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The following topic introduces the concept of "Advent Trails" and also has resources and ideas for similar "Live Nativity" events in the era of COVID.

The Advent Bible Story Trail

No doubt you've visited or taken part in a "Live Nativity," "Stations of the Cross," or some similar type of "walk-through" learning experience. The "Advent Bible Story Trail" is a similar type of "journey" through a story -- and one that seems like a particularly good fit for the social-distancing needs of 2020.

The following idea for an "Advent Trail" was inspired by my local nature center. They were looking for ways to replace their in-person group storytimes. So they enlarged and laminated the pages of a children’s nature book and placed the laminated page along the side of a short trail near the center. Children and their families could now walk along the trail to read the story, and at the end of the trail receive a craft kit from the nature center.

Looking for Advent learning activities here in 2020, and having experienced Bible walk-throughs before, creating an Advent Bible Story Trail just seems like a great way to teach the Advent story with social-distancing in mind, especially if you have some church property you can work with. 

AdventTrailSign

The Trail could be set up for one evening or for a week, a day or night depending on your resources and preferences. It could be for your church family and would also be a great way to share the story with your community.

You could set this up on your church property or a member's, or around a neighborhood, or local walking trail (with permission). 

Resources for a "self-guided" Advent Trail

  1. Images from Advent
  2. Some short captions and a question to ponder for each image
  3. Wood stakes or rebar to attach the images to
  4. An outdoor "trail" location
  5. Volunteers to set up and monitor the trail
  6. An "Advent kit" to give to walkers


AdventTrailsMost churches have Bible storybooks that they could use for these purposes. Another option would be to tap the large set of FREE Christmas Bible Story images at https://www.freebibleimages.or...rch/?theme=Christmas

You could have volunteers hand-out activity bags at the end of the trail as a "reward" for walking the story, or before if you want to include items that help tell the story (like a flashlight as recommended in the Trail example posted below). Don't forget to include some ideas for at-home activities as well.

On a special time and day, you could have "actors" stage certain scenes like a "Live Nativity." You could add a "refreshment" station with live Christmas music at the end.

Weather should not be a problem if you live in the cold north as many people love bundling up for caroling and outdoor events this time of year (December).

Don't forget to make a sign saying your church "sponsored" the trail. You might even invite other churches to post a sign with their special services and events to "cross-promote" the Trail.

Lots of possibilities!  Please add your inspirations below.

Check out the "Live Nativity" posts below for additional ideas that you can use for your Advent Trail. 

 

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Last edited by Lesson Wrangler
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Here are a few ideas and resources to get your Advent Trail started...

An Isaiah Advent Trail

This would be a great one to do in the evening, since it involves the use of flashlights. You could either include a small flashlight in the activity bag and tell your families to bring one to the activity to use with a printed "guide" (in place of the bag). See Oriental Trading Co for inexpensive bulk flashlights.  "Isaiah" is only one example of a "trail." You could change the Trail during Advent to another aspect of the Christmas story (such as Magi), or use that for next year's Trail.

Signs for the Isaiah Advent Story Trail:

Put each of the following Bible verses on the Station Signs that go along the story trail. Include a large clipart illustration of each. Include the instruction: Read the verse and look on your "guide" for the corresponding activity and question.

The "guide" is a simple pamphlet that contains the following (suggested) text and instructions. I should include a reminder that "if you see another group still at the station you are approaching, wait quietly for them to finish."

Sign 1, Isaiah 9:2 "Darkness"

Read the verse out loud, then read the question, turn off your flashlight and answer it before continuing on in darkness to the next station.

Verse: The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.

Question: What kind of "darkness" do people walk in and live in?

Prayer: Take a moment to bow your head and ask God to guide your life.

Sign 2, John 8:12, Turn on your light!

Verse: Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Question: Name a few things that people use light for or light does for us.

Prayer: Take a moment to ask God to shine his healing light on some difficult or dark part of your life.

As you walk to the next station, "follow the light of the world" by having one person walk ahead of you with their light on as you keep your own light off.

Sign 3, Isaiah 7:14  "Emmanuel"

Verse: Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. [Immanuel means “God with us”] 

Question: Name a time when you felt God was close to you or with you.

Prayer: Take a moment to thank God for wanting to be with you and share your life.

As you walk to the next station, hold hands or lock arms with each other.

At Station 4, Isaiah 9:6 the activity is a short "name matching" game about the "titles" or names of the Jesus the Messiah. Gather six rocks and write the following names on them, one name per rock:  Light of the World, Emmanuel, Wonderful Counselor; Mighty God; Everlasting Father; Prince of Peace.

Place the rocks name-down at the foot of the sign. Trail walkers are to turn over the stones in the correct order. If they turn over the wrong name-stone, they return it face down (like a matching game) and look for the correct one. Alternately, you may place the stones face-up in random order in the general area of the sign and have the walkers look for find all six with their flashlights.


Sign 4, Isaiah 9:6   "The Names of Jesus"

Verse: "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

Find the names in the correct order by turning over the rocks. When you turn over a name that wasn't next on the list, return it face-down and look for the correct "next name" on your list:

  1. Light of the WorldPrinceofPeace-Rotation.org
  2. Emmanuel
  3. Wonderful Counselor
  4. Mighty God
  5. Everlasting Father
  6. Prince of Peace

Question: Which name or title for Jesus is your favorite and what does it say about him?

Prayer Together: Lord, be my light, be with me always, counsel me, save me with your mighty love, be my eternal Father, and make me a peacemaker just like you. Amen.

Before you go, make sure you have placed the rocks name-down and in random order for the next people to find them.

Follow-up Activities

  • Take a rock home (provided) and use markers or paint pens to decorate it with the "Names of Jesus" as found at Sign #4.  Wrap it with some garland and place it by your front door for visitors to see. [This can also be a group activity for walking-groups as they come off the trail. Provide refreshments, rocks, and paint pens.]
  • Include a list of YouTube videos to encourage families to continue their Advent journey at home together. See the "Best Advent Videos" topic here at rotation.org.
  • Create a “Names of Jesus” Advent Chain. This post describes the idea and the post above it has a list of names.     
  • Create a picture of the names of Jesus. This post and some of the ones above and below it give some ideas.   


A "Trail to the Manger"

Place the pages of the Bible storybook on Jesus’ birth at the story trail stations similar to how they are described in the Isaiah Trail above.

  1. Prophets Station
  2. Angels announce to Mary and then to Joseph Station
  3. Shepherds and Angels Station
  4. Magi and Star Station
  5. Manger Station 

After the last story station, design it so that families can take a picture standing in the manger with a live group of characters (wear masks please!). Include a few straw bales or some stuffed animal sheep. Encourage the families to bring some simple costumes to wear as they walk and take part in recreating the Nativity scene for their photos. (Do not share costumes in 2020). Post photos on your church’s Facebook page.

 

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Stations of the Nativity

You may be more familiar with the "Stations of the Cross"--a devotional practice used during the time of Lent. We've found a few "Stations of the Manger" and "Stations of the Nativity" that we wanted to share with you. 

You could use these as

                                  ...an Advent Bible Story Trail

...a devotional experience for your families'

...a traveling worship service, especially if combined with music

The resources that we will be listing include a wide variety of Biblical passages and events in the Nativity Story--too many to include in one program! So you can choose which ones would be best to include for your church families. You could also choose to add additional passages such as the first promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3. The most commonly cited passages are:

  • In the Beginning (John 1:1-5)
  • Prophecy of the Coming Savior (Isaiah 7:14)
  • Gabriel Visits Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
  • Mary Visits Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45)
  • Mary's Song (Luke 1:46-56)
  • Birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-66)
  • Angel Appears to Joseph in a Dream (Matthew 1:18-25)
  • Journey to Bethlehem and Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-7)
  • Angels Appear to the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-14)
  • Shepherds Worship Jesus (Luke 2:15-20)
  • Presentation at the Temple/Blessing of Simeon (Luke 2:21-40)
  • Visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12)
  • The Flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)

 

Here are some resources that we have found--feel free to add more!

The Stations of Christmas includes a picture, a very short reflection, and a prayer for each of the eleven stations. It doesn't include the Bible verse references, so refer to the list above.

This Stations of the Nativity booklet contains a picture/clipart and the Bible verse reference for each of fourteen stations. There are no reflections or prayers. 

This PDF includes twelve Stations of the Manger.  Included in each station are the Bible passage, a short reflection, a prayer, a suggested hymn, and a response. 

This article contained eight Advent-themed prayer stations. This church did these during a worship service, but it could easily be adapted to an outside experience. 

 

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

This is a WONDERFUL program idea! It will be perfect for our church -  we are close enough to shopping centers and eateries that families can stop by church to do this when they are out and about in December.  

Thank you for these great ideas Cathy!  

The "trail" or "stations" idea seems like the perfect fit for Advent during the pandemic where smaller and "outdoor" mean "safer."  

I could also see the "trail" idea morphing into "Advent Worship Stations" as well, with socially-distanced small groups being led to various "stations" in the woods or wherever to discover a scene from the Bible story being re-enacted, or a character from that part of the story reciting the verse and asking a question.

The small group could conclude with the singing of a Christmas Carol/Hymn before moving on to the next station. Invite participants to come in costume and distribute some to those who need them.

This could be a nice substitute for the traditional "Family Xmas Eve" service.



Advent Treasure Hunt?

CreativeCarol, a member of rotation.org, mentioned that your Trail idea reminded her of "geo-caching" -- an activity where participants find "secret" locations using the GPS on their phone (or pins on a Google map). Arriving at the location and using additional "clues" they find a "buried" or slightly hidden treasure (usually a box), open it and add their name and date to the treasure's logbook.

An Advent "Geo Caching" or Treasure Hunt could include special messages/scriptures in each geocache, and perhaps something to collect, such as a small ornament.

Here's a YT video clip with a quick overview of geo-caching, what it is, how it works. https://youtu.be/vuFiLhhCNww   Fun activity for families.

geocaching-rotation.org

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Live Nativity Ideas and Resources

The Advent Trail described above creates devotional signposts/stations to walk between. The stations have scriptures and contemplative activities. The Trail can be walked at any time and changed during the season. 

"Live Nativity" tends to be more of a "single scheduled event" --an evening or two for a limited number of hours. It poses one or more "scenes" from the Christmas story that participants typically only walk or drive past. Live Nativity scenes take less space than a "trail" but are also limited to the number of hours and days which actors are able to stand outside, weather permitting.  Live Nativities are often combined with fellowship/refreshment events which may or may not be possible in 2020.

Both have their pros and cons. It is also possible to combine elements of both! (See the suggestions above.)

Live Nativity in 2020

THIS year's nativity actors will need to wear masks and spread out at an appropriate distance if they are not from the same family. On the plus side, this makes each "scene" in the nativity (if you have more than one scene) something that individual families can be recruited to "staff" and assemble. The more scenes and actors you have, the more word-of-mouth you'll get, too.

It's also possible that "staying at an appropriate distance" this year will force us to rethink how to stage the scene or scenes more "dynamically" rather than standing around looking like a Christmas card. For example, in the following live nativity photo, the Wisemen are pictured at the manger, which is scripturally incorrect (they came sometime after his birth and entered into a "house"), so why not show them on their journey in a separate scene?

An alternative to a "walk through" or "walk up" nativity is the drive-through nativity which  churches in some areas have been doing for decades. Perhaps they were preparing the rest of us "for just such a time as this"?

Typically, drive-through nativities have more than one station, with the "main" station being the traditional manger scene. Each "station" can have live or recorded music. Words can be read aloud at each station, or the scene can simply be self-explanatory, or each car can be given a cd with prerecorded readings and music. A "traffic volunteer" can "hold" cars back at certain points to wait their turn to drive up and view the scene (so that you don't have bumper to bumper cars which can be dangerous if the driver isn't paying attention.)  Here are two churches that have presented the Nativity Story this way for years: Cornerstone UMC in Newman, Georgia and Old Tennant Presbyterian in Manalapan, New Jersey

It should be noted that THIS YEAR, our church members and members of the public are going to have a greater need to feel the Advent spirit, in part, due to the many traditional community and school activities that are being canceled or curtailed. This presents an opportunity for OUR "nativities" to step into the breach and do more teaching. 

How can your "Live Nativity" be more than just a "Christmas card" to the community?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Make the "price of admission" a bag of groceries for the local food pantry or a toy drop off.

  2. Create a "Christmas sing-a-long" outdoor station so participants have the option to stop and sing a few familiar Christmas songs with your live singers. Arrange safe spaces for people to sing (singing being one of the "super-spreader" activities the CDC and church leaders are concerned about).

  3. Create a "photo station" for participants (especially kids) to step into to take photos of themselves next to a donkey and manger (with a doll in it). Have a live actor angel standing at a safe distance. If you have access to a sleigh and horse, make that an "Over the river and through the woods" photo station. (Such things encourage attendance and will help people feel celebratory in a difficult year.)

  4. Live "nativity" animals are a popular draw but can be pricey or difficult to arrange. An alternative is to assemble pets!   (dogs, rabbits, parrots, a horse)  Be sure to have a safe enclosure and encourage hand-washing.

  5. Display "QUESTIONS to PONDER" after each station that ask people to reflect on a scene and its meaning for their life.

  6. Have a COVID 2020 scene!  Dress your angels and shepherds as doctors, nurses, police, teachers, firefighters, soldiers, etc. Have your Magi carrying gifts of a laptop, cellphone, and PPE. Or how about adding a scene this year of young people bringing "justice, kindness, and humility" to the Christ child (Micah 6:8, "What does the Lord require?"). You could dress your shepherds as waiters, waitresses, and cooks (what a year they've had ).  These "edits" could bring good press and increased attendance while sending a great message in 2020. What other groups and symbols of 2020 could you incorporate to make people think of their blessings and gifts?

See the Outdoor Nativity Store (yes, one exists!) for a guide to organizing and setting up.

Please post your suggestions and photos by reply!

Last edited by Amy Crane

"Do not be afraid!" -- rethinking our Advent traditions in 2020 can lead to some terrific innovations and teaching opportunities.

We love the idea of "rethinking WHO" the shepherds, angels, and Magi are in "Live" or "Virtual" Nativity performances. It's another way to see ourselves and our neighbors participating in God's story, and ask questions like "what does Jesus want from us" this particular Advent season.  Who are we and what do we "bring" to the manger this year?

Luke.2.Shepherds.2020.Rotation.org

What other neighbors are like "shepherds in the field" this Advent? How about

  • teachers
  • postal carriers
  • waitresses
  • delivery workers
  • pastors
  • daycare workers
  • nurse' aids
  • waste haulers
  • who else?


See a related idea about having members come dressed in their OWN costumes for a "Nativity Photo Shoot."  These costumes do not have to be traditional, but in fact, can be the "uniforms" we wear in our daily lives (sports, work, hobby, Christmas).


Micah.6.8-Rotation.org

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

These are WONDERFUL ideas - thank you! I LOVE the idea of the Advent Trail. You could have a different trail on each of the four Sundays in Advent and have it available for most of the week, so families could walk it at their convenience from Sunday-Thursday, then set up the next one on Friday and Saturday so it's ready on Sunday. Volunteers/Sunday School teachers can "man" the stations on Sundays, with trail signs/info cards available during the week. It's a great way to keep volunteers engaged while the building remains closed. Also makes it less weather dependent, if the weather is inclement on a Sunday. Many people hike/love the outdoors here in Maine so a trail concept will go over well. My one comment is that I wouldn't have multiple people touch the stones. We've just installed a labyrinth in our Memorial Garden, so I'd incorporate that into the trail (as long as it's not covered with snow!)

We're just beginning to re-imagine our Pageant; I like the idea of a photo-station. We're considering calling it "The Road to Bethlehem" - 2020 is a census year, too - and are thinking of creating a kind of socially distanced tableau which families will walk past. We hope to include a few live animals, but we'll see. We had discussed encouraging families to dress up as shepherds or angels or even townspeople as they journey to Bethlehem, too. It's likely we would present it on Saturday & Sunday, December 19th & 20th, for an hour each day. We plan to have our Music Director softly play hymns on his portable electronic keyboard in the background. 

Thank you for all your good work. 

 

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