I know, it’s October, but you’re probably already planning Christmas.
If you have a crib service that’s mostly attended by children who haven’t experienced Advent, here’s a fairly simple plan that allows you to include a bit of waiting, a bit of expectation, and a bit of context for the coming of the Saviour.
The outline is a shortened version of the Christmas liturgy in my book, There is a Season – we have a copy in the Diocesan Resource Centre if you’d like to borrow it and see the full version. The Adam and Eve story is adapted from the Beulah Land feltboard story – we also have a Beulah Land set available for you to borrow. Many of the other readings are adapted from Miracle Maker: a life of Jesus, retold and remembered, by Mary Joslin.
The service should last approximately half an hour.
YOU WILL NEED:
Your church’s crib scene
A bunch of stuffed animals – placed in the pews ahead of the service
Candles for the congregation
Any visual elements you’d like to add to the first story.
A few readers, ideally a mix of children and adults (there are five readings – some people can do more than one reading if you don’t have five readers)
A few helpers to greet people as they enter, light candles, and turn off church lights (again, these can be children and/or adults)
Either some way of accompanying the carols OR a few very strong singers to lead them a cappella
The service leaders welcome the congregation.
LEADER: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In him was life, and the life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
In the beginning, God made the world.
He made a man and a woman,
And put them in a beautiful garden.
They had everything they needed.
They were safe.
But the snake said, “did God say you can’t eat any of the fruit in the garden?”
And the woman said,
“we may eat of any of the trees,
But not of the tree in the middle of the garden,
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
For God has said that if we touch this tree, we will die.”
The snake said, “you will not die.
If you eat from that tree, you’ll be just like God.
You can do whatever you want.
You’ll be just as big and special as God.
Come on. Try it.”
So the man and the woman ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
But it didn’t make then big and special.
It made them ashamed.
They were ashamed of their thoughts.
They were ashamed of their bodies.
And they couldn’t live in the garden any more.
They had to go out into the world, and work hard, and feel pain, and die.
But God did not forget them.
God began the long work of saving them.
And that’s our story.
CAROL: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
LEADER: Let us pray.
This is just one type of prayer suggestion – feel free to use a different one! This one uses our hands. Parents with babies can be encouraged to touch their baby’s hands.
With our thumb, we make a thumbs-up sign and say thank you to God for all the good things in the world, and the good things about ourselves.
(If you like, you can invite people to share with each other or with the whole congregation)
With our pointer finger, we point around the room and pray for everybody here.
With our big tall strong middle finger, we pray for people who are big and strong and powerful. We pray they make the right decisions.
With our ring finger, we pray for our families, especially anybody who isn’t here, or who has died, that we miss very much at Christmas time.
With our tiny little pinky finger, we pray for everyone who is small, or powerless. We pray that the God who came into the world as a tiny powerless baby will keep them safe and be with them.
And now we make a big circle on our palm as we pray for the whole entire world.
Loving God, as we hear the story of how God sent Jesus to save us, let us pray that our hearts, like those of the prophets, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men, may be open to receiving Jesus into our world and our lives. AMEN.
The reader asks everyone to check their pews for a stuffed animal. What animals do you have? Do these animals get along or do they fight? Which are predators? Which are prey?
Explain that we’re about to hear a story of what it’s like in God’s Kingdom, where predators and prey get along. Ask everyone to listen VERY CAREFULLY for the words “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.” When they hear these words, bring up your animals and place them around the empty crib scene!
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb …
(Pause for the chaos of everyone bringing their animals up. Comment, if you like, on how beautiful the scene of all the animals living in peace is. But that crib is still empty! We’re still waiting for the person who brings this peace! Then continue the reading. Repeat “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb” if needed.)
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
If necessary, re-arrange the stuffed animals to make room for the figures.
Carol: Away in a Manger, 2 or 3 verses
God sent the angel Gabriel to a town named Nazareth. The angel had a message for a girl promised in marriage to a man named Joseph. The girl’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “peace be with you! The Lord has greatly blessed you!”
Mary was deeply troubled, and wondered what the words meant. The angel noticed the fear and wonder in her eyes and spoke again.
“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel said. “God has chosen you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be the Son of the Most High God.”
Mary was perplexed. “How can I have a baby?” she asked. “I’m not even a wife yet, so how can I become a mother?”
The angel’s answer was simple. “God’s power will make it happen.”
Mary thought for a moment. She had been brought up to live by God’s laws. Now she was older, that was what she herself wanted to do. If this message was truly from God, then she knew what her answer would be.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary. “May it happen to me as you have said.”
And the angel left her.
Invite people from the congregation to add the figures of Mary and the angel to the crib scene.
If you want to extend the service, you can add wondering questions, or prayer stations, or a reflection here.
Carol: Once In Royal David’s City
Mary was heavily pregnant now, and so tired. Then the pains of labour were upon her – it seemed certain that the baby was going to be born while she was far away from home, here, in Bethlehem. “Oh, Joseph,” she cried. “We have travelled so far and need a place to stay, but all the rooms for travellers are full. What shall we do?”
Joseph was not dismayed. Months earlier, in a dream, the angel told him to take care of Mary and her baby. He must now do what he thought best – and trust God that all would be well.
“Dear Mary,” he said, “here is a stable where we can shelter. There is clean straw, enough room to lie down, and the cold night breezes cannot chill us.”
There, among the animals, Jesus was born. The son of God. Not in a palace or a safe hospital, but in a stable. Mary wrapped her baby in swaddling clothes. Joseph piled straw into an ancient stone manger, to make it into a cradle. There, Mary laid her baby.
Invite people from the congregation forward to add the figures of Joseph and the animals to the crib scene. Then invite a very young child (with carer) to place the figure of baby Jesus.
Carol: Silent Night.
During this carol, light the congregation’s candles and turn off the lights in the church.
When “Silent Night” is finished:
LEADER: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light! Those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, upon them has light shined!
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, the Prince of Peace!
The lights in the church are turned back on and candles are extinguished.
Carol: O Come, All Ye Faithful.
This poem is called “The Shepherds’ Carol.” It imagines what the shepherds might have said to Mary when they arrived at the stable.
We stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
That winter had won.
The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music,
Folded the hill.
There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was,
And bright, so bright.
Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.
And so we have come, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves,
We give to your son.
People are invited forward to add the shepherds to the crib scene.
Carol: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
LEADER: Let us pray to Jesus our Saviour.
Jesus, whose mother was Mary,
Bless our families. Jesus, Saviour,
All: Hear our prayer.
LEADER: Christ, born in a stable,
give courage to all who are homeless. Jesus, Saviour,
All: Hear our prayer.
LEADER: Christ, worshipped by the shepherds,
give peace on earth. Jesus, Saviour,
All: Hear our prayer.
LEADER: Christ, whose light filled a lowly manger,
give the glory of your resurrection to all who rest in you.
All: Hear our prayer.
All: Jesus, Saviour, child of Mary,
you know us and love us, you share our lives
and hear our prayer. Glory to you for ever. Amen
May the joy of the angels,
the eagerness of the shepherds,
the perseverance of the wise men,
the obedience of Joseph and Mary,
and the peace of the Christ-child
be yours this Christmas;
and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Be among you and remain with you always.
LEADER: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
All: In the name of Christ, Amen.
Carol: Hark the Herald Angels Sing
For some tips of how to make the most of the contact you have at this service with families you only see at Christmas, check out “First Dates By The Manger.”