We come now to look at two of the most important segments of the story of Jesus, the events of his birth, and then his death and resurrection, together with their links to our human story. The earlier three narratives from the Old Testament provide an essential framework for understanding Jesus. Even the plainest descriptions of events in the life of Jesus are told by the Gospel writers with the big questions in mind. Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus come? Why did things happen this way? Where do we go from here? It is also imperative to recognise that we are given a story, not a dogmatic theology. It is a story we are invited to join. The aim of this session is to help people check where they are in Jesus’ story. Are they standing aside criticising, are they on the edge of the crowds, still with many questions, have they come desperate for help, are they disciples? If so, pre- or post-resurrection disciples? Whilst most people will have some idea of the events involved in these two stories it is amazing how confused we can become about them. So, don’t be afraid to spend time checking out your knowledge base.
In pairs, explain which incident in the life of Jesus you would most have wanted to witness and what you would ask Jesus about it. Give opportunity for whole group sharing if desirable.
The purpose of this time of worship is to help people respond to the wonder of Jesus. Invite people to choose a short passage of scripture or a song which is full of meaning for them about Jesus. John 1:1-5, John 1:10-14; Ephesians 1:18-23; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Peter 2:23-24; and Revelation 1:12-18 may be helpful.
Again divide into two groups for 25-30 minutes so as to cover the two stories. There is no problem in only looking at one, or doing it over two meetings so that everyone can look at both.
GROUP A – Nativity
Ask each person to be one of the following characters:
- The Roman Centurion in charge of the census in Bethlehem (Perhaps he has just been demoted from Jerusalem).
- Joseph (Is he thinking of all the work he has lost because he has had to travel so far, or is he planning to sort out some timber deals whilst he is here?).
- Mary (Is she trying to hang on to her experience with the angel? After all, nine months is a long time, and Gabriel hadn’t warned her about the census).
- The innkeeper (Roman rule has some compensations when it’s this good for business. A shame about having to turn away the young couple though).
- A shepherd (No King David this one – shepherds were so despised that they were not even allowed to witness in court!).
- The angels of the Lord (Do angels look forward to a day out from heaven? Do they know what the message is to be before they set out, or is it transmitted en route? If they like the message, are they happy with the recipients?).
Take about five minutes to imagine what it is like to be your character. On a dark ordinary night in small time Bethlehem,
What hopes do they have?
(Allow thoughts to tumble out in any order and cover anything from personal and family concerns to hopes for the summer, the next ten years, children, the nation. At the end of 5 minutes it may be helpful to jot down a few notes to capture your thoughts.)
Next pair up. One of the pair acts in their role. The other interviews them, as Luke doing his research for his book about Jesus. “Luke” keeps a few notes on “his” character. Then reverse roles.
Finally, move on to the time when the news is out. People are very excited that a Jewish saviour has been born. How does this affect your earlier list of hopes? Do they seem more or less important? Do any seem wrong? Do you have any new hopes and fears? What difference has the birth of Jesus made to human hopes? Are you facing anything now that you need hope for? Share your reflections with your partner. Then decide together 3 or 4 perceptions that you will want to share with the whole group, and decide who will be the spokesperson.
GROUP B – Cross/Resurrection
In groups of 2 or 3 explore the following:
- What did it cost to forgive us?
- Think on this from Jesus’ point of view, but also the Father’s (if you find this hard start by imagining that Jesus is your son!)
- What about the price the disciples and the women (especially Mary, Jesus’ mother) paid?
- What has God’s forgiveness accomplished?
- Think about Jesus’ words from the cross, “Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
- Think about his resurrection words, “The message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations” (Luke 24:47).
- Think about the way humans have forgiven each other because they have experienced God’s forgiveness.
What are the areas in which you need forgiveness, or in which you need to forgive someone else? Make sure you address these issues.
Imagine that you are this week’s scriptwriters for a popular soap (EastEnders, Coronation Street, or one of your choice). The producers have asked you to bring forgiveness into a couple of the storylines. Decide which ones and then, as young Christian writers, work out together how you can make the “forgiveness” as authentic as possible.
Share what you have discovered about the nativity and hope and our understandings of forgiveness.
Talk together about situations and people among your small groups, church, campus, nations where there is the need for real hope and forgiveness. Then spend ten minutes praying for the people involved. Split into more than one prayer group if there are a lot of topics to cover.