Hidden inside the ordinary, will you see God-alongside?

Christmas eve worshipAs you gather with your family and/or friends, ponder this question:

What was your favorite part of the Christmas Eve worship service?

I’ll bet you get a variety of answers.

My unofficial poll included the music offerings, and when all the lights are turned off and Silent Night is sung by candle light.

The telling of the story didn’t make our list.

I wonder if we have become so familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth, that we forget to be amazed?

Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem

I spent Christmas Eve too sick to attend worship. Home alone, in bed, I decide to read the story. I’m glad I did. Functioning as the only component of “worship” that I had, it allowed for deep contemplation.

I was reminded of the wondrous, amazing aspect of Christmas.

What’s that you say?

As explanation, I’ll use a phrase often heard in this season:

The Incarnation

Star of Bethlehem Nativity

The Incarnation is a concept that leaves me awestruck. (And also feeling a bit jumbled – reminding me that sometimes we have to live in the mystery.)

Incarnation is a big word that comes from Latin, meaning “the act of being made flesh.” It’s what God did in the birth of Jesus. Somehow, mysteriously, Jesus is both fully God and fully human!

In Jesus, God is with us!

The prophet Isaiah had described our coming Savior as Emmanuel. What a perfect title for Jesus, because “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” It’s the very thing we need and look forward to the most: the presence of God himself! Jesus wasn’t born just to save us from our sins; God came to be with us.

God loved us so much that he chose to come into the world in the actual person of Jesus. We find this expressed in John 1:14, which paraphrased reads…

The “Word” was made flesh and moved in with us.

The Adoration of the Shepherds, a painting by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

Even more amazing (if that is possible)… God joined us, not just in human form but as a tiny, helpless baby! What are we to make of this news? Knowing what we know, what will we do?

Who would have looked for God as a baby in a manager in a stable?

If the way we live shows what we believe, should we be actively looking for God among us?

What does God with us look like today?

Richard Rohr calls it, “hidden inside of ordinariness.”

The Incarnation

A humdrum home for animals, equipped with a feeding trough. Where will God-with-us show up next?

Have you observed God, hidden, yet present with us, in the ordinary?

Let’s look for Emmanuel! Here are a few searching suggestions:

  • Go for a drive at night, and be dazzled by the neighborhoods festooned in Christmas lights.
  • If it snows, go outside and catch flakes on your tongue. (Or spend time studying the rain drops rolling down the window pane.)a child ponders the first snow
  • Lay on your backs under your Christmas tree and silently gaze upward, pondering the beauty and perhaps the scent of pine or spruce.
  • Watch and notice when your child seems in an attitude of awe. (A moment of wonder is often characterized by quiet stillness rather than enthusiastic activity.) Silently join them in their observation.
  • Where will you find God?

May you experience God with you — in whatever ordinary awesomeness he arrives.

a blue line

Photo credits:
The first photo is from my archives.
Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem was created by moi from an Unsplash.com image by Tim de Groot. The figures were adapted from wpclipart.com; the words are the start of Luke 2:4, NIV.
Star over Bethlehem by Garrett W. offered on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
Birth of Jesus is a portion of “The Adoration of the Shepherds,” a 1622 painting by Gerard van Honthorst; from Wikimedia, in the Public Domain.
Babe in a manger by Rapolas; from Pixabay, in the CC0 1.0 Public Domain.
First snow by Joe Thorn, offered on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Are we there yet? Helpful Christmas activities will get you through!

School is out for “Winter Break.” Are your kiddos busy or bored?

Looking for something for your family or your kids to do, that’s related to Christmas? Choose from these activities…

To do as a family…
  • Birthday CakeThrow a birthday party for Jesus! Bake a cake together.
    Read the Christmas story while it bakes. Be sure to decorate your cake! And sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus!
  • Play a version of the game hot/cold. Choose one person (“it”) to leave the room while someone hides the baby Jesus from your nativity set. “It” then looks for the hidden Jesus, while everyone else sings a Christmas song – louder if “it” is close to the babe, or softer if he/she moves further away. Take this opportunity to discuss how Jesus is always close to us.
  • Watch some fun, short videos together (each about 1 minute). Produced by Veggie Tale creator Phil Vischer, these are a series of 12 videos called “Clive and Ian’s 12 Questions of Christmas.” Clive and Ian are puppets. Ian asks Clive questions such as “Was Jesus born on Christmas?” and “Who is Emmanuel?” Watch all 12 of them (one at a time) here.
For kids to do on their own (or with your help)…
  • Listen and read along as the nativity story is told, complete with appropriate Christmas Carols. It’s an on-line sing along! Click here.
  • Listen to the story of Jesus’ birth while you put together a puzzle showing the shepherds visiting the Christ child. Two different levels of puzzles here.
  • There are lots of other puzzles and games at this site. Some for older kids, ages 8-10.
  • Days of Picture Advent 2015

  • Have the kids take photos which represent the words of Advent.
    Check out my interpretation of these words.

Share your ideas for Christmasey entertainment.

Photo credits:
Birthday Cake by Will Clayton, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Today is the day

Today is the day to proclaim Epiphany! (Even though it was commemorated in church last Sunday, today, January 6th, is the officially marked day.) You may finally move your magi nativity pieces into their final resting spot — assuming that they’ve been traveling over your tablelands until now.

Three wise men approach a nativity scene

Epiphany serves as a reminder that God has come among us as a human being – God with us as Jesus. Celebrations of Epiphany traditionally are tied to the arrival of the wise men to worship Jesus.

These magi have always fascinated me. Their courage! Their fortitude! They likely traveled a thousand miles from their home in Persia or Arabia, all the way to Bethlehem — guided by an unusual star in the sky.

They followed this star, not knowing where they would end up.

Can we do that?

Start off on a journey not knowing where we are headed?

Graphic says - The wise step out in faith

How about your family’s faith journey?
Or even your own personal walk with God?

Do you know where your journey will take you?
Do you know what you will find along the way?

Will you step out in faith… to grow your faith?

Your family is depending on you to take the lead.

Need some help getting started? Try this or this or this.
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Photo credits:
Photos are from my archives. I created the starry sky graphic from various Public Domain clip art.

Jesus’ birth had lots of drama

Traditional Sunday school class almost never included acting out skits. (I know. I taught for 10 years using that “old” way.) There just wasn’t enough time to squeeze in a play amongst everything else going on — the story, an art project, a game, and a snack! (Besides, a teacher just couldn’t accumulate enough bathrobes.)

Rotation.org logoThat’s what makes the Workshop Rotation Model of teaching Sunday school, unique: We devote an entire class to using various dramatic methods. The goal is not a polished production, but a fun way to learn a Bible story.

We’ve got a closet full of costumes. (We even have a cow costume!) We’ve got a stage with velvet curtains. We recruit gregarious workshop leaders (and Shepherds!) who like teaching through drama. (And who don’t mind dressing up in silly costumes and playing a few parts now and then.)

Does it work? You be the judge. Gather the family around and view the skits created in our Drama Workshop, taped during our recent Rotation on the story of the birth of Jesus.

The 2nd grade:

Can’t see the 2nd grade video? View it here on YouTube.

The 3rd grade:

Can’t see the 3rd grade video? View it here on YouTube.

The 4th grade:

Can’t see the 4th grade video? View it here on YouTube.

The 1st and the 5th graders:

Can’t see the 1st and 5th grade video? View it here on YouTube.

And our 6th graders performed for our younger kids (3 year olds through K’s)…

Can’t see this video? View it here on YouTube.

I’ll bet this prompts the kids to get out their bathrobes and a flashlight and some sunglasses!

Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Dramatic videos produced as a part of our current Rotation at FUMC in Ann Arbor, MI.

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God’s purpose? To be with us.

You can do this:  Dig deeper into the Christmas story.

Ask questions at your family dinner table.
Ask the question most frequently asked by young children: Why?

I remember telling my kids when they were very young, a simple explanation for why we celebrate Christmas:

It’s Jesus’ birthday.

Birthdays are easy for kids to understand. On your child’s birthday, do they enjoy hearing the story about the day they were born? (Or perhaps the day they were adopted?) It follows that on Jesus’ birthday we tell over and over, the account of his arrival.

crèche scene

We typically hear the story from Luke – a trek to Bethlehem, rooms at capacity, a babe born amongst beasts, topped off with sojourning, wonder-struck shepherds. It always amazes me: Jesus’ first bed was an animal feeding trough, and second-string sheep-tenders were Jesus’ inaugural guests. Everyone had been on the lookout for a majestic monarch, yet God slipped into our world as a defenseless little baby.

Why did the story happen this way?

What were God’s intentions? When we dig deeper, and read in Matthew, we reveal God’s purpose:

 She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

Immanuel, means in Hebrew:  “with us is God.” Ah! A glimpse at God’s motive.

Jesus was sent to be God with us!

Ready for some family discussion surrounding Immanuel / God-with-us?

  Start off reading together Matthew 1:18-24.

A long time ago, God quietly came to earth via his son Jesus. Most people in those days didn’t recognize Jesus as their long-waited-for Savior. What about these days, do you suppose people recognize God-with-us today?

What are some ways that God makes his presence known to us?
a magnifying glass
  What can make it hard to “see” God?

How can we help others to notice God with us?

Back in Bible times it seemed that God was more overt in his communication with people. For instance, in our current Rotation on Jesus’ birth story, there are lots of “angels of the Lord.” One named Gabriel, visited Mary, whereas Joseph had two angelic visits in his dreams. And the shepherds… they got a sky-full!

Angels made by the younger kids at church

What evidence of God have you seen lately?

What about that bird perched just so, on the snow-covered branch…

Cardinal in snowy treeTo me nature-happenings are a sort of message from God. He says, “Slow down. Take notice. Isn’t what I’ve created intricate and amazing? I created you too. Oh, what a beautiful job I did! Do you see that little bird? The one perched outside your window? I care about him. I care about you!”


God is with us.
In what ways will you look for his presence?

Photo credits…

Photos are from my archives. Copyright Carol Hulbert.

Here comes Advent!

Advent 2020 is coming!

Are you ready? Have you planned activities to engage your family in the season of waiting for Christmas?

Why Advent? The word “Advent” comes from Latin; it means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent signals that Christmas is coming; the day when we celebrate that God arrived on earth as baby Jesus. Advent gives us time to prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming. We get to focus our hearts and minds and actions, on the amazing story of God with us!

What can we do during Advent? Try some of these activities:

Bring out the Advent wreath.Advent wreath Remember when we in non-COVID times we’d spruce up our wreaths at church? Not happening this year! Bring it out of storage anyhow! It will work just as well. Replace the candles. Don’t worry about what color they are! Things are different this year!

Light those Advent candles. Starting on the first Sunday of Advent, and why not everyday, light the appropriate number of candles (one for each week of Advent) during your family dinner. Can’t all be there for dinner? How about over breakfast or over an after-school or bedtime snack? Or just use it as an excuse to gather together for shared family time. (Even if it’s only for 5 minutes!)

Use your Advent wreath as a way to spark faith conversation.
Print a copy of an Advent Wreath discussion guide.

Go on a photo hunt!Picture Advent 2020
Join in on the fun of Picture Advent. On the first day of Advent 2020 photograph something that says “Open.” On Monday look for “Presence,” etc. See the list of various photo ops for 2020. share your photos on the church Facebook page.

Use an Advent Calendar. There are all sorts of these to be found, though they typically count the days in December (as opposed to the weeks of Advent).

Use your Nativity set as an Advent Calendar – set up a path of numbered “stepping stones” (cut from paper?) Have Mary and Joseph slowly make their way to the stable scene.

An Advent paper chainOR, have your kids assemble a paper chain with 24 links. Print out this list of Bible verses and glue one verse to each link. Every day in December snip a link and read the Bible together.

OR, Use my favorite Bible storybook – The Jesus Storybook Bible. Read one story each day. (They all tie to Jesus; even the Old Testament.) Download a PDF of this reading plan. A sample of which is shown below. (There are multiple other, not-so-fancy versions out on the internet. Do a search.)

A page from the Advent Calendar based on The Jesus Storybook Bible

grass grows in a cupPlant Straw for the Manger. Fill a cup with potting soil. Place it on a sunward windowsill. Have a container of seeds close by – use grass seed or “cat grass” or wheat berries. Every time someone does something nice for someone, they get to plant a seed. Watch it grow (water regularly) and on December 24th mow it down to fill the manger in your crèche scene.

Use unexpected moments to focus on Advent themes. Find yourself stuck in traffic or in the slow lane at the store? Transform your marking-time-moment into an example of how the Israelites waited for the arrival of the Savior – for hundreds of years! What are other daily instances that remind you of peace, light, grace, joy, hope, love…?

You've been RACK'ed - Random Acts of Christmas Kindness
Check this list
of other Advent ideas…
including Random Acts of Christmas Kindness! A fun way to put the focus on being kind to others.

What Advent activities are being arranged in your household?


Photo credits…
Grass in a cup by Shardayyy Photography, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).
The page from The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent calendar created under fair usage. (I’m linking to their product at no benefit to myself. And you’ll for sure want one. Did I mention that it’s my favorite?)
Other photos, copyright, from my archives.

Our Advent Rotation (2014)

Our next Rotation is about… Christmas!

A crèche scene

Since Christmas comes every year this allows us the chance to, each year, focus on a different aspect of the story. We’ve done Advent Rotations from the point of view of:

This year we’ll take a look at the overall birth story of Jesus. Our target is to ensure that kids know the sequence and timing of story events surrounding Jesus’ birth. We’ll also be digging into the concept of “God with us.”

Our story is found by interweaving the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Read the story as the kids will hear it, in Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-23, Luke 2:1-18.

On Sundays, at the downtown location of FUMC, our schedule is:

Date Our workshops for 1st through 5th graders…
Art Cooking Drama Games
Room 212 Social Hall Room 215 Room 204
11/23 1st & 5th grade 2nd grade 4th grade 3rd grade
11/30 4th grade 3rd grade 2nd grade 1st & 5th grade
12/7 Enjoy worship and Communion with your family.
Read the scripture to be used in the service.
12/14 2nd grade 1st & 5th grade 3rd grade 4th grade
12/21 3rd grade 4th grade 1st & 5th grade 2nd grade
12/28 Enjoy worship with your family. (One service at 9:30.)
1/4 Enjoy worship and Communion with your family. (One service at 9:30.) We are celebrating Epiphany. Read the scripture ahead of time.

And here’s what the 6th graders will be doing this Rotation…
Lots of special projects! (They’ll almost always be in the Pine Room.)

11/23 11/30 12/7 12/14 12/21 12/28 & 1/4
Watch a short video called “The Coat: A Story of Charity.” Participate in a service project for the Humane Society. Do baking for Ronald McDonald House families. Worship with your family. Read the scripture to be used in the service. Spend the morning with our younger kids! Perform a drama, read storybooks and sing with them. A Christmas party! Worship with your family.

And on For Saturdays at the Green Wood location, here is the schedule…

Date Workshop or Activity
11/22 Work on a service project. (Bring your favorite music to listen to while we work.)
11/29 Game night! Bring your favorite board or card game.
12/6 Art Workshop
12/13 Cooking Workshop
12/20 Drama Workshop
12/27 Worship with your family
1/3 Children will enjoy a special showing of Saint Nicholas – A Story of Joyful Giving.

What’s happening in each workshop?

  • In the Art Workshop students will help tell the story using various colors of felt, creating a “stained glass window.” They will create a stained “glass” scene made into a Christmas tree ornament that reminds them of the story of Jesus’ birth.
  • In the Cooking Workshop students will create a nativity snack bag with items to represent story elements. They will get to try out some of this snack at church but will bring home a bag of goodies. Share this snack bag as a family and have your child use it to retell the story!
  • In the Drama Workshop students will enact the story. What a great way to learn the story details by participating in the story!
  • In the Games Workshop students will play a quiz game to see how much they really know about the story.

On Saturday nights and on Sunday mornings at FUMC our Cool Disciples experience Rotation Model Christian education, as they learn about Bible stories and concepts through kid-friendly multimedia workshops. If you are in the area please join us for the fun learning at First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, MI.

Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Crèche photo is from my archives.

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How goes your journey?

This entry was originally posted when our kids were talking about the wise men, however it applies to all year ’round! What are you doing to further your faith growth?

Painting by James Tissot, in the Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I find it amazing that the wise men made such a long, arduous journey to worship Jesus. Previously I had pondered questions that the wise men may have asked as they prepared for their trip. Such as…

  • Where would the star lead them?
  • What would they find?
  • How would they be received?
  • And, are we there yet?

Wait a minute! This sounds like an adventure someone else (whom we’ve recently studied about) made to an unknown destination. In fact, it may well be that they both came from the same area!

Both were Gentiles (not Jewish) at the time God summoned them. Neither knew exactly where they were going when they left their homeland. Both obeyed God and were instructed by the stars. (Abraham: Genesis 15:5, the magi: Matthew 2:2). (Did you figure out that I was thinking of Abraham & Sarah?)

Both parties chose to venture into the unfamiliar.

Speaking of an uncharted odyssey…

How goes your family faith journey?

Does it feel like you don’t know where your faith walk will lead you, or what you’ll find along the way, or even if you are on the right path? Join the wise men! Here are some hints about how to stay the course on your family faith journey.

a starParticipate in rituals.
Celebrating family rituals is a great way to grow in faith together. Rituals and traditions are repeated activities that help family members develop a sense of belonging. Make time for rituals that connect us to God: Saying table grace, bedtime prayers, daily Bible reading… Add a new ritual! What occasions can you make special (besides the usual holidays and birthdays)? It’s not too late to start an Advent ritual.

a child holds a newly created Advent wreathMom with two girls look at a Bible

a star Worship together.
If kids don’t experience worship as a child, what will cause them to want to participate as an adult?

A family worships togetherChildren have a time with the pastor at church

a starServe others.
The family that serves together, stays together!

Families participate in a service project

10 kids ages 10 and under dug a 30 foot drainage ditch

It’s not too late to consider joining us on our spring Appalachia Mission trip.

a star Watch for a shining “star” (or two or three).
Notice signs that lead us to think of Jesus.

The sun sets over the lakeChristmas eve service

a starCultivate your personal faith.
Don’t you want your kids to “do as you do?” Take time to build your own faith. Set aside a regular time to commune with God in prayer, read the Bible, or join a class at church.

a blue line

As your family traverses its way along your faith journey, know that God is our God and God is always with us!

Photo credits:
Painting of traveling magi by James Tissot, in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Star from the public domain via WPClipart.com.
Other photos from my archives or from from the families of FUMC. Appalachia photo copyright, Richard Rupp Photography; used with permission.