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The Greatest Gift

Mikal Keefer and Scott Kinner

Celebrate Jesus' gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love with children.

Shopping mall Santas, holiday toy ads, and school musicals depicting snowmen and wintry weather -- the weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with anticipation and preparation. In the midst of holiday hoopla, it's all too easy for kids to forget the real reason we celebrate. They anticipate gifts rather than the Savior's birth; they prepare cookies and milk for Santa rather than prepare their tender hearts for Jesus -- if we don't help them.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, use these ideas to prepare kids' hearts as they anticipate the miracle of Christmas.

(P.S. We've also included five weeks' worth of ideas kids can take home and share with their families to learn more about Jesus' gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love!)

Week 1

Jesus: The Gift of Hope


Use this devotion to help kids discover that Jesus gives us hope.

Bible Connect: Micah 5:2

Stuff: Yarn, a cross in your building, treats, tape, and a Bible

Before this activity, place the treats at the base of the cross.

Say: What great news! We celebrate Christmas because our Savior was born! Do you know that God's people had waited hundreds of years for this event? Let's visit a place that reminds us of babies being born.

Lead kids to the nursery. At the door, read aloud Micah 5:2.

Say: God told his people their Savior would be born in Bethlehem. But how can a baby save the world? Babies can't do much -- they can't even talk! What do you think people dreamed this baby might one day do? Let's walk to see what that special, tiny baby grew up to do for all people. There's something very special there, waiting for you and me.

Tape one end of the yarn to the wall next to the nursery and unroll it as you lead children to the cross in your church. When you reach the cross, attach the yarn to the cross with tape.

Say: Jesus died on a cross so our sins -- the things we've done wrong -- can be forgiven. His birth in Bethlehem was a gift, but our hope -- the promise of eternal life with Jesus -- is here at the cross. Pass out the treats. Say: Jesus' gift to us is sweeter than any treat. Let's pray and thank Jesus for his love and the hope we have in him.


Hope In Action

Have kids spread out around the room and think about something they hope to get for Christmas, without telling anyone. Tell kids that when you tap them on the head, they'll strike a pose of the item they hope to get for Christmas. For example, someone who wants a bike would freeze frame in a biking position. Explain that when someone strikes a pose, everyone else will try to guess what it is.

When everyone has had a turn, ask: How is hoping for a gift like or unlike the true hope of Christmas -- Jesus? If you could share one of these kinds of hope with someone less fortunate than you, which would you choose? Explain. Then on the count of three, have kids strike a pose that represents the true hope of Christmas.


Hope Challenge

Ask kids to count the items they put on their Christmas lists. For each item on their lists, have kids think of one way they can share the hope of Christmas with someone who may not receive many gifts. For example, someone with 12 things on his list might give 12 items of food to a homeless shelter. Someone with three big things might give three toys he or she no longer plays with to a family who just lost their house in a fire.



A Week of Hope

Copy these ideas for parents to use during the week.

• Home-Each morning at breakfast discuss your upcoming plans for Christmas. Discuss how anticipating this special family time is like or unlike what Mary and Joseph hoped for as they awaited Jesus' birth.

• School-Share with a friend from school a struggle you've experienced and how you were able to remain hopeful because of your faith.

• Community-The color yellow often represents hope. Tie yellow ribbons around candy canes and deliver them to your neighbors. Explain the symbolism of the yellow ribbon and the candy cane.

(For the candy cane's story, click here.)



Week 2

Jesus: The Gift of Peace


Use this devotion to help kids experience Jesus as the prince of peace.

Bible Connect: Luke 2:13-14

Stuff: A bath towel and a Bible for every four children

Before class, create a list of possible scary situations for kids, such as my parents arguing, there's a bully at my school, or someone I love might die. When kids arrive, have them form groups of four. Give each group a bath towel. Have children hold it between them at waist level, keeping the towel taut.

Say: Sometimes life can be scary. I'll read a list of things that can scare us or make us worry, which takes away our sense of peace. As I do, wiggling only your wrists back and forth, shake your towel lightly.

Read the list.

Say: Keep wiggling your wrists as I read about the angels announcing Jesus' birth.

Read aloud Luke 2:13-14. After you read the Scripture, quickly place a heavy Bible on each towel -- it'll make the shaking subside.

Ask kids to be seated. Ask: What would you advise a friend who was worried or scared to do? What do you do when you're worried or scared? Why do you think the Bible says when we're serving God, Jesus brings us peace? How does Jesus bring you peace?

Close in prayer, thanking Jesus for the peace he brings us.



Peace In Action

Have your preteens bring peace to the nursery by lending a hand in your infant or toddler room this week. Preteens can help in several ways:

• Read to the babies

• Play with the crawlers

• Clean up after a diaper change

• Wash toys

• Sing Christmas carols


The extra help will give peace to the volunteers and serve as a gift to the babies. Return to your area 10 minutes before the end of the service. Ask kids to answer these questions: How did it feel to serve God by serving in the nursery? How did this act of service make you feel about yourself? Do you have a sense of peace after serving God? Why or why not?



Peace Challenge

Have kids spread out around the room. Explain that on the count of three, everyone will make the most annoying noise they can for 10 seconds. Tell kids when you raise your arms in the air, they'll stop the noise and join you in quietly singing "Silent Night." Afterward, ask: What were the differences between the annoying noise and the song? How was this activity like or unlike the peace Jesus brings us?



A Week of Peace

Copy these ideas for parents to use during the week.

• Home-Have your family pray for peace around the world.

• School-Paint rocks to give to your friends. On each rock, write the words, "Be kind" as a reminder that peace begins with kindness.

• Community-Buy bulk bags of lollipops and attach a copy of Luke 2:14 to each lollipop to make "peace pops." Distribute the peace pops at a local shopping mall or grocery store as a peaceful gift to patrons.



Week 3

Jesus: The Gift of Joy


Use this devotion to help kids explore the joy of Jesus' birth.

Bible Connect: Matthew 2:1-2

Say: Let's play a game called Word Association.

Explain to kids that when you say a word, they'll immediately call out whatever word first comes to mind. For example, you might say, "cold" and kids shout out "hot," "winter," or "ice." There are no wrong answers. Your words might include: warm, tall, house, shoe, book, computer, girl, dollar, sky, or water. Finally toss in the word "joy."

Afterward, ask: How many of you said "Jesus" when I called out the word "joy"? Why did-or why didn't-you? Do you associate joy with Jesus? Explain.

Read aloud Matthew 2:1-2.

Say: Jesus' birth prompted magi from far away to come and worship him. They must have felt great joy, deep happiness, knowing the Savior had been born. Turn to a partner and talk about this: What about Jesus makes you happy or joyful?

Ask pairs to share what they discovered with the group. Then have pairs pray together, telling Jesus what they discovered -- it'll give him joy!



Joy In Action

Have kids form a circle. Tell kids to quickly share one way they can bring joy to someone else during the week. For example, "Say 'Merry Christmas' to everyone I see." Give kids 20 seconds to think, then begin with the person on your left and go around the circle quickly. Tell kids it's okay if ideas are repeated. When everyone has shared an idea, tell kids to choose one of the ideas someone else mentioned and do it this week.



Joy Challenge

Have kids form groups of five. Have the child with the last birthday of the year in each group be the No Smiler. Tell groups their job is to make the No Smiler smile. They can make faces or tell jokes, but they can't physically touch the No Smiler. When the No Smiler smiles, have someone else be the No Smiler.

Afterward, ask: How does Jesus help us smile, even on the saddest days? What ways can we remember that, no matter the circumstances, we can always feel joyful thanks to Jesus?



A Week of Joy

Use these ideas as ways to remember Jesus' gift of joy.

• Home-Write compliments on sticky notes and leave them on your parents' bathroom mirror each morning for a week. You'll bring a smile to their faces first thing each morning!

• School-Bake Christmas cookies and leave them anonymously in the teacher's lounge at school. The school staff will love this surprise holiday treat.

• Community-Visit a neighbor or friend who lives alone. Deliver hot cocoa and cookies, and serenade your friend with a few favorite Christmas carols.



Week 4

Jesus: The Gift of Love


Use this devotion to help kids discover Jesus' love for us.

Bible Connect: John 3:16-17

Stuff: For every three kids: fake eyeglasses (available at craft stores) with a thin sheen of petroleum jelly on the lenses, an 8½x11 picture of Jesus, and a helper

Say: Some people wear glasses to help them see. Without them, they can't see clearly. Let's see what that's like.

Have children form trios against one wall and close their eyes. Place the picture of Jesus 10 feet in front of them -- only after they've closed their eyes.

Say: Wait your turn with your eyes closed as a helper comes around to place eyeglasses on each of you. When you have on the eyeglasses, open your eyes and look through the glasses for five seconds. Look at the picture in front of you and try to guess what the picture is, but don't say anything. Then close your eyes and the helper will take the glasses. Keep your eyes closed until you're told to open them.

Afterward, let kids see the picture of Jesus clearly.

Ask: Could you see the picture correctly with the glasses on? Why or why not? How is this experience like or unlike how we see Jesus at Christmas? Why is it easy to forget why Jesus came into this world? How can we focus on seeing Jesus clearly this Christmas? Read John 3:16-17 aloud. Say: With your partners, thank Jesus for coming to save us from our sins.



Love In Action

Remind kids that God showed his love by sending Jesus. Tell kids you're going to see how far God's love spreads. Have kids stand in a circle and ask them how big they think the circle can get with everyone still connected. Try kids' ideas until the circle is as big as it can get. For example, kids can lie down so one person's hands are touching the shoes of the next person.

After the circle is as big as it can get, talk about how your circle is like or unlike God's love.



Love Challenge

Have a Love Awards ceremony. Encourage kids to observe another person showing God's love this week. Tell kids when they spot an act of love to create a "trophy," such as a simple heart or smiley face, and write the act of love on it. Tell kids to bring their trophies the following week and share the acts of love they witnessed with your class. Display the trophies in your room as a reminder of how others show God's love.



Week of Love

Copy these ideas for parents to use during the week.

• Home-Cut out a large heart and write "God's Love" on it. Each evening at dinner, pass the heart to each family member and have him or her share one way God showed his love during the day.

• School-Before the holiday break, invite a friend's family to your church's Christmas Eve service. For extra impact, include an invitation to your home for dinner or dessert following the service.

• Community-Buy simple ornaments to give as gifts to your neighbors. Include a note with the good news of Jesus' birth. Leave the ornaments and notes for your neighbors to give them a glimpse of God's love this Christmas.



Week 5

Jesus: A Gift to Celebrate!


Use this devotion to help kids celebrate Jesus in their lives.

Bible Connect: Psalm 100

Stuff: Five Bibles

Say: Let's thank God for his great love-and our chance to live forever with him because of Jesus.

Form five groups. Help children find Psalm 100 in their Bibles. Assign one verse to each group, and then give groups several minutes to decide how to silently act out their verse. Introduce each group by reading their assigned verse aloud. Then let kids act out their verse and enjoy each other's interpretations of God's Word. Applaud all efforts.

Afterward have kids discuss these questions in their groups: How easy or difficult was it to act out this verse? Explain. How easy or difficult do you think it is to carry out this verse in real life? Explain. What ways can we honor God by focusing on his Word this Christmas?

Say: Let's close in prayer and thank God for the wonderful gift of Jesus.



Celebration In Action

Tell kids you're going to play an exciting game in a few minutes, but they have to wait until the time is right. Have them spread out around the room and sit with their eyes closed. Explain that they'll need to remain absolutely calm with their eyes closed for two minutes to play the game.

As two minutes tick by, make a big deal about how exciting the game is and how long they've been calm and quiet. Keep saying things such as, "You still have over a minute left. Stay quiet and calm!"

At time, say: Great job waiting! Let's celebrate with a fun game! Choose a game kids love to play.

When the game is over, ask: How did it feel to have to stay totally calm for something fun and exciting? How is being calm different from or similar to being excited? Are you calm or excited about Jesus? How was this experience like or unlike waiting for Christmas?



Celebration Challenge


Tell kids we don't have to wait until Christmas to celebrate Jesus. Have kids think of one way they can celebrate Jesus this week. For example, someone might sing a Christmas carol every morning before breakfast. Another might choose to invite someone who doesn't know Jesus over for Christmas dinner. Challenge kids to make the days leading up to Christmas full of celebration.



A Week of Celebration

Copy these ideas for parents to use during the week.

• Home-List ways your family celebrates special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays. Share your most memorable family celebration.

• School-Surprise your class at school by bringing in fun party supplies such as balloons, noisemakers, or treats to celebrate the upcoming holiday break. (Get permission from your teacher first!)

• Community-Help your local fire station celebrate Christmas by providing small gifts such as candy canes, holiday treats, or notes for firefighters in honor of a year of serving your community.

Mikal Keefer is a children's minister with 30 years' experience in children's and youth ministry. Scott Kinner has 12 years of children's ministry experience.



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