Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on rethinkingyouthministry.com and is reprinted here with permission.
by Brian Kirk
Invite students individually or in small groups to brainstorm on sticky pad notes the names/nicknames we give to Jesus that explain how we think about him (or how we’ve been taught to think about him). Ask them to stick the notes onto a flip chart or perhaps a large image of Jesus. Read the responses out loud.
Where do you think our ideas about Jesus come from (e.g. Bible, parents, church, culture, literature, art, experiences). Where do people outside the church get their ideas about who Jesus was?
Set out lots of Christmas cards depicting images of the nativity. Ask kids to name characters and elements of the nativity story that they can remember. Note the differences in the ways the various artists depict the story. Share that Scripture provides multiple understandings of who Jesus was and just looking at the Christmas story can demonstrate this. In small groups, challenge youth to read together Luke 2:1-19 and Matthew 1:18-2:18. Their goal is to uncover together which elements listed below of the traditional Christmas story appear in which gospel:
- Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth.
- Mary and Joseph are living in Bethlehem.
- An angel appears to Joseph. Caesar orders a census.
- Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem.
- An angel appears to the shepherds.
- Jesus is placed in a manger.
- The wise men visit Jesus. King Herod orders the babies killed.
- A star appears over the place where Jesus is.
How do you feel about the fact that these two stories are so different? What guesses do you have for why the people who compiled the Bible would include both stories even though they are different?
Now let’s focus in on on just one of the stories: Luke’s. Share with students that the writer of this story likely wrote it decades after Jesus’ death. He likely didn’t know Jesus personally and was not reporting history (at least in the way we understand history) as much as trying to share his or her community’s understanding of who Jesus was and how they had experienced God in Jesus. So, what was that understanding?
Invite students again to work in small teams, reading again the above passage from Luke and responding together to the questions below:
- What could it mean that Jesus is first described as a tiny baby? Why not start the story when he is an adult like Mark and John’s gospels do?
- Why include these crazy angels as a way to announce the baby’s birth? Couldn’t Mary have just sent out birth announcements?
- Why share that dirty, smelly shepherds are the first ones to get the good news of the birth? Why not some king or religious leader?
- How do the various characters react to the birth? How would you react?
Come back together as a whole group and invite students to share the various responses they had to the questions above. You might mention that much of Luke’s way of telling the story connects with Luke’s particular focus on Jesus’ ministry to the outcast, the poor, the neglected, and the downtrodden. His birth story contains many elements that point to Jesus’ own eventual ministry to the “least of these.” The mere fact that each Gospel writer talks about Jesus in a unique and distinct way is a reminder to us that the story of Jesus and his ministry are not as simple as the images we see on the front of a Christmas card.
As a connection with the idea that the Church and our culture see Jesus in many different ways, share the song “The Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne (available on this album). Have they ever thought of using the term “rebel” to describe Jesus? What in the Christmas story might hint at this way of thinking about Jesus? Where is there still a need in our lives and in the world today for a rebel Jesus?
Close in prayer.