Crib Service 1: Bethlehem and beyond

For many years we held a traditional crib service on Christmas Eve.

We have wonderful large crib figures, made out of fabric and cardboard by local schoolchildren, and we used a script based on Jerome Berryman's Children's Liturgy for Christmas Eve. (The Complete Guide to Godly Play)

But the words and figures, though beautiful, somehow did not seem quite enough. For many of the 250 members of the congregation, this was the one time in the year when they came to church.

We felt that it was hard for them to listen to the words, especially if they were sitting next to wildly excited children who knew that tomorrow was Christmas Day.

Instead of both children and adults being able to reflect more deeply on the service, they were taking away the typical picture of Christmas: the baby safely in the manger surrounded by worshipping shepherds and kings, the belief that "Christmas is really for the children."

We decided that we needed to review our existing service with regard to making changes that would encourage reflection on the deeper meaning of Christmas but without losing the magic of the Crib service.

You can download a PDF of the script: here

The Crib

We began as usual with narrating the story of Mary and Joseph's travels to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the shepherds and the arrival of the wise men interspersed with carols. The children carried the Crib figures up and they were placed in the stable, set up on the altar table. Then the focus changed. We introduced the next part of the service with these words:

"So here we are in Bethlehem. The baby Jesus lies cosily in his manger, the shepherds and wise men kneel before him in worship. It would be easy to see this as the end of the story.

But this is only the beginning. The baby grew up to be a man, and he died on the cross. But even that is not the end for on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. He is now in every time and every place.

Where will you find Jesus this Christmas night?

We pray that you will find him here in this church. But you will also find him walking the roads of this world, comforting the sad, healing the sick, walking beside the lonely. Tonight we are going to take him out into the world."

The procession

We formed up a procession, explaining the symbolism as we did so.

One of the teenagers carried our large wooden cross to remind us that Jesus died and rose again to save the world. Following him came a child carrying the baby Jesus, who was born in a manger. Another child carried the dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, to remind us that God is always with us.

Two of our smallest children carried the child figures from the crib, symbols of ourselves as we follow Jesus. And finally came a teenager carrying a lantern, reminding us that Jesus is the light of the world.

As the congregation sang the first three verses of the Calypso carol "See him lying in a bed of straw" we dimmed the lights, and the procession made its way down the nave and out the west door into the night.

As the carol finished there was a loud knock on the south door. The congregation fell silent and into the silence a voice cried out:

"Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into them."

The Leader responded with: "Let us open the door. Let us let Jesus in - into our church, our homes and our lives this Christmas."

As the procession re-entered we sang the final verse of the Calypso carol and turned up the lights. The service finished with the singing of "O come all ye faithful" while all the children in the church brought up silver stars to place around the manger.

How well did it work?

The complete silence that followed the knock at the door as the procession prepared to re-enter was unexpected. The voice proclaiming "Behold I stand at the door and knock" was extremely moving, as was seeing the cross silhouetted against the open doorway as the procession took Jesus away from the cosy stable and out into the world .

We felt though that the impact of the procession was not as great as it might have been as the congregation tended to face forwards and only saw the procession as it passed by. I also felt that I could have done more to emphasise the symbolism of the procession. This problem was partly due to trying to lead and organise the procession at the same time; we felt in future it would work better if the person sorting out the logistics (who lines up where!) was not also involved in leading the service.

For instructions on how to make these Crib figures: Click here