In our Christmas Pageant we’re hearing a story that has been passed down, changed, revamped and reworked as times have changed and our interpretation of this classic story has shifted in this congregation from a classic Christmas Pageant with lines to memorize to a narrated story with living tableaux performed by the whole congregation.
There are no lines to memorize, no scripts to deal with, just a simple story re-imagined. It’s a story we’ve all heard so many times but I want to encourage you to live this story as if it’s your first time. What would you do if you were Mary? If you were a shepherd? If you were a resident of Bethlehem with a stranger knocking at your door? Embrace the awe, the confusion, the complete strangeness of the situation. Put those emotions into your performance. And yes, we do mean YOUR performance because you are part of this. Even if you’re simply sitting in the pews you are part of this story today.
Introduction (written by Steve Arcanti)
We bring you this morning the ancient story of the Nativity.
We ask you to listen to this story as if for the first time –
before symbol was petrified into dogma –
before myth was mistaken for history.
Imagine, that this ancient story is radically new.
Imagine, that after years of hearing story after story of people
bowing abjectly before the might of kings and emperors,
tsars, dictators, chieftains, and tyrants,
you hear a story in which three wise and venerated people kneel before a tiny child –
in praise of possibility.
Imagine, that after hearing story after story of long wars and bloody battles and heroes slaying their enemies,
bombings and burning and persecution and pogroms
you one day hear the quiet story of a birth,
the story of the humble carpenter and his gentle wife,
shepherds in the starlit fields,
animals in a stable, the story of the deep human longing for peace.
Imagine, that you are hearing for the first time a story that questions the assumption that power resides in armies and armadas, witches and wizards, and magic swords and sacks of gold.
Imagine that you hear a story that affirms the strong, transforming power of love.
We bring to you now that ancient story, that ever-new story.
Listen to the story.
Processional Hymn: O Come, All Ye Faithful
THE ANGEL APPEARS TO MARY
A long time ago, in a desert on the other side of the world, there was a country called Judea. The people of Judea had been conquered by an evil Empire. This was an Empire that made people into slaves, ruled by violence, and kept the conquered people very poor by stealing the food they grew. When the Empire conquered Judea, they appointed a King, named Herod, who ruled over the country for them.
Christians tell a story about a man named Jesus who lived in Judea. To his followers, Jesus became known as “Christ,” which is a title meaning “God’s chosen person.” This is a story Christians tell his birth. We don’t know exactly what REALLY happened over two thousand years ago: this is a story to teach about Jesus and what was important about him.
The story goes like this: (see: Luke 1:26-38)
Once there was a young woman named Mary. She lived in a town called Nazareth.
Mary was engaged to Joseph, a man who had magical dreams from God that told him the truth.
God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, to this young woman.
The angel went to her and said: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! God is with you.
Mary was much disturbed at his words, and was wondering to herself what such a greeting could mean, when the angel spoke again:
“Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favor with God. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, whom you should name Jesus. He will be great and will called the “Child of the Most High.” God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will reign over the Judeans forever; his empire will never end.”
Mary said "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child will be called ‘holy,’ and ‘Child of God.’ And your cousin Elizabeth is also expecting a child, even though she is old. Even though she was called barren, it is now the sixth month of her pregnancy, for no promise from God will fail to be fulfilled.”
Mary said "I am God’s servant. May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.
Joseph was troubled by the news that Mary was going to have a child. But one night, he laid down to sleep and had a dream. And the same Angel appeared to him.
The angel said, "Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The child Mary is going to have is God's child, and you are to name him Jesus."
When Joseph woke up, he did what the Angel had told him: he and Mary got married.
What will Mary and Joseph do? When will this baby be born, and where?
For the next part of our story we’ll need some more actors. We need some shepherds and sheep, to be in our manger, and perhaps a few stage hands to hold up some scenery. If you’re willing to be in any of those roles please come up now.
Carol: Joy to the World
THE JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM
Narrator: (see: Luke 2:1-7)
In those days the Emperor, Augustus, issued a decree that a census should be taken of the whole Empire. (A census is where a government counts all its people. In the Empire, this was so that the Empire could make everyone pay them money to fund wars.) The story goes that in order to be counted, people had to travel to the towns their ancestors lived in.
So Joseph and Mary went up from the town of Nazareth to the town of Bethlehem, where his ancestors were from. The journey was long and hard on Mary who by this time was very close to having a baby.
Many people had come from far away to participate in the census. Mary and Joseph traveled all over the city looking for a place to stay, but no one had room in their guest room or their inn.
I see our townspeople sitting in the pews, and it looks like no one has any room, so if any travelers come knock on your pew, you’ll have to tell them there’s no place.
Finally someone told them that, while there was no room in the house, they could stay with the animals and be warm. That hospitable person led them inside where they were able to lay down and rest.
Surrounded by animals, Mary gave birth to a baby. She wrapped him up--she swaddled him--and laid him in a manger. They named him Jesus.
Narrator: (see: Luke 2:8-20)
Outside of Bethlehem there were shepherds in an open field taking care of their sheep.
Suddenly, an angel from God appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them and they were afraid.
But the angel said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news. Today a Savior has been born in the city of David, Bethlehem! You will find this Savior lying wrapped up, swaddled, in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom God favors!’
The shepherds have heard the good news from our angel, our animals are waiting with our baby and his family in the manger, and now we need some astrologers, because why not. We need some magi to bring this baby gifts. And we need a way for the magi to find this baby, perhaps a star to follow? Would anyone like to be a star from the East?
Carol: Angels We Have Heard On High
When the sky was clear again, the shepherds stood and said, “Let’s go and see this baby.”
They went to Bethlehem and came to the place where Mary, Joseph, and the newborn baby were, just as the angel had said.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, magi from the east came to Judea’s capital city, Jerusalem.
(These magi were wise, well-educated people who practiced magic, studied the stars, and tried to predict the future and understand the present.) When they got to Jerusalem, they asked, “Where is the one who has been born? We saw his star in the east and have come with gifts for him!”
But Jesus hadn’t been born in the capital city, but in a small farm town. The Magi realized this, and they set out. There, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising.
Carol: The First Nowell
The Magi followed the star until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasure-chests and presented him with gifts of gold and frankincense and of myrrh.
Soon after his birth, Jesus and his parents would become refugees, having to leave their home country in order to be safe. (Matthew 2:13-18) One day Jesus grew up to be known as a teacher, a child of God, and someone who taught people to love their neighbor as themselves.
But for that night, at his birth, there was great rejoicing.
Carol: Go, Tell It On The Mountain