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An Unsettled Night

Feeling unsettled

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To identify the mixed emotions of the people in the Christmas story.

Preparation and materials


  1. Ask the students what they understand by the word ‘unsettled’.

    You may wish them to discuss the word in pairs or small groups and come up with a definition.

  2. Explain that ‘unsettled’ can be used in various contexts such as:

    - the forecast is for unsettled weather this weekend
    - the baby has been very unsettled

  3. We often use the word ‘unsettled’ when we are describing feelings. We’re unlikely to hear someone say, ‘My brain feels unsettled today,’ but we’ve probably heard people say, ‘I’m feeling unsettled today.’ It means that we feel mixed-up, ill at ease, not quite comfortable.

  4. Everyone can feel unsettled at times. Perhaps someone in the family is ill, so we can’t settle to read, play football or eat our tea. We just feel upset, sad and worried.

    Or perhaps we’re facing something new: starting at a new school or visiting a new dentist. We can’t settle to anything because we feel anxious, nervous and apprehensive.

    In these situations, it is understandable to feel unsettled.

  5. In the Christmas story, we meet several people who feel unsettled.

    First, we meet Mary, who is scared when the angel appears and tells her that she is going to have a baby. Then, we meet Joseph, who is unsettled by the news that his fiancée is expecting a baby. Next, we meet the shepherds, who are out on the hillside looking after their sheep. They are used to changing weather conditions, the danger of wild animals and fretful sheep, but on this particular night, they are very unsettled.

  6. Invite the reader to read Luke 2.8-14.

    Point out that the shepherds are unsettled by their feelings of terror, but note what the angel says to them: ‘Do not be afraid.’

  7. Invite the reader to read Luke 2.15-18.

    The shepherds are unsettled enough by the angel’s announcement to go and see the baby. By doing this, they are the first people to meet Jesus!

  8. Later in the Christmas story, we read that Joseph has been unsettled by a dream in which God told him to flee with his family to Egypt so that baby Jesus would be safe from murderous King Herod. We also read that the wise men are unsettled, so they do not return to tell Herod where Jesus is.

Time for reflection

Feeling unsettled isn’t pleasant. However, sometimes, we can use the times when we feel unsettled to achieve something positive. For example, feeling unsettled by the results that we are getting might spur us on to work harder. Alternatively, feeling unsettled by something wrong that we are doing might mean that we try to put it right.

If we are feeling unsettled, it can be a good idea to talk to someone about it. Sometimes, we might need help to understand why we feel the way we do, and it might be helpful to listen to a different perspective.

After their unsettled night, the shepherds in this story would never be the same again. Imagine them as grandparents, still talking about the night when the angels came, when they visited a special newborn baby, when unsettled feelings lead to an amazing and life-changing experience.

Dear God,
Thank you for all the surprised people in the Christmas story.
Thank you that even the people closest to you at your birth felt unsettled and confused.
Thank you for your words to the shepherds: ‘Do not be afraid.’
Please help us to seek help when we need to.
Please help us to be surrounded by people who give us good advice.
Thank you that you are with us in every situation.


Any appropriate Christmas song

Publication date: December 2023   (Vol.25 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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