Imagine being on a path that leads to treasure, but you also discover more treasure hidden along the path. That's how we are looking at this story in Luke 2:1-14. Instead of trying to leap to the treasure found at the end once the story is complete and the "moral of the story" revealed, we discovered several treasures along the way. We've had to slow down and pay attention to many details to see these treasures.
By the way, check out this month's ParentLife for my article on the 12 Days of Christmas and some other ideas of how to celebrate!
Days 1 & 2:
The kids learned about the tensions involved with Romans being in control of Israel. Religion and politics were not separate in the ancient world so a census was a touchy issue. Israel belonged to God, not Rome, but Rome certainly seemed in control. Jesus' birth shows God is not missing in action.
We noticed that the only person not named in Luke 2:1-7 was Jesus. He was only referred to as the "firstborn child" or "son" and he is mentioned last. This makes him stand out from the powerful figures of Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, and king David. Caesar and David were kings, but this son would be called the King of kings. The ancients often saw their king as a demigod or a person invested by the spiritual realm. However, Jesus was fully divine and fully human.
These three kings, Caesar, David, and Jesus also brought up the issue of envy and the "evil eye" (See below. Through some funny conversations, my kids knew about this before Christmas). Royalty received honor and glory and this made them a target of envy and the evil eye. They often wore purple, red, or blue to protect them from this evil. Thus, in Mark 15:17 the soldiers mocking Jesus put a purple robe and crown of thorns on him. Like at his birth, at his death Jesus was the least envied or honorable person in the culture of that day. Yet, in these scenes, Jesus demonstrates that God's kingdom is not subject to man's kingdom.
We focused on the locations involved: Syria, Galilee, Nazareth, Judea, Bethlehem. Some translations use the word "town" for Nazareth and Bethlehem, but the original Greek used the word "city" for these places. This was a social comment by Luke that these little villages (Nazareth only had about 400 people in the first century) were important because of who came from them. By Roman standards, they were rural unimportant villages but God launched His history-changing plan from these locations.
We learned about peasant houses in first-century Palestine and where Jesus may have actually been born. People often lived with their livestock in ancient Palestine. The text said there was no room in the "lodging place" so they laid the baby in a manger. This could simply mean there was no room in the area of a house where people normally slept, so Jesus slept in the area of the house where the animals were (possibly a cave under the house). Again, Jesus is bringing God's kingdom in ways humans would never dream. It was this birth that shifted history forever.
The kids have heard the entire seven verses each day so that they should know this story well when we are done. Most importantly, I pray they know what it teaches. Days 9-12 start the next part in Luke 2:8-14.
Very Brief: Evil Eye
Evil eye belief was prominent in the first-century Mediterranean (and still is around the world today). It is the belief that an envious person's gaze upon others would curse them, usually unintentionally, and bring calamity. This gaze can affect people or objects. The suspects most likely to possess "evil eye" were the disabled or the social outcasts. It was assumed these people would envy the wholeness or inclusion others possessed.
There were several ways to protect against evil eye. Amulets with eyes on them protected. They eye of Horus symbol was popular in some places. Eye amulets are still worn today to "protect from evil." Hand gestures, spitting, and specific colors could deflect the power of evil eye gazes. Purple, red, and blue all were thought to protect a person from evil-eye envy. Thus, emperors and kings wore purple to protect them from any potential evil or envy.
Jesus wearing purple as he was mocked was deeply sarcastic.