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A Great Way to Share Christmas Together


Imagine a Christmas gathering of four to 24 people, most of whom are church members and know the Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke quite well. In order to freely talk about the Savior's birth and have fun while doing so, the host has prepared a Christmas Basketball game, which is a fast-moving sharing session in which nearly everyone enjoys thinking and speaking about the Lord's birth. See the "Scoring Points" notes below to see how one, two, and three point statements are to be made.

This game can be used in various small groups and even with beginners, especially using an open-Bible format. The session can be simplified in various ways, such as by limiting the passages to only those in Luke. (In that case, the wise men and Herod would not be included.) Of course, reading the Christmas passages ahead of time or during the first part of a gathering would be helpful as well, as time allows.
. . If the competition is between two teams, the game can be used with large groups as well. Two or more referees may be required, however.


The list below has 15 individuals or groups who are found in the two well-known Christmas passages, Matthew chapter two and / or Luke chapters one and two. Points are scored by using these character names and / or Luke and Matthew in sentences as explained below.

  • Anna
  • the children (Matt. 2:16-18)
  • David
  • Elizabeth
  • Gabriel (an angel)
  • Herod
  • John the Baptist
  • Joseph
  • LUKE
  • Mary
  • the other angels
  • the shepherds
  • Simeon
  • the wise men
  • Zacharias

Obviously, Santa Claus is not included in this biblical roster, but see the instructions below about "Foul Shots."


The people on the list above are placed in a summary diagram format below. Those who appear in Luke's Gospel only are on the far right, and those who only appear in Matthew are placed on the far left. Those who are in both Gospels are in between.

We use this concise Christmas summary diagram to promote conversation about the Lord's birth. It is a tremendous teaching tool as is and can be used to make the conversation about those in the Christmas passages more interactive and fun. BUT if you do not wish to use a game format like the one explained below, just print out the diagram and start talking, about the individuals, the groups, and the various combinations. The important think is to talk about the Lord!


One point is scored by making a simple descriptive, true statement about one of the individuals or groups in the above list. For instance, each of the following sentences is worth one point. 'Herod was a bad king.' 'Mary was young.' and 'We do not know anything that Joseph may have said, but we do know what he thought at first.'
. . In the early rounds of the "game," participants are only allowed to make simple, one-point statements like these, in which one character in the Christmas story is mentioned.

After an opening round or two, two-point statements are allowed. For instance, a participant might earn two points with lines like the following in which two characters or groups are included. 'Zacharias and Elizabeth were old and childless.' 'At first, the wise men did not know how bad Herod was.'  'John the Baptist was born about six months before Jesus.' and 'Mary was young, but Elizabeth was not.'
. . Lines worth one or two points are allowed during most of the game. In the last few rounds, three-point statements may also be made.

Three-point statements include three or more individuals or groups. (No line is worth more than three points, however, even if more than three people are mentioned.) The following three lines are good for three points each. 'Zacharias, Mary, and the shepherds were all surprised.' Both Mary and Jospeph were descendants of King David.' 'Joseph is more prominent in Matthew's Gospel than in Luke.


The children whom Herod killed are often overlooked and are somewhat difficult to talk about. Yet the diagram and list show that various relationships existed around them and that various Christmas Basketball statements can be made about them and others in Matthews account. Notice the points after each line.

  • "It is sad to think about these children and their parents." (1)
  • "The children who were killed were boys two years old and under." (1)
  • "Many people would have heard about the murder of these many children." (1)
  • "There was great weeping because of the sudden, cruel death of many children." (1)
  • "The mourning for these murdered children was like the weeping in Jeremiah's day." (1)
  • "The children were killed by King Herod." (2)
  • "The children are only mentioned in Matthew's Gospel." (2)
  • "The children who were killed were Jews, but Herod was not." (2)
  • "The children were in Bethlehem where Jesus had also been earlier." (2)
  • "By killing the children, Herod fulfilled the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15." (2)
  • "It is difficult to think about why God allowed Herod to kill these children." (2)
  • "God used the children to help show that Herod was not the true king of the Jews." (2)
  • "The children are in Matthew but not in Luke." (3)
  • "Herod killed the children but not the wisemen or the Lord Jesus." (3)
  • "The children were killed because Herod wanted to kill Jesus, the true King." (3)
  • "The children, the wisemen, and for the most part King Herod are only in Matthew." (3)
  • "The story of the children being killed by Herod helps show that Matthew's account is true." (3)

Many of the lines above should be discussed. For instance, why are the children only in Matthew's Gospel?


Some participants may wish to speak about various differences between the real Christmas story and tales about Santa. For instance, someone might say, 'Some children actually believe that Christmas is Santa's birthday instead of a celebration of the Savior's birth.'
. . This somewhat "foul" line would only be worth one point, since no points are awarded for mentioning Santa. However, since the line would still be correct, an opportunity to give an additional one-point line may be awarded to the speaker if the referee decides the original line was really good.
. . Similarly, if a speaker mentions a Bible character who is not one of the 14 listed above, the referee may decide to award an extra "Free Throw" to the speaker. For instance, Someone might say, "I think the wise men were a lot like the Queen of Sheba, since they all came from a far country." This line by itself is only worth one point, but the referee may decide that the speaker deserves a chance to score an additional point.

One of the key rules, is that the same statement can not be repeated for points unless some significant new information is added to it. For instance, a line about Mary probably being young is worth one point but should not be used again by itself. However, it is possible to score two points later in the game by saying, "Mary was probably young, but Elizabeth certainly was not." The contrast between Mary and Elizabeth brings in significant additional material. So the line is worth two points.

The leaders or referees should speak about various lines including by being corrective when necessary. For instance, a participant might say, "Mary praised God in Luke chapter one, but Jesus said nothing." This statement is technically true, of course, and therefore worth two points, but the leader should point out that the Christmas passages are special. After Luke chapter two, Mary for the most part disappears.

Some participants may struggle making statements. So the referees and / or team leaders should be prepared to give helpful hints. For instance, some may not realize that negative statements are allowed. 'Herod was not really the king of the Jews.' It is also can be good to suggest comparing two characters, such as King Herod and the wise men. 'The wise men were generous, but Herod was a selfish monster.' Specific verses may be cited as hints as well. For instance, the leader might ask, "What does Luke 2:9 say about the shepherds?" 'They were greatly afraid.'

IF a participant is able to speak with confidence and knowledge about the Lord's birth, the referee may request collaborating evidence in support of statements that are made. Someone might say that Mary must have been quite young. The referee then may ask, "Why do you think so?" Matthew 13:55-56, which mentions Jesus' several half-brothers and sisters could be cited as evidence in response.


What should be said about the shepherds and those around them? Some of the many lines that could be said are shown below. Notice the point values after each line.

  • "There were several shepherds, not just one." (1)
  • "The shepherds were guarding sheep, NOT reindeer." (1)
  • "The shepherds spoke about what they heard and saw." (1)
  • "The shepherds help show that God cares about ordinary people." (1)
  • "The shepherds were local people who were known by other locals." (1)
  • "The shepherds are only in Luke." (2)
  • "The shepherds were humble like Mary." (2)
  • "As sinners, the shepherds needed the Savior (Jesus)." (2)
  • "Unlike the wisemen, the shepherds were not from far away." (2)
  • "Unlike the wisemen, the shepherds did not bring expensive gifts." (2)
  • "The shepherds were afraid of the angels, but they did not need to be." (2)
  • "The shepherds were down-to-earth men, but the angels represented God." (2)
  • "The shepherds & angels passage is like a great bridge between heaven and earth." (2)
  • "It does not directly say that the shepherds thought of Jesus as the King of the Jews." (2)
  • "The shepherds are in Luke but not in Matthew." (3)
  • "The shepherds saw and heard more angels than Zacharias or Mary." (3)
  • "The shepherds stand out in Luke like the wisemen stand out in Matthew." (3)
  • "Unlike Zacharias, Simeon, and Anna, the shepherds were not in the temple." (3)
  • "The shepherds needed a sign since they didn't have great insight like Simeon and Anna." (3)

Many of the lines above should be discussed. For instance, why are the shepherds only in Luke's Gospel?

(Matthew 1:16-25, 2:13-14, 2:19-23, Luke 1:27, 34, 2:4-7, 16, 27, 33)

What should be said about Joseph and those around them, especially Mary? Some suggested lines are shown below. Notice the point values after each line. Why is Joseph often overlooked?

  • "Joseph was a true believer (Matt. 1:19)." (1)
  • "Joseph was corrected and directed by God." (1)
  • "Joseph obeyed God (Matt. 1:24, 2:14, 2:21)." (1)
  • "Joseph was a real person; Santa Claus is not." (1)
  • "Joseph was righteous and merciful (Matt. 1:19)." (1)
  • "Joseph was like an under appreciated defensive player." (1)
  • "Joseph had four special dreams (Matt. 1:20, 2:13, 19, 22)." (1)
  • "Joseph was engaged to Mary." (2)
  • "Joseph was not Jesus' real father." (2)
  • "Joseph and Mary had not yet married." (2)
  • "Joseph is not mentioned as often as Mary." (2)
  • "Joseph did not question God like Zacharias did." (2)
  • "Joseph was a descendent of David and Solomon." (2)
  • "Joseph obeyed God and became Jesus' legal father." (2)
  • "Joseph and Mary could not find a room in Bethlehem (Lk. 2:7)." (2)
  • "Joseph, rather than Mary, was the head of the family (Matt. 2:13, 19)." (2)
  • "Joseph who was probably somewhat older than Mary died before she did." (2)
  • "Joseph did not have military or political power like Herod, but God was his Guide." (2)
  • "God used Joseph to protect Mary and Jesus." (3)
  • "Joseph is more prominent than Mary in Matthew." (3)
  • "Joseph is much more prominent in Matthew than in Luke." (3)
  • "Unlike Herod who killed many innocent children, Joseph saved lives." (3)
  • "After Jesus was born, Joseph fathered several children with Mary (Matt. 1:25)." (3)

How was Joseph like a key yet overlooked player on a winning basketball team? How was God his Coach, and how was he such a good player? Are there under appreciate people like Joseph in God's work today as well?


The counting of points and the announcement of the winner is not the game's true ending. Rather, the leaders or referees should ask, "What are the most important things that have been said or should be said about the Christmas passages and the leading Bible characters therein?" In response, someone might say that the most important point regarding Christmas in the Matthew account is that God the Father protected Jesus and his earthly mother and guardian (Mary and Jospeh) so that HE would fulfill the divine plan to bring salvation through the line of David to Israel and the world. This long answer could be like a long three-point shot at the end of a basketball game.
. . Similarly, regarding Christmas in Luke's account, one might say that the bottom line is that thought such had been long anticipated, God still surprised humanity with special angelic announcements regarding His amazing grace and ability to bring Himself into the world as the Savior, through a lowly but godly Jewish virgin. This or a similar answer would be like another great, long, three-point shot at the end of a game.

© 2021 by Jon F. Mahar, Hakusan City, Japan