Crib Service 2: Travelling together
The first of our new style Crib Services (Bethlehem and beyond) went well.
We wanted to carry on offering more to the congregation than the cosy Christmas card image of the baby Jesus in the stable and everyone living happily ever after. We wanted them to understand something of the incarnation; that the journey that began in Bethlehem would continue to the cross, and beyond the cross to the resurrection.
We also wanted to distinguish between Christmas and Epiphany; we would introduce the wise men but leave them on their journey rather than place them in the stable.
We began by building the crib. The leader introduced the service and then we followed the format of narrative; placing figures in the crib; prayer; carol.
Building the Crib: Liturgy
Leader:We are going on a journey, back over 2,000 years to the little town of Bethlehem in the hill country near Jerusalem. It is very crowded tonight.
The Roman Emperor has called for everyone to go back to the place where they were born, to be counted.
But tonight is special. For tonight God’s promised Messiah will be born here in Bethlehem... Now is the time...
Prayer:Lord Jesus, we come here tonight to remember your birth. As we gather before your crib, prepare our hearts to welcome you as our Saviour and our Lord.
Reading 1: Mary and the angel:
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a young girl called Mary – and she was scared.
And he said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for God has decided to wonderfully bless you. And now is the time… you will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He shall be very great and shall be called the Son of God."
Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
The angel said to her, "Nothing is impossible with God."
Then Mary said, "I am the Lord's servant; May everything you said come true."
The angel is placed in the stable
Prayer:Loving Father, Mary was unsure and afraid when she heard the angel's message, but she said yes to you. Help us to say yes, like Mary, so that your love can be shown in all the world, in Jesus name.
Carol:The Virgin Mary had a baby boy
Reading 2: The journey to Bethlehem
Now is the time that Joseph has to travel to Bethlehem, so he took Mary, who was pregnant. It was a long way so she rode on a donkey.
When they arrived all the rooms were already full and there was nowhere for them to stay. Eventually an inn-keeper lent them his stable, where the animals were sleeping.
Mary and Joseph are placed in the stable
Prayer:Loving Father, Mary and Joseph had to leave their home and set out, not knowing where they would stay. Be close to people today who have left their homes and who have no proper home to stay in, and bless those who welcome them, in Jesus name.
Reading 3: In the stable
There in the stable, Mary said Now is the time... And her baby boy was born. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger.
Jesus is placed in the crib
Prayer:Lord Jesus Christ, Child of Bethlehem, lying in a manger, we thank you for coming to be born for us, at Christmas. As we worship you here this night, help us also to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.
Carol:O Little Town of Bethlehem
Reading 4: The shepherd's king
That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and the hills shone bright with the glory of the Lord.
They were very frightened, but the angel reassured them. "Don't be afraid!" he said. "I bring you the most joyful news, and it is for everyone! The Saviour, your promised King, has been born tonight in Bethlehem! You will find a him lying in a manger. Go and see!"
The shepherds said to each other: "Now is the time to go and see..."
The shepherds are placed in the stable
Prayer:Loving Father, you sent Jesus to bring your love to all. Help us to show your love to each other, and especially to the people, like the shepherds, who do not expect to be included, so that they too may rejoice in the coming of your Son.
The children are invited to come up to the crib
Carol:Away in a manger
The children return to their seats
We had two processions in which our church children took part. The first procession was the star, followed by the wise men carrying the figures of the wise men. The second procession was a large wooden cross, followed by children dressed as people from different times and places. This procession left quietly by a side door and re-entered through the west door and up the nave.
Leader:Far, far away, the Magi, the wise men saw a different star in the sky. They had spent their lives studying the stars and they knew that the new star meant the birth of a special king. They set off on their journey, following the star to find the newborn king.
The first procession, the star followed by the wise men, processes down the nave and out by the north door
Carol:O Come All Ye Faithful (first two verses only)
The first procession re-enters the church by the west door and processes up the nave
Leader:The wise men have journeyed far, across desert and wild lands to reach Bethlehem, the place where the baby was born. Their journey has taken so long that they will not get here tonight. They have to wait till Epiphany. We will place them on their way, still following the star.
Carol:O Come All Ye Faithful (third verse only)
The wise men are placed on their way to Bethlehem
Leader:But what about us? Are we looking for the baby Jesus this Christmas? No, our search is different. For Jesus grew up and became a man. He walked the dusty roads of Palestine, healing and storytelling and showing everyone the Kingdom of God. He died upon the cross, and rose again and is with us now in a new way, a way that has changed the world for ever.
We join with people from all times and all places to follow not a star but a man carrying a cross. And now is the time, the right time, to meet with Jesus...
The second procession enters through the west door and processes up the nave
The Acclamation:For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace...
Carol:O Come All Ye Faithful (reprise of first verse only)
Prayer:Let us pray that God our Father will bless this crib: God our Father, on this night your Son Jesus Christ was born of his mother Mary for us and for our salvation. Bless this crib, which we have prepared to celebrate his holy birth; may we and all who see it be strengthened in faith and share in the fullness of life that he came to bring, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Carol:Once in Royal David's City
Blessing and Dismissal
How well did it work?
The contrasting images of the star and the cross worked very well. We had had a few years focussing only on the journey of the wise men in the procession, so the congregation were not expecting the cross and there was a moment of realisation as the second procession made its way up the nave.
In previous years the acclamation was proclaimed by a strong male voice from the back of the church. This year due to illness, several key members were not present and the acclamation was read by a child. Although he read it well, it was read from the front and did not have the same impact as in the past.
I would have liked more time to prepare the children for the procession, but we have very few family services in Advent and there wasn't really an opportunity.
An interesting sidelight was that the leader sent all the children who were to take up the figures to the back of the church to wait their turn. The singing at this service is never as strong as it might be, probably because most of the congregation are not church goers and are wary of singing in public. However, the children had learnt Little Donkey at school and sang out confidently. This not only encouraged nearby members of the congregation to sing, but also made them feel more involved in a service where because of the building they were a long way away from the crib.
For instructions on how to make these Crib figures: Click here
with thanks to Ann Gurner for the "Building the Crib" Liturgy