Children's Messiah: A musical feast based on a classic

Imagine the magnificent words and strains of Handel’s Messiah combined with the exuberance and creativity of children’s artwork, photography, music, and movement. The result makes for a memorable and worship-filled Christmas program for all ages.

Are you already debating whether this is a program your church can handle? Take heart—with a little preparation and a little cooperation, even a smaller congregation like ours can make this program work. Mayfair’s Sunday school is a small group averaging only three students per grade, but starting already in September we had kids working on creating artwork and photography to express some of the songs for the program (see sidebar). As we got closer to Christmas, we taught them musical movements and singing parts for the Messiah.

Using congregational talents is essential and makes this a truly multigenerational celebration. We incorporated adult narrators, a small adult chorus, high school and adult instrumentalists, adult “coaches” who worked with students in the various artistic areas, and individuals who helped produce components of the program (one coordinated vocal music, another coordinated instrumentals, and so on).

The key is to tailor this program to your congregation. The speaking parts are flexible and can be exchanged between children and adults to create just the right number of parts for your Sunday school students. If you have a zealous adult ensemble that can learn some of the choruses, have them do it! (We used Messiah, Novello Handel Edition, ed. Watkins Shaw). If not, use CDs; in addition to a classical recording, we used Handel’s Young Messiah (Word, 1990) and Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration (Reprise Records, 1992).

If you have a variety of competent instrumentalists, use them! (Perhaps you could borrow instrumentalists from a local choir or orchestra.) If not, stick with a piano arrangement (we used Selections from Messiah, arr. for piano solo by Todd Lowry, G. Schirmer, Inc.) or use the CD. If your kids enjoy singing, include them in more of the pieces. Work with what you have, and everyone will enjoy it!

Our congregation had fun with this fresh rendition of Handel’s Messiah. The children learned about a timeless musical piece, while many of the adults (even those familiar with it) gained a new appreciation for it . . . by seeing it through the eyes of children.

—CTH

Readers

M = man
W = woman
C1, C2, and so on = children

Materials/Props Needed

Fabric for “path”
Costumes: Shepherd, Angels, Sheep
Ribbons: black, gold, silver, bright colors
Candles
Prelude: “Overture”

Prepare the Way

[We projected each section title and all the Scripture verses (including song texts) on a screen; Scripture readings came from the NIV and from the KJV.]

Isaiah 40:1-2: “Comfort, comfort my people . . .” (W)
Isaiah 40:3: “The voice of one crying . . .” (M)

[During the readings, four middle school girls run single file down the center aisle with two long sheets of silk fabric held above their heads to form “paths”; they stop in the aisle near the front.]

Isaiah 40:4: “Every valley . . .” (C1, C2)

[During the reading, the four girls mimic the text with the silk sheets, lifting them up (“exalted”), letting them float down (“made low”), shaking them (“rough”), and pulling taut (“plain”).]

“Every Valley” (from Young Messiah)

[Words are projected on screen; girls repeat the movements with silk “paths.”]

Isaiah 40:5: “And the Glory” (from Soulful Messiah)

[During the music, photography by kids grades 3-8 depicting the glory of God in nature are projected on screen.]

Haggai 2:6-7: “Thus says the Lord . . .” (M)
Malachi 3:1: “The Lord whom you seek . . .” (W)
Malachi 3:2: “But who can endure . . .” (M)
Malachi 3:3: “And he shall purify . . . (C1 speaking; C2 signing)

The Light Comes

[Screen fades to black, then section title is projected.]

Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive . . .” (C reads, then lights a candle)

Isaiah 40:9: “O thou that tellest good tidings . . .” (C1-3)

Isaiah 60:1: “Arise, shine . . .” (C1-3 reading together), followed by piano interlude “O Thou That Tellest . . .”

[During the reading and interlude, children ages 3-grade 2 come down center aisle carrying battery-powered candles. Then the youngest ones leave to prepare to become sheep; grades K-2 remain in front.]

Isaiah 60:2-3 (grades K-2 standing in front with candles, backs to congregation)

“For, behold, darkness . . . shall cover the earth, and thick darkness is over the people . . .” (W; first group of kids turns and faces audience) but the Lord rises upon you . . .” (second group of kids turns)

“and his glory shall be seen upon you . . .” (third group of kids turns)

“Nation will come to your light . . .” (all kids raise candles over heads) “and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us . . .” (kids sing a short portion of this piece)

[Grades K-2 leave out side front door and add angel accessories; shepherds leave opposite side front for costumes]

“Pastoral Symphony” (organ or piano)

[During playing, children in shepherd costumes come in from front door and wander through the sanctuary until the piece is finished; then gather at the front.]

Luke 2:8-11, 13 (adapted for two shepherds: “We were out in the field, keeping watch . . .”; C1-C2)

[During the final phrase (“And suddenly . . .”) kids in grades K-2, dressed as angels holding gold and silver ribbons, run onstage from the front stage-level side door.]

Luke 2:14: “Glory to God . . .” (angels speak in unison first, then the chorus is played from Young Messiah)

[During the song, the angels do movements with gold and silver ribbons contrasting between “glory” and “peace.”]

Zechariah 9:9-10: “Rejoice greatly . . ” (M; angels remain on stage)

Isaiah 35:5-6: “Then shall the eyes of the blind . . .” (W; grades K-2 angels sign text; then leave stage)

Isaiah 40:11; Matthew 11:28-29: “He shall feed his flock . . .” (solo singer or track from Young Messiah)

[During the singing, a children’s worship leader in shepherd costume leads young children dressed like sheep around the church, then to the front; he mimes feeding them (with their hands outstretched) and putting them to sleep (touching their heads as they lie down on the floor).]

The Sacrifice

[Black screen, then section title is projected.]

John 1:29: “Behold the Lamb of God . . .” (C)

[Narrator speaks the words first, then the song is performed as an instrumental solo (organ, piano, viola, or French horn); grades 3-8 artwork depicting words of the song are projected on screen during the song. Toward the end of the song, four kids in black clothing place a freestanding cross in the center of the stage.]

Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised . . .” (C)

Isaiah 53:4-5: “Surely he has borne our griefs . . .” (W, M)

Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep . . .”

[A few “sheep” stand onstage; at phrase “everyone to his own way” they exit, one at a time, in different directions and head through the sanctuary to the back of the church.]

Psalm 22:7 “All they that see him . . .” (M)

[Four to six kids (grades 3-8) dressed in black come on stage.]

Psalm 22:8: “He trusted in God . . .” (from classical recording)

[During the song, kids in black circle the cross, “lashing” red ribbons toward the cross to the beat of the music.]

Psalm 69:20: “Your rebuke . . .” (W)

[Kids stop at the end of the music; during the reading they turn their backs to the cross and audience, kneel on one knee.]

Lamentations 1:12; Isaiah 53:8: “Behold and see . . .” (M)

[After the reading, the kids in black remove cross and leave.]

Glorious Victory

[Section title is projected on screen.]

Psalm 24:7-10: “Lift up your heads . . .” (choir)

[Artwork of kids grades 3-8 depicting the words of the song is projected during the song.]

Psalm 16:10: “But you did not leave his soul . . .” (W)

Job 19:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:20: “I know that my Redeemer liveth . . .” (solo; six middle school kids perform expressive movements to this anthem)

1 Corinthians 15:21-22: “Since by man came death . . .” (C reads, then anthem is played)
1 Corinthians 15:51-52a: “Behold, I tell you a mystery . . .” (M)
1 Corinthians 15:52b-53: “The trumpet shall sound . . .” (trumpeter plays solo line; two high school baritones play baritone solo line)
1 Corinthians 15:54: “Then shall be brought to pass . . .” (M)
1 Corinthians 15:55-56: “O Death, where is thy sting? . . .” (W)
1 Corinthians 15:57: “But thanks be to God . . ..” (M, W)
Revelation 5:12-13: “Worthy is the Lamb . . .” (choir)
Revelation 19:6; 11:15; 19:16: “Hallelujah . . .” (choir and congregation)

[All kids stand in front and around the sanctuary waving bright colored ribbons.]
Amen!

[Kids grades 3-8 say loudly: “And all God’s people say Amen!”; Amen is projected on screen.]

Cheri TerHaar (c2terhaar@sbcglobal.net) is a worship planner at Mayfair Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.