As a kid, my favorite part of Christmas was setting up our nativities. Somehow, we’ve ended up with eleven different ones that get spread throughout the living room, literally surrounding us with the Christmas story. My favorite nativity is simple but colorful and contains Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, as well as the Magi. While I know now that the Holy Family wasn’t still in the stable when the Wise Men found them, it’s wonderful to think about the awe and surprise Mary and Joseph must have felt when they were visited by such men, come to worship their child from hundreds of miles away.
The Wise Men spent months following the star, relentlessly searching for a promised king. Rather than the king they were expecting, they found a baby in a humble home. Surprise! Just as we journey through Advent toward Christmas, Epiphany is a time of transition, of looking toward the future. The story starts with the shepherds’ angel-inspired run to the stable, but the Magi are a continuation of this image—seeking Christ first, putting Him before everything else. Surely these men, with their expensive gifts, had families and lives they put on hold, all so they could end up in tiny Bethlehem, towering over the baby who would someday save the world.
Act Out the Magi’s Journey
So how do we teach Epiphany to children? How can we demonstrate the surprise, urgency, and glory that are wrapped up in Matthew 2? One powerful way is through acting out the Magi’s journey. If your Christmas program doesn’t include the Wise Men, take a Sunday School hour to go on a trip to find the baby Jesus! Describe how the star was the Magi’s guide, how they first went to Jerusalem, the royal city, because they were looking for a traditional king.
Perhaps your trip begins by telling the students they are looking for a “treasure” or a “special Christmas gift,” which turns out to be Jesus! Don’t make the search for this treasure easy—the Wise Men had to travel for months, across unknown country, all to find a little baby. Ask students about long trips they’ve been on, such as vacations. It might have taken them hours, but today we have paved roads, cars, and GPS to get us places! The Magi had dirt roads at best, camels or other pack animals, and only the star to guide them. It was a much different sort of trip than we would go on today, that’s for sure.
Create a Tone of Awe
Create the surprise and wonder that must have struck both the Magi and Mary and Joseph once the star had led them to Bethlehem. Ask students about things they think are awe-inspiring. Show pictures of parts of creation that are particularly amazing, like the northern lights, Victoria Falls, Mount Everest, or the Great Barrier Reef. All these things might be “miracles of nature,” but God made them all. The truest miracle was God becoming incarnate, a part of His creation.
Explain How We Walk with Jesus
Remind your students that the journey the Wise Men made is continued throughout the Bible. Jesus and His family walked to Jerusalem when He ended up staying in the temple. Once Jesus began His ministry, He walked all over the country, followed by His disciples. And most important of all, Jesus rose from the dead and walked, on the road to Emmaus and with many of His disciples, then sent them out to journey and spread the Gospel.
Our journey with Christ might have first begun in the stable, but the Wise Men are a reflection of us—outsiders, seeking a Savior, and finding Him in an unexpected place. So, during Epiphany, let’s remember the wonder, awe, and surprise the Magi felt, the realization that their gifts, spectacular as they were, could never match up to the gift that Jesus gave. We have the gift of the rest of the story, that the little baby from Bethlehem would grow up to be the Christ, who saved us from our sins. Our journeys are both toward Jesus and with Him.
Free Video Explaining Epiphany
Use this short YouTube video during your lesson to explain what Epiphany is and why we celebrate it.