Crib Service 3: Who is welcome at the Crib?
Every year we try to do our Crib service a bit differently.
We try to balance the familiar with something that will challenge without being threatening. (It is Christmas Eve after all!)
It is all too easy to see the crib service as a fun event for children... and nothing more... Baby Jesus has become trapped in the manger. This special baby, surrounded by adoring shepherds and worshipping kings, can stay safely tucked up until next Christmas.
But to do this is to miss an opportunity. Our crib services are often the best attended services of the year.
Is it fair to those who come only once a year to leave them in ignorance of the Jesus who grew up to teach, heal and challenge? Is it enough to say that Jesus is special and never mention his death on the cross and his resurrection on Easter Day?
"Who is welcome at the crib?" is probably our most challenging crib service (so far!) It came out of a chance remark as to whether the congregation would consider someone living rough a suitable person to be part of the Christmas story.
You can download a PDF of the script here:
The crib service began with an opening prayer and the lighting of the Advent wreath.
Carol:Once in Royal David's city.
Leader:Tonight we are going back over 2000 years to Bethlehem, a little town in the hill country of Judea. As darkness falls a weary couple are making their way up the road. Will there be a welcome for them in this town that has taken three days to reach? Everywhere is full, but eventually a space is found for them with the animals.
Mary, Joseph and the donkey were placed in the crib
Leader:This is the moment when everything changes... the baby has been born... We will now put the baby Jesus in the crib.
Baby Jesus was placed in the crib
Outside Bethlehem on the dark hills, there were shepherds looking after their sheep. Suddenly a great light shone in the darkness. The shepherds were terrified...
Angel:Do not be afraid for I bring you good news of great joy. Today, in Bethlehem, a saviour has been born who is Christ the Lord. You will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
The angel was placed in the crib
Leader:The sky was filled with angels singing: "Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth." When the angels had gone, the sky was dark again.
The shepherds did as they had been told and made their way to Bethlehem.
The shepherds started to make their way to the crib but then...
(stepping out into the aisle)Wait! Stop! Hang on a moment! Look at you lot - dirty and smelly, sleeping rough all the time. The people in Bethlehem never want much to do with you. Will you be welcome at the crib? You'd better wait here.
The shepherds sat down in the aisle
Carol:It was on a starry night
Leader:Far, far, away a new star appeared in the east.
While the leader was speaking the star was carried forward to put in the crib
The learned men - the wise men - the magi studied the star. They knew it meant the birth of a king. The wise men chose to follow the star to find the baby king. After a long and weary journey they eventually arrived in Bethlehem
The wise men started to make their way to the crib...
(stepping out into the aisle)Wait! Stop! You are strangers here... foreigners... you don't even speak the same language. Will you be welcome at the crib? You'd better wait here.
The wise men sat down in the aisle
Leader:Who is welcome at the crib? The dirty shepherds or the rich foreigners? What about this family who have just been to the foodbank?
The family (mum, dad, two small children and their month old baby brother) started to move up the aisle. Dad carried a bag of food and the oldest child a tin as props
1st Speaker:Wait! Stop! This is a king, we have here. Do you think you are the right people to visit a king? Will you be welcome at the crib? You'd better wait here.
The family waited in the aisle
Leader:Who is welcome at the crib? What about this busy executive, rushing from meeting to meeting, constantly checking her phone?
The busy executive entered, complete with brief case and phone and rushed busily from side to side
2nd Speaker:Wait! Stop! Do you think you are the right person to visit the baby Jesus? Will you be welcome at the crib? You’d better wait here.
The busy executive waited in the aisle
Leader:Who is welcome at the crib? What about these children?
A group of noisy children entered. We had armed a couple with sticks and given instruments to the rest...
1st Speaker:Wait! Stop! Look at you all. Shouting, giggling, squabbling. Do you think you will be welcome at the crib? You'd better wait here.
The children waited
Leader:Who is welcome at the crib? Who is welcome to visit the baby Jesus, the king of kings, the saviour of the world? Are any of us welcome at the crib?
3rd Speaker:We are all welcome. For this is just the beginning of the story. The baby Jesus grew up to be a man. He came alongside all kinds of people – rich tax collectors, outcast lepers, Roman soldiers, blind people, women, little children... He died on the cross...
Whilst talking the speaker collected the baby Jesus from the crib and moved to stand next to different people in the congregation
The west door was flung open and the cross was carried up the aisle to the crib
Leader:But even that is not the end of the story for on Easter Day Jesus rose from the dead...
He is now in every time and every place, ready to welcome all of us... shepherds and wise men, rich and poor, old and young, friend and stranger – all are welcome to the crib... even these two who have tried so hard to stop others from coming to the crib.
We are going to invite the shepherds and the magi, the poor family, the busy executive and these noisy children to make their way to the crib while we sing the next carol.
Carol:Girls and boys, leave your toys, make no noise...
Shepherds, wise men, family, busy executive, children and the two speakers all came forward to kneel around the crib.
Leader:So now we all come to Bethlehem. We come as people have come all through the ages to follow the Christ child because everyone in all times and all places is welcome at the crib. We ask all the children to come forward now. Bring your wooden people to place around the manger.
The children came forward, bringing with them the wooden people that they had been given on arrival to place in the crib.
Carol:Away in a manger (first verse sung by the children only)
This was followed by short prayers and the Lord's Prayer
Carol:In the bleak mid-winter
Blessing and dismissal
How well did it work?
As the first speaker stepped forward and held up his hand to stop the shepherds from reaching the crib, there was a sudden moment of silence.
For most of the congregation, children and adults, this was completely unexpected and they waited expectantly to see what would happen next.
They were more prepared for the second speaker but still attentive...
A few of the parts (foodbank family, busy executive) had been chosen beforehand; most parts were given out as the children came into church. We did tell them that they would be stopped and where to sit down and wait.
We had wondered if this year's script would be too challenging for the congregation - that they would not expect issues such as poverty, foreigners and social exclusion to be mentioned on Christmas Eve! However they did not seem to have a problem with it; many of them come regularly each year so perhaps they have come to trust us.
Many of the children who came had been along to our Christmas event - either with school or as part of our Footsteps project. We had talked of the shepherds as the dispossessed, almost outcast members of society and explored what this meant today with stories of refugees and homelessness.
Originally we had thought to include someone sleeping rough but felt that this would be too close to the shepherds' role and instead went for a family who had just been to a foodbank. The busy executive was chosen as a contrast - someone who was neither a king nor in poverty but part of today's culture. We had considered including a few other characters (teenagers for example) but felt it would make the service too long. (Also we have very few teens...)
We estimated that we had around 70 children. At times it did feel chaotic (for example settling the children to sing "Away in a Manger"). However the service felt more structured than previous years and flowed smoothly, even when the nave was crammed with 30 or so adults and children who had been stopped from going to the crib!
with thanks to Philip Tait and the rest of the team
For instructions on how to make these Crib figures: Click here