Rotation.org Writing Team
and you should too!
Gabriel visits Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
Mary's Song of Joy (Luke 1: 46-55)
Mary Treasures and Ponders what the Shepherds say (Luke 2:8-20)**
Accepts: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord." (Luke 1:38a NRSV)
Magnifies: "My soul magnifies the Lord." (Luke 1:46 NRSV)
Ponders: "But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19 NRSV)
**Not all the workshops include Luke 2 in their focus.
Learning objectives for this set:
- Students will learn how Mary responded to God's plan for sending the Savior into the world through her: a response of acceptance, magnifying, and pondering.
- Students will explore how they can accept, magnify, and ponder what God was and is doing at Advent.
- They will commit to memory Luke 1:46, "My soul magnifies the Lord," and more importantly, understand and express what such faith means and feels like.
Why focus on Mary?
Each year in Rotation Sunday School we look at a different parts of the Christmas story. This rotation looks at the most important "person like us" in the story, Mary, for clues about our own response to God's advent in Jesus Christ.
Odds are you are a Protestant reading this, and were not raised to think about Mary as much as our Catholic brothers and sisters were. This is too bad, because Mary is a great example of what a young believer should be like: filled with the spirit of acceptance, praising and pondering.
We sing "be born in us this day" –and Mary literally experienced that.
We encourage people to "hear the angels sing" and "come to Bethlehem and sing" –and Mary literally did that.
We ask our students to respond to God's Messiah with joy –and Mary is the first person to ever do that.
We tell our kids to "meet at the cross" –and there is Mary once again.
You want faith role models and heroes for your kids –here she is.
The lessons in the Writing Team's Mary set try to capture Mary's spirit, and yes, her spunk. We've purposely written activities to convey the joy and laughter of Christ's incredible Advent. Like John the Baptist did inside Elizabeth's belly, we jump for joy as Mary approaches us with the Savior of the world.
Bible Background Notes
Who was Mary?
Mary was a young teenager living in a small village up in the hills of an obscure Middle Eastern country occupied by a foreign army. Likely poor, likely uneducated, God chose her to become the most famous mother in history, the mother of Emmanuel.
Promised in marriage as a child to an older man (Joseph), she probably thought her life was set. Engagement or "betrothal" was a sacred and binding agreement between families, a period of testing and fulfilling promises between families. During this time the bride-to-be might spend some supervised time with her future husband and his parents prior to the wedding.
Mary was probably at home in her bedroom when God’s messenger appears to her. "Do not be afraid," Gabriel says. It's a phrase repeated throughout scripture and by Jesus himself. "Fear" is a very real first response to God's presence, or perhaps, "shock." And that wasn't the only thing she had to fear. Gabriel tells her she will be pregnant with the Messiah, and she knows that will end her engagement and create a scandal.
“You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus”
“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:31-33).
What do you supposed she feared the most? Being pregnant before marriage and the scandal that would come with it? Or having to tell people that an angel said her baby would be the Savior?
Either one is enough to make you crazy, which only makes what Mary does all the more amazing. She ACCEPTS God's plan. How many young girls would do that? (Joseph accepted God's message as well, lest we forget.) Let's be honest, most of us would also be in shock and tears. So this is the first sign that God was definitely with her, because who else but God could keep a pregnant teenager (or any of us) from freaking out with this crazy news.
Later in scripture we learn that such faith comes from God, it is a gift (Matthew 1:17 and Ephesians 2:8).
Mary's acceptance is God's first Christmas gift, and one which each of us should want for ourselves as well.
Mary does have one question before her acceptance. Mary responds to Gabriel’s announcement by asking "How?" Some commentaries suggest this was more of a rhetorical question, but let's look at the facts, who wouldn't ask, "What?! How!?"
Gabriel replies to Mary’s "how?" by saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Luke 1:35).
Would that be enough for you? Doubtful. We would have a thousand questions, but Mary only asks one, which is another indication that God really is with Mary.
I don't know about you, but I find that very comforting: It is God who provides us what we need to believe and accept. Surely Mary was prepared in some way, perhaps by her religious upbringing or sense of faith, but as the Bible continually tells us, NO ONE is ever really prepared for angels to speak and God to intervene. Truly God must be Emmanuel, "God with us," in order for any of us to accept and follow. God chooses, and God gives us the strength to follow.
Thank you Lord that it does not depend on who we are, but on who YOU are in us.
After she accepts, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is also miraculously pregnant with John (the Baptist). Acceptance does not mean you can't continue to seek support. Even faith wants confirmation, and Mary gets it from Elizabeth and Simeon.
While this rotation lesson set does not focus on Elizabeth's story, it is within that encounter that Mary's "soul magnifies the Lord." The Magnificat, the Song of Joy.
Take a look at the Art Workshop in this lesson set for the way we unpack Mary's words "soul" and "magnify" for your kids. We take these "church words" back to their Greek and Hebrew roots to restore the exuberance of young Mary's song.
The word "magnify" is more like "HUGE" "MASSIVE" "MEGA" !
The word for "soul" is not the tame "heart" but the vibrant and life applying "life" and "breath" and "spirit." "My LIFE is BURSTING for the Lord!" "My spirit is going Super Nova!"
One of the things you want to do in your lessons is "remove the stained-glass" from around Mary and the words of scripture. That's what the workshop lessons do in this set. That's what Christmas does to the concept of Messiah. God leaves heaven and wraps himself in swaddling cloths. Emmanuel means "accessible, not afraid."
When John "jumps for joy" inside Elizabeth's womb as Mary approaches, he is magnifying the Lord as well. Isn't that what we want our kids to do? Joy is not merely a beatific smile.
The Pondering Continues
So you've been visited by an angel, been given an amazing life-changing announcement, and now have shepherds praising your child. Penny for your thoughts, Mary!
After all the times you've read this story and heared it in church, do you still fully understand it? Maybe not if you don't leave time to ponder, if you fill up the story with Christmas events and preparations. Mary had plenty to do with a new child, and yet the scripture says she took time to ponder. How many people in the Bible have you ever read that about?
“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Keep in mind that Mary was just at the beginning of the story. "Pondering" probably meant a thousand questions too, and worries. Savior is not an easy or safe job. But it doesn't say she "worried," not at all. How can that be? Perhaps when you've experienced the presence of God, it is that experience which forms the foundation of your faith. What is there to doubt when you can still see the angels in your mind and hear his voice in your ears? Answers will come later. Faith is "assurance" Hebrews 11 tells us, not details and answers.
No matter how many times we celebrate Advent, when you get to the quiet parts of it, it still leaves you wondering, even marveling. It is a Silent Night indeed, and sitting in the middle of its glow is a young woman accepting God's plan, overflowing with the life, and pondering where it will all lead,
"...and we should too.
Written by Carol Hulbert with Neil MacQueen for the Rotation.org Writing Team
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