Are you looking for a way to make the Scripture narrative come alive for your congregation during Advent and Christmas this year? Try a program based on one of the gospel accounts of Christ's birth. Make the experience even more meaningful by basing your Advent sermon series on the same passages.
The program that follows, based on Luke's gospel, is easy to practice and produce. As you and others who participate in the program will discover, Luke's well-known account is arranged in an orderly sequence and told with warmth and beauty The script is taken almost verbatim from Scripture (NIV).
■ Planning. Begin planning in March or April for the program:
- Choose practice times and a program date and put it on the church calendar. Publicize the date early to parents and others.
- Budget for the program. We started with $50 and donations of materials.
- Choose 4-5 people to be the core committee. You'll need someone to coordinate communication; someone to direct and cast people for the parts; a music person; and a set, costume, and properties person.
- Decide which age levels will be involved. Our goal was to make the programs intergenerational in order that the family of faith may remember and retell the story together.
■ Music: When the script calls for a choir, use a childrens choir (or Sunday school group), youth group, or adult choir; at times the congregation can share in the singing. Choose a variety of types of music—something appropriate for each group. (Feel free to replace hymns and carols suggested below with those that better fit your situation.)
■ Cast: The roles that need more maturity (including narrators) should be played by older children, teens, or adults. Primary-level children can play the parts of the shepherds and angels.
■ Rehearsals: The program is written for a minimum of three rehearsals: two for the cast, and one final rehearsal with choirs and cast. Most of the scenes in this program can be rehearsed independently of others, so three scenes can be rehearsed at the same time and can rotate to the sanctuary. Ask for rehearsal helpers.
Give the rehearsal times to cast members as you call them. Agreeing to participate means they agree to come to all practices. All lines should be memorized before the first rehearsal.
■ Creating Pictures: Whenever there are three or more people on the stage, look for variety in positions (standing, sitting on benches, sitting on floor, etc.). Use the movement and position of the characters to focus each scene.
■ Set and Costumes: Plan early for costumes. Use old drapery fabrics (from attics or second-hand stores), white sheets, etc. Cut-off legs of nylons work well for securing headpieces for the men, and a plastic comb attached to a light fabric works well for the women. Little is needed for a set. We used a backdrop of cut-out plywood painted as the outline of Bethlehem with a shorter front piece as the hill to give the scene depth, and then we lit it from the back for a dramatic effect. Two 4" x 8" side pieces positioned at an angle were used for some entrances and exits.
Prelude: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice"
Call to Worship
Hymn: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice"
Welcome and Salutation
[Luke reads Luke 1:1-3 from scroll.]
Luke: Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
[Luke exits; transition music]
The Birth of John the Baptist
Foretold Luke 1:5-23
Narrator 1: In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
[Zechariah enters and goes behind curtain, placed sideways He kneels to pray Worshipers gather on other side of curtain and pray.]
Narrator 2: Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
[Angel appears; Zechariah falls on his knees in fear.]
Narrator 3: Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him:
Angel: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
[Zechariah rises, amazed]
Zechariah: How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.
Angel: I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words.
[Worshipers mumble amongst themselves, falling silent when Zechariah appears.]
Narrator 2: Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
[Crowd exits, Zechariah meets Elizabeth at side of stage.]
Narrator 1: When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months
Elizabeth: The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.
Hymn: "O Come, O Come, Immanuel," st. 1,3,6
[PsH 328, PH 9, RL 184, TH 194]]
Choir: "The Prophets Came to Israel"
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
[Mary is seated when the angel appears.]
Narrator 3: In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgins name was Mary. The angel went to her and said,
Angel: Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.
[Mary rises, surprised.]
Narrator 1: Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her,
Angel: 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. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.
Mary: How will this be, since I am a virgin?
Angel: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age. For nothing is impossible with God.
Mary: I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.
Choir: "The Angel Gabriel from God"
[arr. Marten Shaw]
Elizabeths Blessing of Mary and Mary's Praise to God
[Mary puts on shawl and gathers up a bag, then hurries to meet Elizabeth on the other side of stage.]
Narrator 2: At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed:
Elizabeth: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for j oy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!
[Elizabeth exits; Mary walks to center stage.]
Mary: My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations shall call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.
Narrator 3: Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
Hymn: "Song of Mary," st. 1,2
[PsH 212,PH 600]
Choir or Soloist: "Magnify the Lord"
The Birth of John the Baptist
[Neighbors and relatives enter from one side, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and child enter from the other side.]
Reader 2: When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said,
Elizabeth: No! He is to be called John.
Neighbor: There is no one among your relatives who has that name.
[Neighbor hands Zechariah a tablet.]
Narrator 2: Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John."
Narrator 3: Immediately Zechariah's mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking,
Neighbor: What then is this child going to be?
Narrator 1: For the Lord's hand was with John.
[Zechariah moves center stage ivhile some in the crowd sit. Zechariah places his hands on the child.]
Narrator 2: His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
Zechariah: Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.
Narrator 3: And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.
Choir or Soloist: "Song of Zechariah"
[PsH 213, PH 601-2]
The Birth of Jesus
Narrator 1: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register.
[Joseph mid Mary enter down an aisle; Mary sits on a bench by the manger, Joseph is behind her.]
Narrator 2: So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
[Mary receives a baby, placing it in the manger.]
Narrator 3: While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Childrens Choir: 'Away in a Manger"
[PsH 348, PH 75, RL 213, TH 204]
"That Boy-Child of Mary"
[PsH 352, PH 55]
[Shepherds from primary grades enter—some resting others watching "sheep."]
Narrator 1: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
[Shepherds react with fear.]
Angel: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great j oy 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.
Narrator 3: Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
[Other primary-grade angels appear.]
Angels and Choir: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.
Narrator 1: When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,
Shepherd: Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.
[Shepherds rise and exit down aisle.]
Childrens Choir: "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night"
[FsH 215 PH 58, RL 199, TH 222]
"Sheep Fast Asleep"
[On last stanza, shepherds come down opposite aisle toward the manger.]
Narrator 2: So the shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
[Shepherds leave in different directions.]
Narrator 1: But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Narrator 2: The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Choir: "Angels We Have Heard on High"
[PsH 34Z PH 23, RL 206, TH 214]
st. 1-2: choir
st. 3: congregation
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
[John enters down aisle, miming preaching; he exits down opposite aisle during prophecy]
Narrator 2: The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
Reader 4: A voice of one calling in the desert,
"Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all flesh will see God's salvation."
Song: "Prepare the Way of the Lord"
[John enters down aisle during song. Crowd gathers around him and is seated on the floor.]
Narrator 1: The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. He answered them all,
John: I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Narrator 2: And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.
The Baptism of Jesus
Luke 3:21-22; 7:28; John 3:25-30
Narrator 1: When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven:
Narrator 2: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.
Jesus: I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
Narrator 3: An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing.
Disciple: Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.
John: A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, "I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him." The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.
Piano Transition: "Prepare the Way of the Lord"
Meditation: "Preparing for Jesus"
[Choose a hymn to fit the meditation, or repeat "Prepare the Way of the Lord."]
Offertory: Instrumental Duet
Hymn: "Go, Tell It on the Mountain"
[PsH 356, PH 29 RL 224, TH 224]