I've thought a lot about this lesson, as it introduces my favorite Gospel, the Gospel of John. John takes his readers on a theological journey detailing, not just what Jesus did, but why what Jesus did matters to us. I had a hard time wrapping my head around how to present this lesson to young children, but the more I've thought about the idea of the incarnation that is present in John 1 (the idea that Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us) the more it seemed that a dance lesson would be the perfect fit.
I will be taking a lot of inspiration from Emily Caruso Parnell's dance lesson on the teaching channel, so if you need more clarification on anything I'm discussing, it might be helpful to watch it.
I will start out the lesson by telling the students that before the Earth was created we all lived in Heaven with our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Jesus helped to create the Earth. In the Gospel of John Jesus is called "The Word". Then I will tell them that I am going to read them some of the things the scriptures tell us about our lives in Heaven before the world was made, but first, I am going to write down some of the words they will hear. I will then list the following words:
After discussing the genealogy (and perhaps discussing how our own ancestors have shaped who we are), we will turn to the account in Luke 1:26-38 where the angel Gabriel appears to Mary. I will use the following images as puppets while summarizing the story, and then let the children color them afterwards.
While telling the story, I will let the children know that Mary could have been as young as 12 years old when the angel appeared to her and that that angelic appearance startled her. According to Camille Fronk Olson, "Only two other accounts of an angel appearing to a woman are recorded in the Bible, and both times the visit was to announce that the woman would soon give birth to a son. The first of these recorded appearances was to Hagar, the mother of Ishmael (Gen. 16:7-11); the second was to the mother of Samson (Judg 13:3). In other words, Jewish girls in Mary's day did not likely anticipate such angelic communications" (Women of the New Testament. Deseret Book. 2014. Print).
We know that as a descendant of King David and as a member of the priestly line (we know this because of her relationship to Elizabeth) Mary was able to provide Jesus with both kingly and priestly authority on Earth. She must have been very brave to take on this responsibility, knowing that having a child without an earthy father would make her life difficult, in fact, when Jesus speaks to some Jewish leaders in John 8:39 they retort, "We are not illegitimate children." In spite of this, Mary took on the responsibility of giving birth to the Savior and raising him through childhood with the faithful response, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." She then becomes pregnant. Interestingly, Mary conceives Jesus through the "Holy Spirit", which is a feminine noun in the original Hebrew (Women's Bible Commentary, Third Edition. Westminster John Knox Press. 2012. Kindle).
While Luke discusses the Savior's birth through Mary's perspective, Matthew tells us Joseph's. In Matthew 1:18-25 an unnamed angel appears to Joseph in a dream after he discovers that she is pregnant with a child that is not his. Joseph's response to this is to divorce Mary quietly (a Jewish engagement was considered as binding as a marriage) but his kindness towards Mary did not go so far as to marry her until an angel intervened. I wonder sometimes if Mary told him about her angelic visit or kept it to herself. And if she did tell him, why did it take an angel's visit for him to believe her? Was he like Thomas, to whom Jesus later said, "because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29)
Alternatively, Amber Richardson suggests on the podcast Q.MORE (hosted by Rosemary Card) that since we are usually given revelation after pondering and questioning, did Joseph hear Mary's story and then, struck by the grandeur of it, did he return home to ponder it in his heart? Was his angelic visit the result of pleading to heaven on the part of his betrothed?
Whatever the circumstances, Joseph obeys the angel, marries Mary and becomes Jesus's legal father here on Earth. He also becomes Jesus's protector when he flees with his new family to Egypt.
After consenting to become the mother of the Savior, Mary travels to visit her cousin Elisabeth in Luke 1:39-56. Elisabeth is also pregnant through miraculous circumstances, as she is long past her child bearing years. As soon as Mary enters the house, Elizabeth bears witness of her testimony of her role as the mother of the Messiah. "Interestingly, Elizabeth blessed Mary not because of motherhood, but because she "believed" (Luke 1:45). She first blessed Mary and only secondly blessed the sacred 'fruit of [her] womb' (Luke 1:42). For Elisabeth, Mary had been chosen by God for a unique mission that would bless the whole world. Later Jesus used a similar description for the ideal disciple--one who hears the word of God, believes, and acts upon it (Luke 8:21)" (Olson, Camille F. Women of the New Testament. Deseret Book. 2014. Print)
After Elisabeth's testimony, Mary gives a prophesy, known as Mary's Magnificat, which follows a tradition of women in the Old Testament who prophesy of Jesus through song. There is Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Miriam's Song in Exodus 15: 19-20, and Deborah's song in Judges 5:1-31. The text of the Magnificat in the NSRV goes like this:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my
for he has looked with favor on the
lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will
call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the
thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our
to Abraham and to his descendants
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You can introduce your children to some child friendly versions of the Magnificat. I'll be using the last song, which is available from Slugs and Bugs Family Christmas. There is also a song from The New Era called And Mary Pondered that is available here and includes a portion of both Mary and Elisabeth's testimonies.
Before the Savior was even born, his mother, legal father, and his cousin Elisabeth fulfilled his command to "come follow me" by acting upon their unique personal revelations and testifying to others of his coming divine role. When we follow Him today, we are following their example.
Ideas For Sunbeams
I think the very easiest way to condense this lesson for very young children would be to tell them that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother knew that Jesus would need someone to take care of Him on Earth and so they gave Him Joseph and Mary. The children could then share who it is that takes care of them (grandparents, parents, foster parents, guardians, etc.) and draw a picture of those special people. You can download the coloring page here.