I produced this as an alternative to the usual “start with a blank stage, then the characters arrive gradually” nativity play. I’ve put it here complete with the songs and other bits that we used, but obviously other songs are available. The stories benefit from a ‘dramatic’ touch but they could be read by older children or adults if the main actors are small children.
Welcome and notices
Lighting of Advent candles
Song: O little Town of Bethlehem (Offertory)
[During song, Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus, Shepherds, Magi, Angels, Innkeeper enter from the back ]
Innkeeper: Hello there, everyone. I’m an innkeeper. Just in case you didn’t know, that means I run an ‘otel. Well, more of a pub really, you know, refreshment for the weary traveller, that sort of thing. Comfortable rooms, very reasonable prices ! I mean, don’t look at this – this is the outhouse. Normally the most you get in here is a couple of donkeys, not this lot.
What a to-do ! I’ve never known anything like it. There I was, minding my own business – and very good business it is, too, with everyone here for the census – every room taken – when up turns this couple with the baby about to arrive any minute.
Well I couldn’t turn them away, not like that, so I let them do the best they could in the stable and sure enough the poor girl went into labour, and my missus is, like, “make yourself useful and fetch the boiling water” as if I didn’t have enough to do. Still, nature took its course and the little boy arrived.
And that’s when the strange stuff started.
First of all that bunch arrived – shepherds.
The Shepherds’ story
Nobody much bothers with us shepherds normally. I don’t blame them, mind – we get used to the smell of sheep, and after a few days out on the hills, I don’t suppose we smell much better. So, we weren’t expecting visitors tonight.
We’d just finished gathering the sheep as best we could and were settling down, when this, well, angel arrived. Appeared out of thin air, it seemed like. All majestic and kind of glorious, though it’s hard to put it into words. Gave us a proper turn , I can tell you. Still, he told us not to be afraid, that he’d got some important news to tell us. He said “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
It never occurred to us not to believe him – that’s how … different he was. There wasn’t time, anyway, because suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
After that we all said “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” and here we are. And here he is, the Saviour God’s been promising.
I don’t think anything will be the same now. Oh, I expect the ground will be as hard as ever, and the nights as cold, and the sheep as smelly. It’s just that knowing what has happened, that the Saviour really is here, it’s like having a bit of pure joy burning away inside. You can’t see it, but you know, and knowing changes the meaning of everything else. You can sort of catch glimpses of God out of the corner of your eye now that you know what to look for.
We’ll certainly be telling anyone we run into about this, as well. It’s not the kind of thing you can keep to yourself. Still,
If no-one watches flocks by night
they scatter all around
the dozy creatures wander off
and then they can’t be found.
So we need to go. Bye !
Song: It was on a starry night
[Shepherds leave during opening verse]
The Magi’s story
Rather like our shepherd friends who just left – you can close that window now, by the way – we didn’t find what we had expected.
When we saw in the stars what we thought was the announcement of a new king, we set off. And a cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year for a journey, and such a long journey.
We went to Herod, of course, and asked “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
We expected it to be his son, but it was obvious straight away that there was no patter of tiny feet in his palace and he called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, so Herod sent us on, but just before we left he called us for a private meeting, and asked for the time when the star first appeared. Then he told us, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
I must say we don’t feel entirely comfortable with that – he didn’t strike us as the worshipping sort.
Anyway the star we had seen in the east guided us here to Bethlehem, and stopped over this place where the child is. We were overjoyed to see it, because we had been thinking we had made a mistake. We came into the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and there was something about him. It’s hard to put into words, but we felt we had to bow down and worship him. And there was no question about withholding anything: we gave him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We had been confused, but now we are in no doubt that this boy really is a king and deserves our homage. It has certainly shaken up our beliefs about how the world works, and how God works. It makes the religion at home seem shabby and hollow. We are definitely not going to forget this, and we’re going to watch this king very carefully.
Still, they’ll be wondering at home where we’ve got to, and it’s a long way back, especially if we have to visit Herod on the way, so we’d best be setting off.
Song: Three Great Kings
[Magi leave during opening verse]
The family’s story (told by Mary)…
An angel visited me, too. He came out of nowhere and frightened me half to death. He said to me “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” and while I was trying to think what he could mean he told me not to be afraid and went on “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
It would have been easy not to believe him – I mean, I know where babies come from. But then, I hadn’t been sure I believed in angels before, and yet there he was.
I asked him about the baby thing, and he said to me “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.” and he told me about cousin Elizabeth.
Anyway, he was right about the baby, and that was just the beginning. Next there was Joseph. He was pretty upset, bless him: he knows where babies come from as well. But the angel spoke to him , and he’s been wonderful, though I imagine he’s had a difficult time from some of his friends.
Then there was all the excitement when Elizabeth’s baby John arrived six months ago, and soon after that, this awful census was announced, from the Emperor Augustus himself, apparently, so we had to come here to Bethlehem.
A few times I thought the baby was going to arrive along the way, especially when we had to trudge from place to place because all the inns were full.
But in the end this innkeeper let us use the stable, and the manger does fine as a cradle, though it’s not as nice as the one Joseph made back in Nazareth.
I thought the surprises were over for a while, but then all sorts of people started turning up – the ones who’ve just gone. I must say I’d like the time to think about all these things that have happened, and I’ll be glad to get home for a bit of peace and quiet, at least as much as you can have with a baby.
Joseph, dear, shall we start packing ?
Song: Away in a manger
[Family leave during opening verse]
The angels’ story…
It’s been a busy time for angels, what with appearing to Zechariah in the temple, telling Mary about her baby, and Joseph of course, and singing… Oh, the singing !
We’re God’s messengers you see. Of course, in the ordinary run of things God doesn’t need messengers, he just speaks to you himself: the voice of your conscience, someone else’s sorrow or need, the beauty of creation – he talks in all those ways if you would only listen.
But sometimes God needs to make absolutely sure you have got the message, and he can’t come himself because you wouldn’t be able to stand it, so he sends us – messengers, that’s what ‘angel’ means.
Did I just say God can’t come himself ? Well, that just shows how busy we are, I don’t know if I’m coming or going !
Because that’s exactly what he has done ! Come himself ! Think of it: that little baby – God Almighty ! Except we can’t really think of it – at least, I can’t, and I’m used to some pretty amazing stuff, so I expect you can’t either. Still, it’s happened.
When that baby grows up, he’ll be God speaking to you face to face. So I hope you’ll all pin back your ears and listen carefully.
Anyway, before then I need to warn those Magi not to go back to Herod, so I must dash. See you around.
Confession and absolution
Song: Calypso Carol
[Angels leave during opening verse]
Choristers: Do you hear what I hear ?
Intercessions and Lord’s Prayer
Closing prayer and blessing
Final song: Cradled in a manger, meanly
[Innkeeper leaves during opening verse and leads characters to porch during]