On the Way to Bethlehem: Adapting the children and worship approach for a Christmas service

Every Christmas Sunday at Pultneyville Reformed Church we do away with the sermon. In its place, we have our children present the Word of God.

Planning this past years service was a group effort. The pastor, a Children and Worship leader, and I came up with using the Advent and Christmas stories from the Children and Worship (see "Letting the Story Stand!" in RW 12) series to present the story of the journey to Bethlehem. We used Children and Worship leaders and helpers as "narrators" so we could effectively present the wondering questions and use silence naturally.

The Sunday before the program we asked parents and children to stay for an organizational meeting after the Sunday School hour. At that time, we talked about the parts the children would play and tried on costumes. We also alerted the parents to the time of the dress rehearsal (Saturday morning) and urged them to have their children at church 45 minutes early on the following Sunday.

This year's heavenly chaos thrilled everyone. While average Sunday attendance is 160, cur congregation swelled to 280 for this program. Afterward, we celebrated with coffee— not a regular event in our church because our coffee hour space is also Sunday School space. It was wonderful!
—Jan L. Hoffman

Narrator 1: This is the season of Advent, the time we get ready to celebrate the mystery of Christmas, the time we are all on the way to Bethlehem. But who will show us the way?

The Prophets Show Us the Way to Bethlehem

Narrator 1: The prophets. Prophets listen to God, so they can show us the way. Isaiah was a prophet who listened, and spoke the word of God.
[Enter Isaiah]

He said one day the Messiah would be born. The Messiah would be like a light shining in the darkness. This is what Isaiah said:

Isaiah: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
(Isaiah 9:2)

Narrator 1: This is the candle of the prophets. It reminds us that prophets like Isaiah listen to God, so they can show us the way to Bethlehem.
[Isaiah lights the candle, then exits.]

Let us enjoy the light of the prophets.
I wonder how the prophets listened to God ... ?
[After each wondering question pause, giving the children time to think about the question and to respond verbally if they wish]

I wonder how they knew it was God who spoke... ?
I wonder if there are still prophets today who can show us the way to Bethlehem ... ?
I wonder what the way to Bethlehem is like ... ?

Hymn: "Look Up" (sung as a congregational hymn or children's choir anthem)
[ Worship Songs for Children, June Fischer Armstrong. CRC Publications 1705-0510]

Mary and Joseph Show Us the Way to Bethlehem

Narrator 2: Mary and Joseph are on the way to Bethlehem. They can show us the way. They have a secret. An angel came to them.
[Enter Mary and Joseph from one door; enter Gabriel from another door.]

Gabriel: Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
(Luke 1:28,30-32)

Mary: I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.
(Luke 1:38)

Gabriel: Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
(Matthew 1:20-21)

[Exit Gabriel]

Narrator 2: This is the candle of the Holy Family. It reminds us not to be afraid, but to be trusting on the way to Bethlehem.<
[Joseph lights the candle; then he and Mary leave through the front door]

Let us enjoy the light of the Holy Family

I wonder how Mary felt when the angel spoke to her ... ?

I wonder how Joseph felt... ?

I wonder what it would be like to have God's special child, Jesus ... ?

I wonder how they felt on the way to Bethlehem... ?

Hymn: "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
[PH 43-44, RL 193-194, TH 201-202]

The Shepherds Show Us the Way to Bethlehem

Narrator 3: Shepherds are also on the way to Bethlehem. They can show us the way. They have good news, for angels also came to them.

[Enter shepherds.]
[Enter an angel and the heavenly host]

Angel: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
(Luke 2:10-12)

Hymn: "Gloria! Gloria!" (spoken, or sung in the Taize round as found in FH576)

Heavenly Host: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.
(Luke 2:14)

[The angel and the heavenly host leave.]

Shepherd: Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.
(Luke 2:15)

Narrator 3: This is the candle of the shepherds. It reminds us of the good news: a Savior, the special Son of God, is born.

[A shepherd lights the candle, then he and the others leave through the front door.]

Let us enjoy the light of the shepherds.
I wonder how the shepherds felt when an angel spoke to them...
I wonder how they felt on the way to Bethlehem ... ?
I wonder if they will find the Savior, God's special child named Jesus ... ?
I wonder what will happen when they find Jesus... ?

Hymn: "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" (sung as a congregational hymn or childrens choir anthem)
[PH 31-32, PsH 345, RL196, TH 203]

The Magi Show Us the Way to Bethlehem

Narrator 4: The Magi are on the way to Bethlehem. They can show us the way. The Magi saw a special star in the sky, a star for a king. They follow the star to Bethlehem, bringing gifts for the newborn king.
[Enter Magi from the back of sanctuary.]

Magi 1:1 bring a gift of gold for the newborn king.

Magi 2:1 bring a gift of frankincense for the newborn king.

Magi 3:1 bring a gift of myrrh for the newborn king.

Narrator 4: This is the candle of the Magi. It reminds us of gifts, of God's gift of Christ the newborn king.
[One of the Magi lights the candle and they leave through the front door.]

Let us enjoy the light of the Magi.

I wonder how the Magi felt when they saw the special star for a king... ?

I wonder how they knew the star was special when others just saw a star ... ?

I wonder why the Magi brought gifts ... ?

I wonder what it's like to be a baby and a king... ?

I wonder if you would like to live under this special king's rule... ?

Hymn: "As with Gladness Men of Old"
[PH 63 PsH 358, RL 228, TH 226]

Narrator 5: The prophets show us the way to Bethlehem.
[Enter Isaiah; stand near the side.]

Mary and Joseph show us the way to Bethlehem.
[Enter Mary and Joseph; place the child in the manger and kneel]

The shepherds show us the way to Bethlehem.
[Enter the shepherds; gather around the manger and on the steps.]

The Magi show us the way to Bethlehem.
[Enter the Magi; place their gifts before the manger.]

I wonder how this little baby is a light to the whole world, a light no darkness can overcome..?
I wonder how all these people and animals feel about the baby...?
I wonder how Jesus feels about them ...?
I wonder how God feels ...?

Christmas Carol: 'Away in a Manger" (sung by all the children)
[PH 24, -25, PsH 348-349, RL 213-214, TH 204, -205]
[Children stay upfront on the floor for the rest of worship.]

Parts of this service have been taken directly from Young Children and Worship by Sonja M. Stewart and Jerome W. Berryman, • © 1989. Published by Westminster/John Knox, Louisville, KY Used by permission. • The hymns in this service were selected from the most recent editions of the following hymnals: The Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), Psalter Hymnal (PsH), Rejoice in the Lord (EL), and the Trinity Hymnal (TH)