Here's an idea to help your teens explore the richness (and differences) of the two stories of Jesus' birth in scripture.
Our church recently hosted a "Nativity Walk," a contemplative worship experience in which participants explored dozens of nativity sets and meditations shared by church members. At the meal before the service, I was chatting with one of our "resident theologians" about the nativity set I had donated and he jokingly wondered aloud, "Which nativity is it? The Matthean or Lukan version?"
This made me wonder: What would it be like to have a nativity set that just depicts Matthew's version of the story or just Luke's version of the story (much like the portion of Borg and Crossan's text The First Christmas in which they imagine how strange it would be to have children's Christmas pageants based just on one biblical retelling or the other rather than mixing the two stories together.) Though it is convenient perhaps to just merge the two stories, doing so causes us to lose the unique theological perspective and symbolism intended by Luke and Matthew.
|Image via Pink & Green Mama|
So here's the idea: Divide your youth into teams. Provide each team with a variety of craft supplies you may have on hand: construction paper, tape, glue, markers, fabric, tag board, play dough, and so on. Give each group just one version of the nativity story, either Matthew's or Luke's and challenge them to take 30 minutes to work together to create a nativity set that only depicts the story elements in their version of the text. So, for example, your Luke groups will have the shepherds, but the Matthew group will not. The Matthew group will have wise men but the Luke group will not. The Luke group might want to depict Mary and Joseph's path to Bethlehem while the Matthew group needn't bother as in their version the couple already reside in the town.
When finished, invite the groups to share their creations and the discoveries they made about what is included or missing in the different stories. Invite them to consider such questions as: Why do you think Luke includes the shepherds? How does it change the story if they aren't mentioned? What part do the wise men play in Matthew's narrative? How does the presence or absence of, for example, the angels, the star, or King Herod affect the focus of the story?
You may also want to spend a little time sharing the different agendas of the writers of Luke and Matthew and how their telling of the nativity fits into their theological intentions. Doing so could help your youth find a deeper understanding of these oft-told narratives and perhaps discover a new appreciation for these stories from our faith tradition.