A Time for Waiting

A Children's Advent Celebration

For many years I have served in parishes where the “Christmas” pageant happens sometime during Advent, often one or two weeks before Christmas Eve. It always seems jarring to celebrate the baby born in mid-December! Of course, that is what retail establishments have been doing since October, but the church has a rich tradition of Advent stories that often get lost in the Christmas rush. How wonderful to reclaim Elizabeth and Zechariah’s story, the amazing moments of Gabriel’s visit to Mary, and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth for our children as well as for adults.

Several years ago I wrote this Advent pageant, fully understanding that churches expect a pageant to include animals and angels and shepherds and magi and a baby. There is a baby in this story, but his name is John, not Jesus. “A Time for Waiting” opens up those pre-Christmas stories and builds excitement and anticipation for Christmas Eve. By including Advent hymns in the pageant, our children will learn songs for the season that they probably won’t hear in shopping malls. In worship we have the opportunity to present a different narrative than the one kids hear outside of church during December—one in which there is some fear, ambiguity, and a deeper hope than any Santa can bring.

Notes: Multiple song suggestions are given for each section. Choose one of the songs listed or substitute a song that is more fitting for your congregation.

Cast

  • Three Narrators (read from the pulpit)
  • Three Readers (read from lectern)

Characters

  • Isaiah
  • Elizabeth
  • Zechariah
  • Angel Gabriel
  • Mary
  • Joseph
  • Shepherds
  • Animals
  • Angels
  • Three Magi

Narrator 1: God made all the earth, all living creatures and all people, and God believed all of it was good. But the people did not always follow God’s ways. They hurt one another and the living things on earth. So God sent wise men and women, called prophets. Their job was to remind people to live in God’s image. But still the people ignored the prophets, and great pain and suffering followed. But God had another plan in mind, and a great prophet named Isaiah first spoke of it.

[Isaiah steps out into the middle of the chancel and holds his arms wide as though speaking to a large group of people. He stays like that through the reading.]

Reader 1: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of the knowledge and the fear of the Lord. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion together, and a little child shall lead them. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.” (from Isa. 11)

Song Suggestions

“Lo, How a Rose” LUYH 79, PH 48, PsH 351, TH 221, WR 190 (st. 1, 2)
“Toda la tierra/All Earth Is Waiting” LUYH 57, SNC 93

[Isaiah exits when the song begins.]

Narrator 2: Many, many years later, the people were still waiting with hope for the one promised by God through Isaiah’s words. God was watching a woman named Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, who were faithful and loving. They were sad because they wanted to have children and Elizabeth could not get pregnant. One day, when both of them had grown old, Zechariah was praying at the temple when an angel came to him.

[Zechariah comes to the front of the center aisle and kneels in prayer. Gabriel walks in behind him and touches Zechariah on the shoulder. Zechariah jumps up in surprise and fear. Gabriel takes his hand while the reader reads.]

Reader 2: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard! Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in God’s sight. He will help many of the people of Israel to come closer to God; he will get them prepared for God’s coming.” (Luke 1:13ff)

This pageant could also work well as a tableau (see RW 75 for more information on this dramatic art form). Explain to the congregation that when they hear a bell ring in the sanctuary they need to close their eyes, and when they hear the bell a second time they should open them. For each “act” have the Narrator ring a bell just before he or she begins speaking. During the narration, and while the congregation’s eyes are closed, have the actors get in position and freeze. When they’re ready, the Narrator rings the bell again so the congregation can see the tableau in front of them while they listen to the reading. When the music begins for the next song, the actors release their pose and go to their designated places.

Song Suggestions

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” LUYH 61, PH 9, PsH 328, TH 194, WR 154 (st. 1, 5)
“My Soul in Stillness Waits” LUYH 63, SNC 95
“Prepare the Way of the Lord” LUYH 58, SNC 105, WR 174

[Zechariah and Gabriel exit when the song begins.]

Narrator 3: Elizabeth did indeed become pregnant, although she was quite old! She kept her pregnancy a secret, so not even her relatives, like her niece, Mary of Nazareth, knew about it. Mary was a young woman engaged to marry a man named Joseph. One day as Mary sat in her room praying, a bright light shone around her and the angel Gabriel appeared to her with a powerful message.

[Mary enters and stands with head bowed. Gabriel comes up behind her and puts his hand on her shoulder. She falls to her knees in fear and surprise and looks up at Gabriel.]

Reader 3: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! And now you will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of God will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy. And now your aunt Elizabeth, in her old age, is also pregnant with a son. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me as you have said.” (Luke 1:26ff)

Song Suggestions

“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” LUYH 56, PH 2, PsH 329, TH 196, WR 153 (st. 1, 2)
“Told of God’s Favor” LUYH 68 (st. 1, 4, 5)

[Mary and Gabriel exit when the songs begins.]

The whole earth is holding its breath, waiting for what is to come. Everyone has the feeling it will be something wonderful, something different from anything God has done before.

Narrator 1: Mary was amazed and confused and a bit frightened by what the angel had told her. She decided to go see Elizabeth, since she and her husband had also been visited by an angel. Perhaps being with Elizabeth would help her understand what had happened. When she arrived at Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth ran out to meet her, shouting that the baby inside her had jumped for joy at Mary’s approach. Elizabeth was thrilled that the mother of her Lord had come to see her. Mary was so excited about all this news that she sang a song to God giving thanks for everything that was about to happen, for she knew these babies were the fulfillment of God’s promise to help all the people.

[As the narrator speaks, Mary and Elizabeth, who is obviously pregnant, run to each other from the opposite sides of the stage. They embrace, then back away from each other. When the reader starts the reading, Mary turns to face the congregation and lifts her hands and face to the sky.]

Reader 1: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for you have looked with favor on your lowly servant. Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is God’s name. Your mercy, O God, is for those who fear you, from generation to generation. You have shown strength and power and scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. You have brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. You have helped your people Israel in remembrance of your mercy, according to the promises you made to our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46ff)

Song Suggestions

“My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout” LUYH 69
“Tell Out, My Soul” LUYH 364, PsH 478, TH 26, WR 41
“My Spirit Glorifies the Lord” LUYH 383, PsH 212

[Mary and Elizabeth exit when the song begins.]

Narrator 2: Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went home. After she left, Elizabeth gave birth to a son, John, who would grow up to be John the Baptist, the one who would tell his people that Jesus was coming. John would also baptize Jesus. When John was born, Zechariah proclaimed that God had told him not only who John would become, but something about the coming of Jesus as well.

[Zechariah and Elizabeth enter, carrying a baby. As the reader begins the reading, Zechariah turns to look at the congregation, much as Mary did above.]

Reader 2: “Blessed be the God of Israel who has looked with favor on the people and redeemed them! God has raised up for us a mighty Savior in the house of King David. And you, my child, will be called the Prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Savior to prepare his way, to give knowledge of salvation to the people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Luke 1:68ff)

Song Suggestions

“Blessed Be the God of Israel” LUYH 67, SNC 104, WR 158
“Prepare the Way of the Lord” LUYH 58, SNC 105, WR 174
“Comfort, Comfort Now My People” LUYH 59, PH 3, PsH 194, TH 197, WR 155

[Zechariah and Elizabeth exit when the song begins.]

Narrator 3: While Mary and Joseph waited for the baby to be born, an astonishing thing happened in the skies. A star appeared, much brighter than all the other stars in the sky. The shepherds around a small town called Bethlehem noticed it while they were watching their sheep by night.

[Shepherds and animals come onstage, looking up toward the back of the sanctuary and pointing to a star. The star can be imaginary or real, as your space permits.]

Narrator 3: Some Magi who studied the stars noticed it in their city, many miles from Bethlehem. They decided to take a trip to see what it meant.

[Three Magi join the shepherds and animals onstage, pointing at the star.]

Narrator 3: And if people had remembered a very old prophecy by the prophet Micah, they might have suspected that great things were coming to the small town of Bethlehem, near the great city of Jerusalem.

Reader 3: “But you, O Bethlehem, who are one of the little families of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule his people. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord. And they shall be safe, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be a Prince of Peace.” (Micah 5:2-5a)

Song Suggestions

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” LUYH 88, PH 44, TH 201, WR 180 (st. 1)
“Dona Nobis Pacem” LUYH 73

Narrator 1: Just when the time came that Mary was expecting her baby to be born, something happened that made life much more difficult for her and for Joseph. They had to travel more than a day’s journey on foot from their home in Nazareth to get to the town of Bethlehem, which was Joseph’s hometown. The emperor in Rome decided to take a census and count all the people who lived in the Roman Empire. So Mary and Joseph had to return to Joseph’s hometown to be counted.

[Mary, obviously pregnant, and Joseph come up the center aisle slowly while the reader is reading and the hymn is being sung. Angels follow about four pews behind.]

Reader 1: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David, called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the family of King David. He went with Mary, to whom he was engaged, and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2)

Song: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” LUYH 88, PH 44, TH 201, WR 180 (st. 2)

[Mary and Joseph, now onstage, face the congregation. Magi and Shepherds have stopped pointing and face the congregation. Gabriel stands behind Mary and Joseph, with arms outspread. The other angels spread out around him. Isaiah stands at the pulpit, and Elizabeth and Zechariah with baby stand at the lectern.]

Pastor: Now everyone is in place, and the whole earth is holding its breath, waiting for what is to come. Everyone has the feeling it will be something wonderful, something different from anything God has done before. On Christmas Eve we will hear the ending, or really a new beginning, to this story. Until then, let us wait with the prophets, with Elizabeth and Zechariah and baby John, with the Magi, the Shepherds and their animals, and with all the angels of heaven, anticipating Good News of Great Joy!

Song Suggestions

“Angels from the Realms of Glory” LUYH 81, PH 22, PsH 354, TH 218, WR 189
“Joy to the World” LUYH 92, PH 40, PsH 337, TH 195, WR 179
“Imagine” LUYH 72

Rochelle A. Stackhouse serves as senior pastor of Church of the Redeemer (United Church of Christ) in New Haven, Connecticut and lecturer in preaching and supervised ministry at Yale Divinity School.