “I’m listening, Lord!” around the rim. Try it on!

 

Bedtime story: “Play” the Bible story with your toddler and a soft toy with big ears, such as a rabbit, a mouse or a dog. For example, “ This is Sam. Sam was just going to bed – night-night, Sam – when he heard a voice calling him. Samuel, Samuel! So he jumped out of bed and ran in to see (your toddler’s name) saying, ‘Here I am! Did you call me?’ Your toddler says “No, I didn’t call. Go back to bed, Sam!” So Sam goes back to his bed. He snuggles down and he is just going to sleep, when . . . etc.

End by saying, “Well, perhaps that was God speaking. Let’s say a prayer and listen to God together!”

. . .

 

A Party for Baby Jesus

This is the post excerpt.

Here’s an interactive nativity story to use at a toddler Christmas party or celebration. It simply shows that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus, the baby who slept in a manger. Ask the adults to bring their children (or a soft toy) dressed as a nativity character. It doesn’t matter how many Marys, Josephs, shepherds etc. come along on the day. Helpers could dress up, too!

Toddler groups might like to invite their minister to make the brief point that since Christmas is a birthday party for Jesus, it would be a shame to leave him out of the celebrations.

Ready: Decorate your meeting room and/or kitchen counter with items that help us celebrate both birthdays and Christmas, e.g. a cake with candles, balloons, cards, decorations, presents.

For the story, you will need a box for the manger, some straw, a big star to hang over the stable area, and a baby doll wrapped in a shawl.

Teddy: Dress Teddy as a nativity character, e.g. as a king with a paper crown and a cape. He could be holding a small box wrapped in foil as a precious gift.

Go: You’re ready to explain what Christmas is all about.

Story-telling tips: This story aims to keep the children engaged by involving them in simple actions, songs, sound effects and questions throughout. You might like to ask the adults to listen out for their cue to make animal sounds in the stable! The story starts at Mary’s house and moves to the stable area.

Leader: Welcome to our Christmas party, everyone! You all look great in your costumes. Look! Even Teddy’s dressed up! We’ve got (as appropriate) balloons, a cake, presents, decorations and most important of all, friends to help us celebrate. It’s just like a birthday party, isn’t it? But whose birthday is it? I wonder! Well, listen to the Christmas story and you’ll find out!

Helper 1: Long ago, God wanted to send us a present to say, “I love you!” What do you think that present was? It was a baby boy – his own son, Jesus. Isn’t that amazing?

Helper 2: God needed someone kind to look after him. So he sent the Angel Gabriel to ask Mary to be the baby’s mummy. Is anyone here dressed up as Mary? Yes! What about as an angel? Good! Can you stand up?

Helper 3: Mary is very surprised when the angel comes to her house. “Don’t be afraid!” says the angel. “God loves you very much. You are going to have a baby soon and you must call him Jesus. He will be a great king. Will you look after him, please?” Wow! What do you think Mary says? She says, “YES!” What does she say? She says . . .

All: Yes!

Helper 3: Let’s all stand up and sing a song about that.

All: (To the tune Frere Jacques)

       God is sending,

       God is sending,

       A baby boy, a baby boy, (rock arms)

       You can be his mother,

       You can be his mother,

       Jump for joy, jump for joy! (jump and clap)

Helper 1: Let’s all sit down again! Well, Mary is so happy that she can’t wait to find Joseph. Is anyone dressed as Joseph here? That’s wonderful! Listen to Mary’s news! “Joseph, God is sending us a baby boy and he wants us to look after him. Isn’t that exciting?”

Helper 2: Now Mary and Joseph are very busy getting ready for the baby. Mary’s tummy grows big and round. But just when it’s time for the baby to be born, they have to go on a long journey to Bethlehem. Oh, no! Come on, let’s walk with them and help them on their way . . .

All: (To the tune Here we go round the mulberry bush)

Here we up to Bethlehem, (walk on spot or to stable area)

Bethlehem, Bethlehem,

Here we go up to Bethlehem,

On a cold and frosty morning. (repeat as required)

Where shall we stay in Bethlehem, (hand above eyes, searching)

Bethlehem, Bethlehem,

Where shall we stay in Bethlehem,

On a cold and frosty morning?

Helper 3: Phew, I’m tired! Let’s sit down for a rest . . . Mary and Joseph are tired, too. They need somewhere to stay for the night. But everywhere’s so crowded. It’s buzzing with people! Can you make a buzzing sound?

All: Buzz, buzz, buzz!

Helper 1: Yes, all the inns and hotels are full. Where can they stay? Joseph knocks on lots of doors, rat-a-tat-tat . . . Can you knock on a door?

All: Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat!

Helper 1: Have you any room? But everywhere they go they hear the same thing. No room, no room. What do they hear?

All: No room, no room!

Helper 2: Until at last, one very kind innkeeper says, “Oh dear, you do look tired. You could stay in my stable, if you like. That’s if you don’t mind my animals!

Helper 3: Mary and Joseph don’t mind at all. Oh, thank you, thank you! What do they say?

All: Thank you, thank you!

Helper 3: Come on then, all you Marys and Josephs, come into the stable and sit near the manger, the animals’ feed box . . .

The straw feels all prickly and tickly, doesn’t it? If we keep very quiet and still, we might hear the animals saying “goodnight!” Listen!

Adults: Ee-aw, ee-aw! Neigh, neigh, baa-baa, etc!

Helper 3: Have we got any animals here? Come and settle down for the night near the manger!

Helper 1: (whisper, with awe) Tonight, the stars are glowing like birthday candles in the dark sky. Have we got any stars here? Come on then! And tonight, in this chilly stable, baby Jesus is born. (Bring out the doll and show it to the children) Mary gives him a cuddle. Then she wraps him up and places him gently in the manger. (Place the baby doll in the manger)

All: Away in a manger (sing the first verse together)

Helper 2: All the angels in heaven are very excited that baby Jesus has been born on earth. Come on, you angels, can you flap your wings and play “follow my leader” to come and stand behind the others? Don’t forget to have a peep in the manger on the way . . .

Helper 3: “It’s Jesus’ birthday today!” sing the angels. “Let’s give a party for him!” So they hang up a bright, shiny star over the stable as if to say, “The party is here! Everyone is invited!” (Hang up your star)

Helper 1: But who do you think will come? Who is awake in the middle of the night? Yes! The shepherds on the hillside, of course! They always stay awake to look after their sheep. Do we have any shepherds here? “Dear Shepherds,” sing the angels, “You are invited to a birthday party for baby Jesus. Do come! You’ll find the baby lying in a manger.”

Helper 2: “Yes, please! We’d love to come,” say the shepherds. They gather up some lambs and hurry into Bethlehem to look for the baby. Come on, shepherds, come and kneel in front of the manger . . .

Helper 3: Far away, some kings see the star hanging in the sky. Do we have any kings here? Can you point at the star? “Look! Someone’s having a party,” they say. “Let’s follow the star and see who it is! We can bring some precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Come on, kings, come and join the party!

Helper 1: What a wonderful time they had admiring the new baby king. And that’s why we’re having a party today – to remember Jesus’ birthday. So that’s whose birthday it is! Shall we sing Happy Birthday to him?

All: Happy birthday to you,

       Happy birthday to you,

       Happy birthday, dear Jesus,

       Happy Birthday to you!

Prayer: Dear God, Thank you for sending us such a wonderful Christmas present – baby Jesus! Thank you for Mary and Joseph who looked after him, for the innkeeper and his animals who shared their stable with him, for the angels who invited the shepherds, and for the stars that sparkled like birthday candles and led the Kings to Bethlehem. This Christmas, help us to remember to say, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” Amen

Party bag: Why not suggest to the adults that they continue the birthday theme at home over the festive season by helping their toddlers to complete the Christmas Eye-Spy activity?

Christmas Eye-Spy

Have fun keeping your eyes open for the real meaning of Christmas!

Have a look out for some of these things.

Do they remind you of anything or anyone from the nativity story?

Wrapped Christmas presents 

Precious g – – – –       

Christmas cake with candles    

Jesus’ birth – – –

Party hats in crackers

The K – – – – from the East

The Angel on the top of a Christmas tree

The A – – – – Gabriel

A star decoration                    

The s – – – over the stable              

A newborn baby

B – – –   Jesus

 nativity