Celebrate the Christmas Story
About the Guest
Looking for an easy way to teach your children the real meaning of Christmas? Moms Barbara Rainey and Janel Breitenstein unveil FamilyLife's latest discipleship tool, What God Wants for Christmas--a fun, interactive resource that uses rhyme and colorful nativity characters to explain the Christmas story.
Janel BreitensteinJanel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write On Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), is a "you-can-totally-do-this" guide to t...more
Looking for an easy way to teach your children the real meaning of Christmas?
Celebrate the Christmas Story
Narrator: ‘Twas the week before Christmas but nobody knew,
No stockings, no ornaments, no gifts or good news.
All the world had lost hope; all the people felt fear.
Now listen; I’ll tell you why Christmas came here.
Has your heart ever had a big secret to share?
A surprise no one knew that you planned with much care?
Did it tickle your tummy? Were you so excited?
God, too, has a mystery; and we’re each invited.
From long, long ago our God knew what we’d need;
In the Garden of Eden, He planted the seed.
Like a scavenger hunt, He left hints through the years
How to find His great gift, Who was soon to be here.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. We’ve got a treat for listeners today. We’re kind of focusing this week on the Christmas season and getting ready—and making it a spiritual focus in your home, having the right priority as you head into the holiday season—and using it as a discipleship tool for your children and for your whole family. We’re going to unveil a poem today; right?
Dennis: By my favorite person on the planet.
Bob: Not just your favorite poet?—but your favorite person.
Dennis: Favorite poet, favorite person, favorite mate; I have only one. (Laughter) Barbara joins us on FamilyLife Today. I’d better introduce her before I get into trouble here. Welcome back to the broadcast.
Barbara: Thank you.
Bob: And you feel that way about her, even when you’re hauling boxes in from the storage unit to get ready for Christmas?
Dennis: I still feel that way.
Barbara: Including the red tinsel thing.
Dennis: Yes. Well—I still feel that way. Let me tell you what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a Christmas tradition here, a way of communicating what Christmas is all about. This is really close to Barbara’s heart. She has a great vision and desire to equip moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles to be able to take the message of Christmas and to do it in a creative way for grandchildren or for children.
Barbara: My greatest desire is that this poem would be read over, and over, and over again, so that it becomes a part of every family’s Christmas tradition, and it becomes memorized, much in the same way that our generation grew up hearing “The Night Before Christmas” over and over.
I’m hoping that the children of this generation will grow up with these words in their ears about why Christmas came, and what Jesus came to do, and the people that were involved in that momentous occasion on the first Christmas.
Bob: And you tied the poem that you’ve written, which is called “What God Wants for Christmas”—you’ve tied it to a resource that FamilyLife put together a number of years ago, which is an interactive Nativity set for children—six figures: an angel, Joseph, Mary, and the baby, a shepherd, and a wise man—all in a pop-up manger scene.
This Nativity set was designed so that kids would have an opportunity to see, and to touch, and for the story of Christmas to come alive. Now with the poem added to it, the goal, really, is to make them aware of the story but also have them apply the story to their own lives. That’s what is in box number seven.
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: In box number seven, there’s an opportunity for a child to answer the question, “What does God want for Christmas?” When you open the box—
Dennis: Oh–h–p! I just did.
Bob: And you see there what God wants for Christmas.
Dennis: I’m not telling. I’m not telling.
Bob: It is a little surprise, and we build some anticipation for it throughout “What God Wants for Christmas”.
Dennis: Yes, and I think what Barbara—Bob—and the team here at FamilyLife have done is take what was already a great idea and a great resource, for moms and dads or grandparents, and we’ve really increased the quality. I believe the poem is a huge part of that. Obviously, the figurines are much larger and better. It really is first-class. This is a high-quality product that won’t just last one Christmas and have to be replaced. This will be around for a long time.
But the poem—I’m with Barbara. I hope this poem becomes central to families, not only here in America, but around the world, celebrating our Savior’s birth. Personally, I think Barbara did a great job on this; and I don’t think that’s wishful thinking. It really has been our prayer, though.
Bob: You’re hoping that parents will read the poem to younger children or that older brothers and sisters will read it to their younger brothers and sisters.
Bob: Each stanza, or each section of the poem, addresses the different characters that are in the interactive Nativity set. So we start with box number one: You open box number one. Gabriel, the angel, is in box number one; and that’s where the poem begins.
We’ve also included a CD where the poem is dramatized and read. I want our listeners just to hear how the poem sounds on the CD and to see how it would work with the interactive Nativity scene. So when a child opens box number one and pulls out Gabriel, then Mom or Dad could read this section of the poem or they could just press “play” on the CD player and hear this:
Gabriel: In the fullness of time, the Almighty called me.
I am Gabriel, an angel, sent to tell His decree.
God’s true message I speak, and His words do not waver.
I obeyed, then departed to her who found favor.
To Nazareth I flew, before this girl to appear.
Because I am from heaven, I knew she would fear.
“Do not be afraid, for the Lord is with you.
A Son you will bear, Eden’s promise come true.
“Mighty God chose this day from before time began
To reveal His Messiah, Redeemer of man.”
My announcement delivered, my mission complete,
I dashed back to Heaven to await my next feat.
Narrator: God’s astonishing love gave us all such a treasure,
That first Christmas gift was of worth beyond measure.
Gabriel answered God’s call and fulfilled his good part.
When God invites you, will you bring Him your heart?
Bob: What we’ve been listening to there is the first stanza—the first section, actually, of the poem, “What God Wants for Christmas”, that is now part of the interactive Nativity scene that FamilyLife has put together. This is designed as a discipleship tool for families. It is fun to hear it read by those voices; isn’t it Barbara?
Barbara: It’s really fun to hear those voices. It does make it come alive in a way that a single voice reading it can’t quite do.
Bob: It’s fun until Dennis tries to mimic the voices, and then it gets a little— (Laughter)
(In high voice with English accent) I heard you doing this.
Dennis: I was trying. I was trying. But you know, as I was listening again to your poem, Barbara, you did a great job of bringing a lot of very important theology—teachings of the Old Testament that told about the coming Messiah. You’ve really anchored this poem. It’s not just a feel-good poem; it really is anchored in the Bible.
Barbara: I tried very hard to make this as biblical as I could make it. In fact, I tried very hard to use words directly from Scripture as much as possible. However, in some places we had to make some changes because of the rhyming and the meter.
But overall, it is pretty directly taken from the Word of God. What you just heard about Gabriel—some of that is the conversation that actually happened. That’s exactly what he said to Mary when he showed up in her room and made that grand announcement that she was going to have a baby, and she wasn’t even married yet.
Bob: But you made sure we went all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the seed that was planted in the Garden of Eden. Of course, the first announcement of the birth of Jesus comes in Genesis 3:15 when God says that there will be a Seed, Who will crush the head of the serpent. There aren’t a whole lot of Christmas stories for kids that bring in that kind of comprehensive approach to looking at God’s redemptive plan.
Barbara: I think what has happened, in many instances, is we’re so familiar with the story itself—the big picture of the story that Jesus was born at Christmas, and everybody kind of yawns. I wanted to put it in the larger context of God’s grand design to send Jesus and that this was thought up in eternity past. There’s so much more to it than what we typically hear about at Christmas. I wanted to set it in that context.
Dennis: Yes, you picked up one of my favorite phrases in this first section, Bob. It was Gabriel’s statement to Mary, “Do not be afraid, for the Lord is with you. A son you will bear, Eden’s promise come true.” Going all the way back to the Garden, to know that Jesus was promised there, but to now be thinking about celebrating Him and His first coming at Christmas. It just brings a smile to my face every time I read that little stanza right there.
Bob: And Barbara, a four-year-old or a five-year-old may not understand “Eden’s promise come true,” or, “The Seed that was planted years ago,”—
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: —but by the time a child is seven, eight, or nine years old, they’re beginning to get some of these bigger concepts; aren’t they?
Barbara: And if they aren’t, they will. That’s part of what I intended in this—was to write a poem that would be so musical and would have such a great meter and a rhythm to it that a child who was four or five could pay attention because it was just interesting and it had a nice sing-song to it; so they would listen even if they didn’t understand it.
But I wanted it to be a poem that would grow with kids so that when they’d become 12,
13, and 14, it’s not a kiddie poem; it’s a poem that will grow with them into their teen years and even into adulthood.
Bob: Once they’ve opened box number one and Gabriel is out, and you’ve read through Gabriel’s part of the poem, then it’s time for box number two—
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: —which you might do the next day or you might decide to just do it all in one day. But you open box number two and that’s where Mary’s part of the poem picks up. We’re going to hear what you wrote about her right now.
Mary: We whispered and giggled, my girlfriends and me,
As we talked about marriage and husbands to be.
I am Mary, betrothed, as my parents instructed,
But all of their dreams were to be interrupted.
Just a young Jewish girl, I was jolted with fright,
When an angel burst forth, quite dazzling and bright.
“Hello, chosen one, the Most High is with you.
My God has a plan. Here is what He will do.”
He told me my future, that I’d have a Son
Who would be Prince of Peace, the long-prophesied One.
The High King forever, He’ll reign without end.
An astounding decree I could not comprehend.
When able to speak, just one question I asked,
“How can this truly be, this impossible task?
I’m a virgin, unmarried; I’m not yet a bride.”
“But all things are possible with God,” he replied.
“The Almighty will form this rare miracle in you.
There is nothing His limitless power can’t do.”
Then Gabriel vanished, like a candle snuffed out.
Though still awed by his words, I believed without doubt.
Narrator: Favored Mary was astonished to carry God’s treasure.
That first Christmas gift was of worth beyond measure.
So pleased God would use her, she welcomed her part.
Will you be like Mary and say, “Yes,” from your heart?
Bob: Again, we’ve been listening to the second portion of the “What God Wants for Christmas”poem that comes with the interactive Nativity set that FamilyLife has put together, a poem written by Barbara Rainey. It was fun to hear a young teenage girl reading the part of Mary because, again, so often we get a picture of a 20-year-old woman; and Mary was likely a 13- or 14-year-old girl when this happened to her; right?
Barbara: Yes, she was pretty young, by our standards, to be having a baby.
Dennis: And think about her response. It was—
Barbara: Yes, her response is really quite stunning when you think about it—that she responded the way she did to an angel who showed up in her room. I mean, just think how you would feel if an angel showed up in your room. You would be afraid, you would not know what to do or say; and yet after the announcement, she said, “I want Your will, God.” She believed. She said, “Yes, let it be done unto me, according to Your word.”
Bob: One of the nice things that we’ve done by matching the poem with the storybook—the storybook has pictures, and it has some beautiful artwork in it—but a child can listen to the CD and can read along with the words. Even if they’re not where they can pronounce or understand some of the bigger words, they can follow along and learn to read in the process.
Dennis: There’s a pause in there where they turn the page. I do think the pictures really keep a young person going and also start to communicate where the whole story is going—about trusting God with your heart—because that really is the whole point of Christmas. God came near to express God’s heart to us—His expression of love to us—that He came to pursue us and have a relationship with us.
Bob: And it’s one of the things that makes this Nativity scene unique because it doesn’t just tell the story, but there is a final box that has no character in it. Inside that box is what God wants for Christmas. It’s a surprise—that there’s some anticipation built—and children are looking forward to opening that box and finding out what the surprise is.
Dennis: Do we have time for another part of the poem?
Bob: Actually, I was hoping we would because the next actor in the poem is a friend of mine. Let’s listen to Joseph’s story; okay?
Joseph: I’m a carpenter named Joseph, and I was confused
When I talked to my Mary and heard her strange news.
So, kindly, God sent a good angel to speak
To me, in my dreams, as I lay fast asleep.
“Don’t worry,” said he. “'Tis God’s will for your life.
Take Mary, with baby inside her, as wife.
His name must be Jesus; His people He’ll save.
He’s Immanuel, God with us. Will you now be brave?”
Quite startled, I woke. Then I did as commanded,
Took Mary as wife, knowing we were not stranded.
God’s plans are prepared, He knows each step ahead.
From the dawning of time He has never misled.
Be a father to God’s Son? I could not envision,
And to raise this pure Lamb will bring complex decisions.
Show Him carpentry, yes, but what will I teach?
This child made the world, every cliff, hill and beach.
Narrator: “Astonishing,” thought Joseph. To God, such a treasure—
That first Christmas gift was of worth beyond measure.
Still Joseph obeyed, though perplexed by his part.
Will you be like him, and trust God with your heart?
Bob: Did you recognize Joseph there?
Dennis: I did.
Bob: That was James Lepine, who has been on FamilyLife Today before; but if we were to go back and play the tape, his voice was about three octaves higher the last time he was on FamilyLife Today. (Laughter)
Dennis: The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, though.
Barbara: No, it did not.
Bob: And once again, the poem makes the emotion of the moment come alive. That is what’s fun about it, Barbara. You can get out a Nativity scene, and you can put the people in places where they belong, and have something that looks real pretty; but this brings the story to life—and not just the story—but the feelings that were there. It was a remarkable event. I think we sometimes lose a sense of just how remarkable it was.
Barbara: I totally agree with you—that we lose that sense of what it was like because it was so long ago. The story is so familiar that we are very distant from it. I wanted to take readers, especially children, into what Mary might have felt, and what Joseph might have felt, and what that was like to be them—to be who they were in that time period.
To be chosen by God for this great task is pretty remarkable. I think it’s going to come across to kids—that they’ll be able to engage and feel some of what these people felt when they lived the story.
Dennis: I like the fact that the CD is so well produced that if Mom wanted to, or Dad, at the dinner table, you could set a little CD player up on the table, push the “play” button and finish dinner as the kids are following along.
Bob: As you listen to the story.
Dennis: And look at the pages and then begin to interact around it. What can happen at that point, over dinner, is you can begin to talk about what you just heard. Bob, you mentioned earlier, whether you open all seven boxes and read the entire poem at one sitting. I think you can do that with the CD, or I think you can break it up into seven different nights in a week, or seven different days over the four or five weeks of Christmas and the holidays, and really look forward to the next section of the poem and also the next box.
Bob: It’s interesting. We’ve started to hear from some folks who are ordering, not just one or two of these for themselves or for their children, but we’re hearing from folks who are deciding to get a number of these sets to give to neighbors as a Christmas gift or to give to co-workers, people in the office.
This is a great evangelistic tool, and the great thing about Christmas is, you can give something like this, that is rich with biblical meaning; and nobody takes offense because it’s Christmas time. It’s what the story is all about. They’re happy to get a Nativity scene; aren’t they?
Barbara: I think that’s exactly right, and I think it’s a great opportunity for those of us who know the story and those of us who believe to share that good news. That’s what it’s all about—sharing the good news of Christ, and this is a great way to do it. Give it as a gift to family members, friends, neighbors, use it at your church, and perhaps your children’s school even, because it’s a very easy-to-use resource.
Dennis: I want to underscore about taking it to a Sunday school class at church, or perhaps, if your kids are in a Christian school, maybe taking it to one of the classrooms there and having the teacher, again, play the CD or read the poem aloud and go through all seven of the boxes.
Bob: I am guessing there are some public schools where the teacher would be just fine with you coming into the second or third grade classroom and going through What God Wants for Christmas® because, again, it’s an historical story; and you’re really teaching them what Christians celebrate at Christmas.
Dennis: Yes. It’s a great idea.
Bob: I think it fits the guidelines. The point is—we’ve got What God Wants for Christmas in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can find out how to get a copy, or multiple copies if you’d like, by going online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
You may want to give several of these interactive Nativity sets as gifts to family, friends, relatives, or people you know. You can share this with folks in the neighborhood or folks at work—a great way to get the Gospel out at Christmas time, in a way that’s going to be appreciated by those who receive the Nativity set.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how to order; or call us toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that’s 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. Ask about What God Wants for Christmas when you get in touch with us, and we’ll get it sent out to you.
We want to make sure we say a quick, “Thank you,” to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with an occasional gift. As we approach the month of December, you just need to know that this is a critical month for us, and for most ministries. It’s in this last month of the year that we will receive between 35 and
40 percent of the donations that we receive throughout the year. So we want to ask you to pray for us as we enter the month of December.
And we want to ask you to consider making a year-end contribution in support of FamilyLife Today. Your donations help cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program through our network of stations all across the country and around the world on the internet. We appreciate your financial partnership and your support.
In fact, this week we’d love to say, “Thank you,” when you make a contribution by sending you a gift book that Barbara Rainey wrote a few years ago called When Christmas Came, where Barbara took John 3:16, that very familiar Bible verse, and talked about the coming of Christ, the incarnation of Christ, and what John 3:16 teaches us about that.
The book is our thank-you gift to you this week when you make a donation to support FamilyLife Today, and you can do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a button there that says, “I Care”; and if you click that button and fill out the form, we’ll know to send you a copy of Barbara’s book as our way of saying, “Thank you,” for your financial support.
Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, make your donation by phone, and just mention that you’d like Barbara’s book, When Christmas Came. We’re happy to send it out to you. And again, thanks for your support; and we do hope you’ll pray for us here in the last month of the year, that God will supply our needs for the coming year. We trust Him to do that, and we appreciate your prayers.
And we want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow. We’re going to have a seminary professor joining us, a professor of theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Bruce Ware. We’re going to talk about how we can teach deep truth about God to little kids. He’s got some thoughts on that and got a tool he’s developed for us, as well. That’s coming up tomorrow. I hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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