16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2.16)
Every year around this time, congregations struggle to find a fresh way to retell the familiar story of the birth of baby Jesus. Luke 2.16 always seemed to cause the most stress for me because every year, I always managed to lose baby Jesus. No matter how careful I would store away the baby doll (AKA baby Jesus), I could never remember where I put him and this realization always happened at the last minute. I think one time, I had to substitute my son’s stuffed dinosaur at the last minute. Last year, I think I almost used my daughter, but better judgment kicked in and I rolled up some blankets in the form of a baby.
The Sunday before Christmas, we have an annual Christmas pageant. When I first started working at St. John’s, the task of organizing the pageant always went to the seminary intern. After two years of watching a very chaotic and somewhat painfully disorganized Christmas pageant, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Now to give our interns credit, the failure of the pageant wasn’t completely their fault. It’s impossible to have a successful Christmas pageant when the kids that are present the day of the pageant are a completely set of different kids that showed up for dress rehearsal the day before. I’m not sure if that is San Francisco culture, poor planning, or St. John’s, but nonetheless it happened every year.
This is when I discovered the no stress, no fuss Christmas pageant. What’s great about it is that it takes no rehearsal and the only planning involved is acquiring the costumes, but we either made them or used the ones from previous Christmas pageants. The only speaking part is the narrator and usually I chose a middle or high schooler to read that part. Also, everyone, adults and children, can participate at their comfort level – whether it is wearing a costume or singing in the pews. The whole program allows room for telling the story, singing carols, and dressing up. During each chapter of the story, we invited those that wanted to be Mary, Joseph, and the usual characters to come up on the chancel and don the appropriate costume. Oriental Trading Company became my best friend when it came to getting inexpensive Christmas trinkets. Below is a copy of the pageant that I have adapted from Carolyn Peters’ “Tobias’ Story.” She is the Director of Christian Education at Grace Presbyterian Church, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.
Note: 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 program we might have only a few or many animals, angels, and shepherds, or several Marys and Josephs. It really doesn’t matter. 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.
Introduce the pageant and give instructions to the congregation.
Welcome everyone to Bethlehem! Let us open our eyes and ears and listen to the story of when Christ was born.
Part I: Mary and Joseph
Those who wish to portray Mary and Joseph are invited forward. Marys 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.
Mary and Joseph, a pitiful sight.
So tired and dirty, they gave me a fright.
Sickly or dying? What was the matter?
“A room in the inn?” Impossible chatter!
“My rooms are all taken; not one empty bed.
There’ll not be a room in all Bethlehem,” I said.
But their eyes told a story of hunger and need.
I couldn’t avoid them, so I tried a good deed.
I cleaned up the stable: Rachel cooked up a meal.
We helped all we could, at least, that’s how I feel.
For we noticed that Mary was expecting – and soon!
So we prepared for delivery right under the moon.
The child came so quickly. His face seemed a light.
As if God had shone God’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.
Instead God gave light, to let God’s 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.
My 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.