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Christmas: A Surprise Present

An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To explore the idea that Jesus was not what everyone was expecting.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a reader to read out Luke 2.8–20, which is the story of an angel announcing Jesus birth to the shepherds and their visit to see him.

  • Have available a toy sword, a crown, some play money or junk jewellery, a babys toy, a handful of nails and a bundle of straw, all wrapped in Christmas paper.

  • You will also need the word Immanuel written on a piece of cardboard and wrapped in Christmas paper (see Matthew 1.23).


  1. Begin by informing the children that we are still in the season of Advent. Throughout the world, Christians are waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.

    Ask the children if they are also waiting for Christmas Day! Ask them what it is about Christmas that they are most looking forward to. Christmas dinner? Christmas crackers? A stocking? Opening their presents?

  2. Discuss presents with the children. Who knows what they are getting? Who would prefer a surprise?

  3. For hundreds of years before Jesus was born, people had been expecting God to send someone special, someone who would help them. Tell the children that you have wrapped up three items that are clues as to the type of person they believed God was going to send to them.

  4. Ask for three volunteers to unwrap the sword, the crown and the play money or junk jewellery, one at a time. Allow each volunteer to guess what the wrapped item might be before opening the parcel. When each item has been unwrapped, comment briefly on its significance.

    The sword: people were expecting God to send a great warrior who would fight their enemies.
    The crown: they were expecting this great warrior to be a king, too; he would destroy their enemies, and then rule over the whole world.
    The play money or junk jewellery: people were expecting this warrior king to be rich and to share his money with them.

    Thats the person people were expecting – a rich and powerful warrior king – but Christians believe God had prepared a big surprise.

  5. Ask for three more volunteers to unwrap the babys toy, the nails and the straw. Again, when each item has been unwrapped, comment briefly on its significance.

    The baby’s toy: God sent a baby.
    The nails: the baby was born into an ordinary working family.
    The straw: the baby was born in a stable – many babies at that time were born in a humble place.

  6. Ask the children, ‘So, were the people disappointed that God sent a baby rather than a warrior king?’

    Talk about how some people must have been disappointed, but others would have been delighted.

  7. At Christmas, Christians tell the story of the very first people who visited the baby. They werent kings or warriors or millionaires, but shepherds. Some wise men also came, but it certainly wasnt like visiting a royal prince in a palace!

  8. Ask a reader to read out Luke 2.8–20, which is the story of an angel announcing Jesus birth to the shepherds and their visit to see him.

  9. In the same way that the shepherds sang praises to God for the baby, Christians today still sing songs of celebration.

Time for reflection

Pretend you are surprised at the discovery of a final wrapped item: the word Immanuel written on a piece of cardboard. Invite a volunteer to unwrap it.

Ask if any of the children know what the word Immanuel’ means. Explain that it means God with us. This was Gods biggest surprise for people. Christians believe that the baby was none other than God himself, come down to earth to live among them as an ordinary human being.

Dear God,
Thank you for becoming an ordinary person.
On Christmas morning and afterwards, help us not to be disappointed with what we have been given.
Help us to remember the shepherds, who delighted in the surprising sight of an ordinary baby sent by God.


See him lying on a bed of straw (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 440, 2008 edition)

Publication date: December 2020   (Vol.22 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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