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Surprise presents: Are we prepared for the gift of Christmas?

To consider how we deal with the surprises that come at Christmas and ask whether we are willing to be surprised by God’s gift of Jesus (SEAL theme: Managing feelings).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider how we deal with the surprises that come at Christmas and ask whether we are willing to be surprised by God’s gift of Jesus (SEAL theme: Managing feelings).

Preparation and materials

  • Create your imaginary Christmas list.
  • Choose a modern translation of the Bible for the readings (see ‘Time for reflection’).
  • Choose three readers.


  1. Do you have a Christmas list? Here’s mine (wave sheet of paper). I wonder what’s on yours?

    We make Christmas lists because we want to exercise a little control over what we might be given on Christmas Day. What’s the worst surprise present you’ve ever received, I wonder. (You may wish to give a personal example or to take nominations from students.)
  2. When we are given a present, there’s nothing worse than unwrapping it and getting an embarrassing surprise. There’s the sinking feeling in the stomach as we realize what it is. We fix a grin on our face and say a strangled word of thanks. If it’s clothing we have to put it on. In our minds is the dread about the teasing we’re going to receive from those who know how we’re really feeling.

    Surprise presents can be embarrassing and annoying, especially if we were hoping for something else.
  3. For Christians, Christmas is about the present God gave the world when he sent Jesus as a tiny baby. This baby came as something of a surprise to some people.

    Christians believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin when she found she was expecting Jesus. It was a surprise to Mary to find out that she was pregnant.

    It was a surprise to Joseph, too.

    The shepherds had a surprise when a vivid sound-and-light display told them to go to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus.

    The magi (wise men) observed a surprising new star in the night sky.

    Herod, the king in Jerusalem, had a surprise when he was told a baby had been born who was the real king of Israel.
  4. Is the Christmas story full of surprises for us, also, or do we think we know what’s in it?

    Most of us can sing the words of a few carols, tell parts of the story about the baby, the shepherds and the wise men. We think we know what it’s about and we expect it to hold few surprises for us.
  5. How do you react to surprises? The embarrassing surprise Christmas present can easily be tucked away at the back of a cupboard, taken to a charity shop or simply placed in the bin.

    That’s the way many of us also treat the Christmas story. It’s somewhere there in the background but we don’t pay much attention to it. We may in fact deliberately avoid carol services, religious Christmas cards and TV programmes that are on the Jesus theme. Instead, we choose to focus on eating, drinking and entertainment.

    I wonder if it’s because we fear we may be in for a bit of a surprise.

Time for reflection

Listen to these three short readings. They are predictions about the person this baby Jesus would become.

Reader 1  ‘The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”‘ (Luke 1.30–33, NRSV)

Reader 2  ‘Then Simeonblessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”‘ (Luke 2.34–35, NRSV)

Reader 3  ‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’ (John1.14, NRSV)

I don’t know that I fully understand what those words are all about. They come as a bit of a surprise. They take some thinking through.

That’s the thing about the Christmas story. If we’re willing to take a closer look, it will say something surprising. And to each of us it will say something different – something about God, something about ourselves and something about the best way to live our lives.

So this Christmas why not take a little time to read through the story quietly to yourself and prepare to be surprised.


Dear Lord,

thank you for Christmas, the enjoyment and the excitement.

May our involvement this year not be merely shallow and superficial.

May we allow ourselves to be a little surprised by the story.


‘Human’ by The Killers (widely available to download)

Publication date: December 2012   (Vol.14 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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