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This time of year, we are consumed with gifts. We make lists. We receive lists from our families. We are bombarded with ads: the hottest gifts! The best deals on the hottest gifts! Our children make lists for Santa, and share those at the mall or on the Santa Train.

In the Atrium, we also focus on gifts during Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. But our work centers on the greatest gift God has given us, the fully human and fully divine Jesus.

We reflect on the “infancy narratives,” or stories of Jesus’ birth, not as isolated moments but part of the plan God has always had to bring all of creation into the fullness of life. God has unveiled his plan through gifts, slowly and intentionally – from creation, when God created stars and our solar system and minerals and plants and animals and eventually people, to redemption, which began at Jesus’ birth.

Redemption is the time we are living in now, as we wait for Jesus to come again.

We invite the children into the stories of Jesus’ birth to reflect on what these stories tell us about God. Why did God choose Mary as Jesus’ mother? How did Mary respond when she learned she would have a baby? Why did Jesus come to us as a baby, not a mighty king? Why was Jesus born in a manger, among animals? How did God communicate to people?

These stories help us experience that nothing is impossible with God. In humble, tiny places, miracles happen. The signs of God’s presence are everywhere.

As the children progress through Level I and into Levels II and III, they begin to not just bask in the mystery and beauty of these stories but consider: Mary says yes to God, the perfect response meeting the perfect gift. How are we to respond to the outrageous gifts we have been given?

In Level I we present five infancy narratives:

  • The Annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38): We reflect on the angel’s visit to Mary, her chosen-ness as the mother of Jesus and the phrase, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
  • The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-49, 56): We ponder Mary’s long journey to visit Elizabeth, the miracle of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and Mary’s words, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
  • The Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds (Luke 2:1-20): The children enjoy the story of Jesus’ birth and consider the angel’s message to the shepherds and their response.
  • The Adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12): The children are invited to wonder about what these unusual gifts might tell us about Jesus’ identity and roles.
  • The Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:21-33, 36-39): The children learn more about Jewish law and, through Simeon and Anna, ponder Christ’s identity as a light to the Gentiles.

In Level II, we add:

  • Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23): We wonder about Joseph’s response, and consider how God has a plan and relies on surprising people to carry it out.

In Levels I and II, we offer dioramas to accompany the Scripture booklets that tell the stories. The children can use their hands to manipulate figures to assist their reflection.

In Level III, the children reflect on these stories as part of Bible study. For instance, the Level III children have been studying the Gospel of Luke, comparing the annunciation to Mary with the annunciation to Zechariah.

We return to these stories every year, as children and as adults. Even while familiar, they continue to teach us.

Have you read them at home with your children?

Consider lighting your Advent wreath, placing a nativity set within reach, opening your Bible and taking a moment to listen to God with your children.