Every year around this time, congregations struggle to find a fresh way to retell the familiar story of the birth of Jesus. When I first started at St James’ this task fell to the Sunday School team and from the beginning of December the volunteers would rehearse a full script with written parts with each of the children. Every year the same thing would happen – rehearsals would take place with a different set of children than were present on the day of the actual Nativity. So after a chaotic and stressful few years we decided to change our approach and adopt a much simpler Nativity service.
What’s great about this approach is that it takes no rehearsal and the only planning involved is acquiring the costumes. The only speaking part is the narrator and usually one of the older young people is chosen for that role. Also, everyone, adults and children, can participate at their comfort level – whether it is wearing a costume or singing in the pews.
Below is a sample script that could be used.
Introduce the nativity and give instructions to the congregation.
At the beginning of each part within the script, children and adults are invited to come forward to the chancel to assume the character they want to be. This means that in our nativity we might have only a few or many animals, angels, and shepherds, or several Marys and Josephs. That’s okay! (Volunteer helpers secure to each child’s head the tie-on mask of his or her choice, or give them the other appropriate props. They also guide the children to the places they are to stand or sit.)
About two thousand years ago the emperor decreed
That all the world must be enrolled:
LET NO ONE FAIL TO HEED!
The world was quite mixed up you see,
And no one seemed to know:
How many people were there? And what taxes did they owe?
All through the land, the rich, the poor, the young, the very old,
All travelled to their towns of birth
So they could be enrolled.
Part I: Mary and Joseph
Those who wish to portray Mary and Joseph are invited forward. Those play Mary are given a heart-shaped felt necklace; Josephs are given a burlap pouch.
As the Marys and Josephs come forward, the congregation sings “Mary Had a Baby.” When the Marys and Josephs are on stage, narrator begins.
And so it was to Bethlehem a man named Joseph went
To list his name and see how much he owed the government.
Beside him Mary travelled, too.
Not once did she protest how long and hard the trip had been,
Or how much she needed rest.
In Bethlehem they found the house where Joseph’s cousin lived.
And when his cousin saw them there he seemed a bit confused.
“We weren’t expecting you,” he said, “All the rooms are filled!
With Granddad, Granny, Uncle Zed and Auntie Sarah, too.
Brother Petie, sister Sue and our six kids as well.”
When Joseph told him quietly of gentle Mary’s plight:
That she would have a baby soon, perhaps that very night,
His cousin stood and rubbed his bushy bearded jaw,
“I’ll have to make some room somehow – you’re family, after all.
The only place where space is left is there upon the straw.”
So the two of them unpacked at once and settled down to rest
Not caring that they couldn’t have the biggest and the best.
They ate their supper slowly as they watched the sun go down,
And yawned as darkness fell at last upon the little town.
The child came so quickly. His face seemed a light.
As if God had shone His’s presence so bright.
Joseph said softly. “It’s Jesus, my friend.”
God sent him among us to bring to an end fear and
hatred, darkness and sin.
God gave light, to let His love in.
Part II: The Animals
Those who wish to be goats, sheep, cows or donkeys are invited by narrator to come forward. Animals are given masks or hats.
As the animals come forward, the congregation sings “The Friendly Beasts.” When the animals are on stage, narrator begins.
The animals were calm, quieter than normal.
They often were noisy, and never too formal.
They always were eating, or else they were sleeping.
The stable required continuous sweeping.
But on Christmas night, they were strangely in awe at the sight of the babe and all that they saw.
It’s as if they were aware that God had just hushed them,
Had fed and watered and carefully brushed them.
They knew, I believe, that God had been able to work a miracle there in that stable.
Part III: Angels
Those who wish to be angels are invited forward. Gold and silver garland halos are placed on their heads.
As the angels come forward, the congregation sings “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”When the angels are on stage, narrator begins.
We don’t often see angels in flight.
But on the first Christmas, they lit up the night.
They appeared to the shepherds and, boy, were they scared!
“Angels!” cried one. “Will any lives be spared?”
“Are they here to destroy us? Is our time on earth up?
Have we seen our last day? Have we drunk our last cup?”
But “Peace on earth; goodwill to all” was the angels’ sweet song; that was their call.
With a light show that dazzled all who did see, the angels hallelujahed and sang out with glee.
“To Bethlehem, shepherds!” the angels directed.
“To see Jesus the Christ, whom God has perfected.”
“Go worship the Lord and follow his ways.
And you’ll find Christmas joy for all of your days.”
Part IV: Shepherd
Those who wish to be shepherds are invited forward. They are given candy canes to represent shepherd’s staffs.
As the shepherds come forward, the congregation sings “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” When the shepherds are on stage, narrator begins.
The shepherds, I told you, where scared and stunned.
“Too much hard work or too much hot sun!”
That’s what they thought; that’s how they explained.
Perplexed and afraid, they loudly complained.
But the angels’ song calmed them, and then they believed.
They rejoiced when they knew and they were quite relieved.
They went to the stable and worshiped the Lord.
Then they left and began to spread the good Word.
Part V: Wise Persons and Star
Those who wish to be Wise Persons are invited forward. Colorful construction-paper crowns with “jewels” are placed on their heads. An older child has been asked in advance to bring forward a brilliant star extended high on a stick.
As the Wise Persons come forward, the congregation sings “We Three Kings.” When the Wise Persons are on stage, narrator begins.
The star that shone brightly led Wise Persons at night
To Bethlehem’s stable, to the manger’s strange light.
They came bearing gifts, in worship and love, praising God for God’s wonders from heaven above.
The Wise Men were kings and they knelt on my straw.
It was the oddest of things that ever I saw.
If kings bring him treasure, then maybe you, too, can worship with pleasure the person of Jesus, who came to us all.
So worthy of praise, for he brings us God’s call.”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life,
Come to God for healing from strife.
Come unto me, all you who labor,
And I’ll give you rest forever to savor.”
Part VI: Conclusion
T’was the very first Christmas and there in the manger,
The Christ-child was born; it couldn’t have been stranger.
Shepherds saw angels; Wise Men, a star.
They came to see Jesus; they came afar.
They knew he was special – God’s very own son,
He came to the earth to love everyone.
He grew up in time, the Savior, the Lord,
To be worshiped each day, to be loved and adored.
So now at Christmas we all take delight.
In the gift that God gave us that first Christmas night.
In the gifts we receive and the ones that we give,
Let us never forget, it’s in Christ that we live.
Sing “Joy to the World”
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