This leader’s guide is intended for teachers and leaders who wish to use ADVENTuring to the Manger in a group setting. While the book was primarily written for personal devotional use, it can easily be turned into either a four-week or six-week study during the season of Advent.
Advent is a liturgical season where we are invited to prepare our hearts and minds to receive the Christ child once again. Unfortunately, many of us have lost the ”hearts and minds” aspect and have become focused on the ”bake the cookies and deck the halls” part of getting ready for Christmas.
ADVENTuring to the Manger was written for real people dealing with the real pressures and scheduling stresses that the pre-Christmas season can bring. Each devotional takes the student into an illuminating scripture without adding a lot of time to their daily to-do list. The readings are easy to read and very approachable, without being too ”light.” Each day will only take between 5 to 10 minutes to read. Everyone can manage that, even at Christmas!
Individuals are invited to read one devotional per day beginning with December 1 and running right up to Christmas Day. Groups can create whatever schedule works best for them.
For group use, we recommend that you decide on either a four-week or six-week class, and then decide when you want the study to end. For example, if you choose a four-week format and want to be finished with this study by the middle of December (which is recommended,) consider starting around mid-November. If you choose a six-week format and want to be finished a few weeks before Christmas, begin the first week of November.
To allow for that kind of flexibility, I have included group discussion questions for each day. If you choose to do this in FOUR WEEKS, your assignments would look like this:
WEEK ONE: Day 1-Day 6
WEEK 2: Day 7-Day 12
WEEK THREE: Day 13-Day 18
WEEK 4: Day 19-24
Everyone reads Day 25 on Christmas Day.
If you choose to do this in SIX WEEKS, your assignments would look like this:
WEEK ONE: Day 1-Day 4
WEEK TWO: Day 5-Day 8
WEEK THREE: Day 9-Day 12
WEEK FOUR: Day 13-Day 16
WEEK FIVE: Day 17-Day 20
WEEK SIX: Day 21-Day 24
Everyone reads Day 25 at home on Christmas Day.
Every devotional contains a few reflection questions within the body of the reading. These are designed for personal use, but can make great discussion starter questions. We suggest that as you read through each day, highlight those questions in your book and consider using them as ”ice-breaker” openers for each class. Some of the questions in the book may feel too personal for group use, and that’s okay. You will soon discover how much self-disclosure your group can handle as you go through each week. Be prepared to share your own responses to those questions as you feel led.
Listed below are the group discussion questions for each day. Some are fun and non-threatening, and others are deep. As you spend time with your group, you will know what they will respond to. If you only ask one question and it takes off for the rest of the hour, that is great! Don’t feel pressure as the leader to ask all the personal reflection questions AND the group discussion questions for the week. Your class is the curriculum! You are the curriculum! The Holy Spirit is definitely the curriculum! The book in your hands is just a book. You and your students will be both teachers and learners in this adventure.
Today’s lesson invites us to perform a ”spiritual check-up” as we begin this study. Why don’t people put Christ in the center of Christmas nowadays? What can we do to eliminate things that distract us from the real meaning of Christmas? Have you ever felt like you missed the whole thing? How can you change that this year?
Today’s reading draws a contrast between expecting the Messiah to be a military commander who will conquer our troubles, versus a Messiah who is the gentle savior who finds us when we’re lost. Which one do people need more right now? What is your family hoping for and dreaming of this Christmas? What are your expectations this year?
What are some of the strategies you use when you have to wait? Can you remember a time when you were grateful that you waited something out rather than received an immediate answer? Share your story. When is waiting a good thing?
Have you begun yet to prepare for Christmas? What does your usual preparation look like? What things are on your list? Is God calling you to simplify things this year?
Can people sometimes make Christmas about everything other than Christ’s birth? What are those things? Does family guilt ever play a role in it? How can we redirect our efforts toward loving the people that Jesus loves?
Share a time when you had something good to tell. How did you feel? How did people respond to your good news? Who in your life needs some good news today?
Have you ever encountered Jesus in an unexpected way? Have you met him in an unexpected person? Name ways we can all be an unexpected Light in someone’s darkness this season.
This lesson invites us to hit the ”pause” button on the holly-jollies and acknowledge the pain and loneliness that Christmas can bring. Have you ever had a ”blue Christmas”? Can you share your story? What can we do to help others through this season when they are grieving?
The full story of Christmas begins in a wooden manger and ends on a wooden cross. How does the resurrection inform our Advent experience? What does the resurrection mean to God’s people? What does it mean to you?
Is it ever okay to doubt God? Have you ever experienced doubt in your relationship with God? What helped you through it? What can we do when others question God’s activity in the world?
Jesus brings a gift of JOY to the world in a box that is often left unopened. Where do we need joy? Is joy lacking in your life? How can you be a bringer of joy to someone who needs it? How can the church respond?
What causes people to lose hope? Have you ever lost it? Describe what happened. How can we help people who feel hopeless?
Do people ever treat God like an ATM in the sky? Is that ever okay? What are some good gifts that you have received at Christmas? Name some good gifts you have received from God. What are you asking God for right now?
Jesus called God ”Abba,” which translates to Daddy, or Papa. It denotes an intimate relationship. What does it mean to be children of God and heirs of his kingdom? How can we change our prayer lives to reflect the intimate conversations God wants to have with us? The ”Big Reveal” of Christmas is a proclamation of freedom from bondage. What do we need to be freed from today?
God’s marvelous deeds are all around us! Make a list of them. Where in your life have you experienced an act of God? Share your story. Mary was a faithful servant … what should we do to be more like her?
The spirit of Santa is among us. How can we be givers in our community? Where is God calling us to be generous? Are you willing to give of yourself to others this season? Make a list … then make a plan.
Singing is such an important part of this season. What is your favorite Christmas carol? Do you agree or disagree with the statement that we should complain to school boards that have removed sacred songs in our public schools? What does ”Wonderful Counselor” mean to you?
Describe a time when you were deeply, utterly afraid. What happened? What are things that people fear in our world today? What message did the angels bring that can help us today?
Have you ever kept a big secret? Were you finally able to share it? How did that feel? Have people lost their child-like wonder and awe of Christmas? How can we get it back?
Go around the room and have everyone name their favorite Christmas movie. Has anyone ever experienced a sleepless night? List the things that keep you awake. What can we do to find rest?
This lesson talks about feasts. If you were invited to a great feast, what foods and drinks would you like to have? What are your plans for Christmas dinner? Does family tradition play a role in your choices?
WHY do we need Christmas? Why do you think Jesus was born? Define these words: grace; unmerited favor; unconditional love; and mercy. What do those words mean to you?
What does it mean to ”speak in your own voice”? Are you able to tell your story? Describe the words or actions people can use to tell the story of Jesus to others.
Do you have a plan for worshipping on Christmas Eve? Are you ready to receive the indwelling of Christ’s spirit? If not, what do you need to do today to be ready?
Questions for DAY TWENTY-FIVE are not needed, as students will read that day on their own.
We have provided you with a LOT of questions to choose from! There are three or four questions per day, and if you are teaching this in four weeks, that means we have provided you with approximately twenty questions per class session. That is obviously way too many, so focus on whatever days you feel your group has responded to the most and let that dictate the flow of your time together. You can even begin each class by asking them which day really stood out that week, and start there. Remember that if a devotional speaks to you, it will probably also speak to them, so trust your instincts.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have by leaving a comment on my website @atwatersedge.org, or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to help you in any way I can. Thank you so much for using this group resource! YOU are a blessing.