This service will primarily be led by children. They will reenact the nativity story while a narrator reads Luke 2 from The Message. Practice with the children beforehand so they know where they are supposed to be and when.
Before the service
Dim the lights, and as people begin arriving, have “Silent Night” playing quietly in the background. This will help set a reverent, reflective tone for the service.
Have chairs in the meeting space set up in a semicircle with a sticky note and something to write with at each chair.
Setting the scene
Sets: You’ll need to create a stable. If you can’t find or build one, several bales of hay will suffice. You can buy bales of hay in the fall and store them in a barn for use in this service.
Costumes: You’ll also need simple costumes for the children. They don’t need to be fancy. Bathrobes or long pieces of fabric wrapped over their clothes will work. You can make a halo for the child playing the angel out of garland.
Props: Your shepherds will need walking sticks or staffs. If you can’t find walking sticks, just use long tree branches. The shepherds will also need some stuffed sheep. Have the children bring in other stuffed barn animals to help create the feel of a stable.
For baby Jesus, wrap a baby doll in a blanket. Use a wooden cradle, a wooden box turned upside down, or a wicker basket for the manger.
Beginning the service
Have greeters at each entrance. As people enter, the greeters should hand them a battery-powered tea light candle and say, “Greetings to you on this holy night.”
Once everyone has arrived and been seated, the pastor opens with a welcome and a prayer:
Father God, we come before you tonight to remember the gift of your Son, Jesus, who is not only Emmanuel, “God with Us,” but Savior of all. We thank you for this time and space to worship you. We enter into your presence now with our hearts open to hear from your Holy Spirit as we marvel at the mystery of God becoming man. Help us to respond in humble awe and in love for God. In Jesus’ name, amen.
As the pastor concludes the prayer, the children should move to their spots. The shepherds should be guarding their sheep a short distance from the stable, and the angels should stay off to one side until it is time for their entrance. During the reenactment, the children simply follow the narrator’s words as he or she reads Luke 2 from The Message. If you’d like, the children playing the shepherds and the angel may recite their “lines” rather than the narrator reading them.
Luke 2: The birth of Jesus (The Message)
About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.
Mary and Joseph enter with baby Jesus and move toward the stable.
While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.
Mary places baby Jesus in the manger, and she and Joseph sit beside it.
There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep.
The shepherds mime tending the sheep. The angel walks over to the shepherds. The shepherds act afraid.
Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
Other angels join the first angel. The angels may all chant their lines in unison.
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.” As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over.
Angels leave the stage. Shepherds mime discussion.
“Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.
The shepherds run to the stable and kneel before the manger.
Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
Shepherds go up to congregation members and share the good news. They can say something simple such as, “Have you heard?” or “The Savior is here!”
Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.
Mary can wrap her arms around herself or place her hands over her heart.
The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!
The shepherds should dance and jump and, in general, look like they’re overjoyed.
The narrator closes the story with a paraphrase of Matthew 1:21:
She will give birth to a son, and give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Closing the service
Play “Silent Night” quietly in the background.
The pastor says:
Christ, the Savior, is born! Jesus, who is God incarnate, came to us in human form so that he might one day sacrifice his own life for our sins. What a gift! What can we give to Jesus in return? The only gift that we can give is the way we live our lives. If anyone has not accepted the gift of Jesus and would like to, please see me after the service.
If you already serve the Christ child as Lord, take a moment and think what you could give to him this coming year.
I encourage each of you to write what you would like to give to God on the sticky note you found on your chair at the beginning of the service. Whenever you are ready, come forward and stick it to the manger.
After the community has finished bringing their gifts forward, have them turn on their tea lights and sing “Silent Night.” This can be done a capella or with very light instrumentation such as an acoustic guitar.
You can transition into the song several ways:
- An acoustic guitar player and designated singer could start the song once everyone has returned to their seats.
- A volunteer from the congregation could begin the singing from where he or she is sitting.
- The narrator could begin the singing.
The pastor ends the service with:
My friends, this is the mystery of God: Emmanuel, God with us. Go in peace knowing that the Spirit of the Christ child is within you.
As the worshipers leave, have greeters at the doors saying, “Go in peace on this most holy of nights.”