No-Rehearsal Christmas Pageant
Kelly: Each year, on this particular Sunday, we tell a familiar story. A story which has been told and retold in many different ways over the many long centuries of its existence. Today, we are going to tell that same story again, but in a new way. This morning, we are the audience, and we are also the players. Our pageant will unfold in six scenes, and before each one I’m going to ask for volunteers for each new part in the play. Once you’ve taken on a part, please head to the rear of the sanctuary where Rose, our costume-coordinator, is waiting to help you dress for your role. I’m the stage-manager this morning, so I’ll be giving you instructions on where to go and some hints about what to do. Don’t worry if you don’t know your lines – you didn’t miss any rehearsals because there weren’t any. But I’ll give you the words to say, when it’s time. For any role you take on, your job is to embody it – to look and act, even without words, as though you are that character. If you’re a king, try to stand or sit in the way you think a king would. If you’re a shepherd, try to act like a shepherd. If you’re an animal, try to move like an animal – reserving the noises for when they’re called for, please. And for all of us, whether we choose to take on a role or not, our part in all of this is to enjoy this time together, and to offer each other grace and understanding: we are trying something new, so let us be gentle and compassionate with one another. We will try to find someone for every role, and a role for everyone who wants one. And if one particular part is so popular that we need to have two or three people play the same character at the same time, it’s okay. Remember: we are telling a story together; it’s meant to be fun.
To begin our story, I need to know if there’s anyone who would like to help out as a narrator. You don’t get a costume, but you do get a lot of lines.
This first scene has two characters in it. So we need an archangel Gabriel: you’re only in one scene, but it’s a very important one, and you get to play the voice of God!
And we need a Mary. Mary is the most important character in this story; as Jesus’ mother, the story of his birth is fundamentally her story. Keep in mind, if you’re Mary you’re in four out of six scenes, and you’ll have to spend a lot of time sitting still with a lot of people looking at you.
While they get their costumes on, we can begin with the Narrator.
Narrator: As Unitarian Universalists, our congregation shares and celebrates many religious stories and traditions. The story of the birth of the teacher Jesus is one of these many stories, one beloved by and meaningful to countless people all over the world, and many of us here in this community. It is a story of faith, and courage, generosity, and awe.
This story comes primarily from two sources. The Christian Bible has four Gospels – four accounts of the life of Jesus. Two of them have nothing to say about his childhood – the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus as an adult, about to begin his ministry, while the Gospel of John begins before the beginning of the universe itself. Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke talk about how Jesus came to be born, and each with different details. The traditional Christmas story blends these two accounts – shepherds from Luke, wise men from Matthew – into a single version. The version we will now tell.
Kelly: Mary and Gabriel to the front now, please. If you’ll just wait by the organ console.
The Annunciation to Mary (Mary, Gabriel)
Narrator: This is the story of the birth of Jesus. His mother, Mary, was a young woman just engaged to be married, living in a village far from here.
Kelly: Mary, please come stand in front, and get ready for some big news.
Narrator: One day, she was visited by the angel Gabriel and was told of Jesus’ impending arrival.
Kelly: Gabriel, please repeat after me. “Mary, you have found favor with god.”
Gabriel: Mary, you have found favor with god.
Kelly: “You shall bear a son and name him Jesus,”
Gabriel: “You shall bear a son and name him Jesus,”
Kelly: “and to his kingdom, there will be no end.”
Gabriel: “and to his kingdom, there will be no end.”
Kelly: Now Mary, give me your best surprised look and say, “How can this be?”
Mary: How can this be?
Kelly: Gabriel, please say. “Nothing is impossible with god.”
Gabriel: Nothing is impossible with god.
Kelly: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”
Gabriel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”
Kelly: “The child you bear will be blessed.”
Gabriel: “The child you bear will be blessed.”
Kelly: Okay, Mary, this is your big moment. Everything turns on your decision here. Is it acceptance, resignation, joy? Your choice. Please say, “I am the Lord’s servant.
Mary: I am the Lord’s servant.
Kelly: “May it be as you have said.”
Mary: May it be as you have said.
Narrator: And so Mary became pregnant, and she and her future husband, Joseph, made plans to raise her miraculous child together.
Kelly: That completes our first scene – the players may return to their seats, though Mary, you may not want to go far. For our next scene, I’ll need a volunteer to be Caesar Augustus, the emperor of Rome. We will now sing, What Child is This?
First Carol - What Child is This?
Caesar’s Decree (Caesar)
Kelly: Caesar, if you would please make your entrance down the left aisle – there’s a special seat here waiting for you, decorated with purple and gold. Feel free to be as grand as you like. Wave to the people. You are the emperor; you rule over virtually all of the world as you know it.
Narrator: At this same time, Caesar Augustus ruled the Roman Empire, and the Roman army had conquered the nation of Judea, and the area of the Galilee, where Mary lived. Caesar had more wealth and more power than nearly anyone else in history, and all of the subjects of his empire had to obey his commands. One day, he issued ordered that a count be taken of all the people under his control.
Kelly: Caesar, please stand or gesture like you are giving an important order. You don’t need to actually say it – people as important as you can have others read their orders for them. Here, the narrator will.
Narrator: By decree of the Emperor, all families under Roman rule shall be counted, so that they may be taxed. All persons of the Empire are to register in the city of their birth.
Kelly: Thank you, Caesar. Your very important and heavy job is now completed. You may now relax in your special seat and spend the rest of the pageant pretending to eat grapes, or the like.
In our next scene, we’ll need Mary back, and we’ll also need a volunteer to be Joseph, and three different innkeepers.
We will now sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem.
Second Carol - O Little Town of Bethlehem
No Room at the Inn (Mary, Joseph, Innkeeper)
Kelly: Now we need our three innkeepers at the front of the sanctuary. One on the right, one in the middle, and one on the left. Mary and Joseph, please come down the right aisle and stop at the first innkeeper.
Narrator: Mary and Joseph, being of the house of David, were among those who had to register in Bethlehem. Mary was expecting a child but she had to go with Joseph as Caesar had decreed.
After their long journey, they arrived in Bethlehem to find the town full of people. There were no vacancies at any of the inns.
Kelly: First innkeeper, please show me your best expression of turning somebody away. Joseph and Mary, how do you feel being told there’s no room for you? Sad, angry? Show us. Then go onto the second innkeeper, for the same response, and finally on to the third.
Narrator: But at the last inn they visited, although there was no room, the person who greeted them showed mercy and compassion for two people in a very difficult situation. They were given a place in the stable to spend the night, where at least there was shelter and a safe place to lie down.
Kelly: Mary and Joseph, please thank the kind innkeeper. The three of you can go together to find the place in the stable, but for the moment just to sit down for a bit, as this is the end of our scene.
Third Carol - Away in a Manger
Kelly: (Before Offertory) The next scene is a big one – one more angel, and as many shepherds and animals as you might like.
The Annunciation to the Shepherds (Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Animals, an Angel)
Kelly: Joseph and Mary please come forward again and take your places up here in our stable area. There should be a special bundle waiting for you there. Your job for the rest of the show is to look happy and tired and try to be polite while too many people come to visit you: pretty normal stuff for brand new parents.
Shepherds and animals, please come down the left aisle and wait there. Angel, please come stand in front.
Narrator: Joseph took Mary into the stable the innkeeper had shown them, and made a place for her to lie down.
She soon delivered a child…a boy like the angel had foretold…and she named him Jesus. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and lay him in a manger.
It was a beautiful still night on the hills outside Bethlehem where the shepherds were tending their sheep.
Kelly: Shepherds, you’re shepherding. It’s late at night, you’re tired. Animals you’re grazing, maybe sleeping. Now everyone together turn and look, see the angel and repeat after me. “Oh what is THAT?”
All Shepherds together: Oh what is THAT?
Kelly: Angel, please repeat after me. “Do not be afraid.”
Angel: Do not be afraid.
Kelly: “I bring you news of great joy.”
Angel: I bring you news of great joy.”
Kelly: “Unto you this night in the city of David, a child is born.”
Angel: Unto you this night in the city of David, a child is born.
Kelly: “You will find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Angel: You will find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Narrator: Then there was a beautiful sound. The shepherds looked up to see a sky full of heavenly angels singing joyfully.
Kelly: Those angels will be played by all of us, together. Please join me in singing Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
Fourth Carol - Hark the Herald Angels Sing
The Adoration of the Shepherds (Shepherds, Animals, Mary, Joseph)
Narrator: The shepherds and their flocks went searching for the child that the angels had spoken of, and they found him and his parents, Mark and Joseph, in the stable where they were resting.
Kelly: Shepherds and animals, please come forward and find places near – but not too near – the family where you can admire and appreciate them.
Narrator: From far away, those who had heard the news came to see the baby Jesus. Even the poor and meek came to the stable. They brought their congratulations to the happy family, and the simple gifts they had to share: food and drink, a blanket or two. From some folks, all they had to share was a song; each gave what they could.
Kelly: Now we need some magi, some wise men or wise folks. Hopefully we can find three, at least. And we need a Herod, the local king. And finally, we need someone to carry the star. You can go get your costumes as we sing O Come All Ye Faithful.
Fifth Carol - O Come All Ye Faithful
The Magi and Herod (Magi, Herod, the Star)
Kelly: Magi and the star, please wait at the right aisle, but don’t come down it, yet. Herod, please come take your reserved seat here on the right aisle. It’s marked with gold, too, although it’s not as pretty as Caesar’s. Caesar, why don’t you give Herod a wave, to remind him that he has to do whatever you say.
Narrator: Now at the time, a bitter man named Herod was king of Judea. Although the Romans controlled all of ancient Israel, they allowed Herod to rule over it as king, so long as he did what they told him to. Herod clung desperately to the fragile little bit of power that he had. Thus he was not pleased to hear that three Magi had come from the East looking for a king who was to be born in Bethlehem. They had seen a certain unusual star in the sky, and believed it meant the coming of the messiah. Herod grew angry at the news, but he was always on the look-out for threats to his power and privilege. So he invited the Magi in to meet with him, and pretended to be just as excited as they were.
Kelly: Magi and the star, please come down the aisle to meet with Herod. Smile. Bow. Shake hands. Pretend to laugh at each others’ jokes. Everything is happy. You are all friends here. You all want the same thing. Herod isn’t secretly plotting to do something terrible to the child when you find it. Not at all.
Narrator: Herod sent the Magi on their way to follow the star to Bethlehem, but asked them to return with this newborn messiah. He said that he wanted to honor it with them, even though he actually wanted to protect his position from anyone else who might replace him as king of Judea.
Kelly: Now we will sing We Three Kings, and as we sing the star and the Magi will walk around and around the outside of the sanctuary, making their way to this little stable in Bethlehem.
Sixth Carol - We Three Kings
The Adoration of the Magi (Magi, the Star, Shepherds, Animals, Mary, Joseph)
Narrator: The Magi followed the star that led them to Bethlehem and the stable where Jesus was to be found. They came from far away lands – exactly where, the Gospels do not say, although Babylonia and Persia, Iraq and Iran today, are often given as their traditional origin.
When they arrived to find Jesus and Mary and Joseph already surrounded by visitors, they knew they had found what they were looking for. To Jesus and his family, they gave gifts of great value, fit for a king: rare and expensive perfumes, frankincense and myrrh, and gold, of course.
Kelly: Magi, please give your gifts to the family, looking appropriately happy, excited, and filled with awe. Star, if you could just sort of hang out over everything, that’d be great.
Narrator: The Magi fell to their knees before Mary and the baby, honoring him and presenting their gifts. In a dream, they were warned never to return to Herod’s palace so they returned by a different route.
The Christmas story teaches us that greatness can come from humble beginnings, and that miracles can come to ordinary people. It celebrates the miracle of birth, and the miracle of spiritual awakening. It reminds us that every child born is a child of god and a precious part of the web of life.
Merry Christmas. God bless us everyone.
Kelly: And now to close our pageant and our service we will sing together, Silent Night.
Seventh Carol - Silent Night