November 27, 2011
Here's the first of two promised Advent Activity posts. We usually start this one on December 1st, so you'll have a few days to get started on your own, if you decide you'd like to adopt this tradition.
The "Shepherd's Pouch" idea is taken directly from Noel Piper's Treasuring God in our Traditions. I love that book. So much. If you haven't noticed, we love to celebrate around here...all occasions...the everyday and the especially. This book has shaped the way that we long to worship God through our traditions...especially the way that we celebrate Christmas. You can download a pdf of the entire book from Desiring God here for free. Or you can buy it here. Even from the foreward by John Piper it challenges me to examine all the things I've put on my list for this Holiday Season.
Noel explains it way more beautifully and eloquently than I ever could, so I'll let her fill you in on the Shepherd's Pouch from page 86-87 in her book:
Gift to Jesus
It may be easy for us to forget that this is Jesus’ birthday. That usually means gifts to the birthday person. Children especially will think it normal that Jesus should receive something for his birthday. We’ll need to talk with them about what it means to give a gift to Jesus since we can’t put it in his hand. One of the unusual things about Jesus is that when we give a gift to him, other people benefit. “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:40).
If you decide early in the Advent season where your gift is going, you can be praying for the recipient throughout the season. Your prayer becomes an added gift to the family with special needs, the Christian relief agency, the local ministry, the missionary, or whomever you have chosen.
Money isn’t the only thing we can give, but for the moment, let’s think about financial gifts. How might you decide on the amount? One possibility is to determine what percentage of your total gift expenditures will be set aside for Jesus. Another is to give him your December coffee break money or some other regular expenditure.
What about our children? Some years I have offered “wages” for special jobs or even for regular chores during December, with the understanding that this money is being earned for Jesus’ gift.
The children at our house have had a simple drawstring bag—a shepherd’s pouch, we call it—in which to collect Jesus’ gift throughout December. On Christmas Eve, during a special family worship time, the children lay their pouches beside the manger of our special nativity scene. We speak to them then of giving their gifts to Jesus, as the shepherds came, giving Jesus worship and wonder.
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. . . . And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. ( L u k e 2 : 1 5 - 2 0 )
On Christmas morning, the coins have been removed and added to our grown-up gifts, ready to be sent to our chosen recipient. And the children find in their pouches several small gifts. We speak of a God who blesses those who love and trust him. Although these particular tokens are tangible and physical, our children know from our lifestyle and teaching throughout the year that God blesses in many ways. In fact, many people who are most blessed have very little visible wealth. The blessing of God is his presence with us, which gives us constant cause for praise.
The way this played out last year with our young kids: a few days before December 1st we started talking about buying a birthday present for Jesus...and how the Bible says the way we do that is by giving to others...specifically the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, a missionary family, etc. We reminded them of the mosquito nets for Compassion and how there are so many children without anything to eat, not much to drink and very little access to supplies that would make them healthy if they got sick. We pulled out our Gospel for Asia catalog and began to sift through the pages and talk about how each of these gifts would be significant for a family who has close to nothing to receive. The kids were eager to pick out so many gifts that we decided we'd pray throughout Advent and ask God what He'd like us to give His Son for his birthday.
I made them these special pouches using Dana's Hobo Sack tutorial. I cut the measurements in half so that they'd be smaller. So, instead of her original measurements, mine measured 6 inches on two sides (with one of those sides having .75 inch cutouts and 4.5 inches in the middle of the cutouts) and 6 inches (+ the.75 inch cutouts) on the other two sides. I tried to add the cute ruffle to the top of McKlayne's pouch but I was using some thicker upholstery scrap fabric that I had lying around and it was too thick with such tiny proportions to do much with. So, in desperation, I added a zipper. (This was my first time to add a zipper to anything!) It looks terrible...but it worked for her last year. (She'll be getting a remake when I make Oliver's in the coming years.)
BUT...if you're not a sewer, or you just don't have time, go ahead and buy a cute little pouch or coin purse. Easy! (These got packed up with the Christmas decorations last year just like stockings would, so they'll each have their own Shepherd's Pouches...that will only be used for this reason...for years to come.)
We told them that ALL month long, we'd be giving them "an allowance" to save up to buy Jesus his Birthday present. We had a big jar of coins ready to pass out when we saw them helping out around the house or when they completed "a chore" (they were 2 and 3 last year so picking up a toy, or putting their shoes in their box were simple tasks they could complete.) Asher was so anxious to earn money that he'd often ask what he could do. So, we found things for him to do. It was sweet to watch his eagerness to serve and give to the least of these grow in the heart of my three year old. As soon as they'd receive "payment", they'd rush back to their room to put the money in their personal "shepherd's pouch" and often times want to count their new total.
The week of Christmas Eve, we talked about what types of things they'd like to buy Jesus for Christmas with the money that they had each earned in their shepherd's pouches and with the money that we'd set aside as a family. During our time of family worship on Christmas Eve, as we read through the above referenced passage, they laid their pouches down at the Nativity at the appropriate time. We prayed for those who would receive our gifts to come to faith and worship of our Newborn King.
The following morning they were surprised to see that in place of the money they'd earned, there were little surprises in their pouches. They had never intended to receive anything back, but it was a sweet moment to teach them about how God's presence with us is his continual blessing to all who believe. His presence. Emmanuel God with us. The very thing I pray that we'll celebrate. Truly. Deeply. This month and always.