Crib Service 4: Light in the dark
Each year our crib service begins with Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem for the Roman census. But is this really the beginning of the story?
In her book "Offering the Gospel to Children" Gretchen Wolff Pritchard describes their Christmas pageant which begins with the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the forbidden tree and being thrown out of the garden.
The birth of Jesus takes place in this much wider narrative of God's relationship with his people.
We wondered about doing something similar, that went back to the beginning and showed the story as a whole.
However, their pageant took place with church children, who would have some understanding of the story of Adam and Eve and how their story is the story of us all. In contrast the children and adults who come to our crib service have little or no connection with church. Adam and Eve are regarded as cliché figures in our secular culture; there is more focus on their nakedness than on their disobedience to God.
We still wanted to start at the beginning but felt we would need to work more symbolically, if we wanted the congregation to understand something of the meaning of the incarnation.
You can download a PDF of the script: here
As each child arrived they were given a symbol of creation: animals, flowers, trees, light, hearts etc cut out and stuck onto lolly sticks
Carol:O Little Town of Bethlehem
Leader:In the beginning the world was good. There was light and love, trees and flowers, animals and birds ... If you have been given something to wave, stand up and wave it now.
(Children stood up in their places, or on pews, and waved flames, stars, plants etc)
There were all these things... and there were people... and the world was very good...
(Adult and child figures were carried to the front by adults, teens and children. We did not want to give the impression that it is only children who are responsible for turning away from God )
But then things went wrong. The people turned away from God. They began to do things that hurt each other and hurt God...
(People and child figures were taken to the back. The people stood with their backs to the crib scene, facing the west door)
It seemed as if the world had become a cold dark place. The people felt sad and lonely.
(Lights and heaters(!) were turned off except for the light over the altar at the east end)
But God did not turn away from the people... He sent his prophets to tell the people that He was still with them...
And then he sent his Son, Jesus to be born as a baby in Bethlehem.
(Baby Jesus, wrapped in gold organza and netting, was carried down from the altar to the west door. As He passed the lights and heaters were put back on. The music of Make Way was played over the sound system)
It was as if light and warmth and love had come back into the world...
Carol:It was on a starry night
Leader:The baby was born to the Mother Mary. (Mary, Joseph, baby and donkey were taken to the crib, accompanied by the gold organza wrapped baby Jesus.) She and her husband Joseph were the first to know that God had sent us his son Jesus. Mary put the baby in the manger and she remembered what the angel had said:
Voice 1:Jesus's kingdom will never end...
Leader:That night there were shepherds in the dark fields above Bethlehem, watching over their sheep. A bright light shone around them and then a voice cried out to them:
Voice 1:I bring you good news that will be for all people. Today in Bethlehem a Saviour has been born unto you, he is Christ the Lord.
Leader:So the shepherds made their way to Bethlehem, where they found the baby Jesus, the Son of God. They knelt down and worshipped him. (Shepherds and angel were taken to the crib)
Carol:See him lying in a bed of straw
Leader:In a far off country, the wise men, the magi looked at the skies. They saw the brilliant shining star and they knew what it meant. They travelled for many days until they reached the city of Jerusalem, where they asked the question:
Voice 2:Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.
Leader:When they found Jesus, they too knelt down and worshipped him. They gave him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. (The wise men were taken to the crib)
But what about the people who had turned away from God?
Jesus is their Lord too. God sent Jesus so that everyone might have the chance to turn back to God, to be forgiven and to know God's love and warmth and light. (The people at the back turned around and carried the adult and child figures to the crib)
We are now going to ask all the children to come forward bringing their symbols of light, love and all creation to place around 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:O come all ye faithful
Blessing and dismissal
How well did it work?
There was a moment of shock when we turned off not only the lights but the heaters. Previously when we had tried to dim the lights in our church we were left in a bright red glow from the overhead radiant heaters. This time as the heaters faded there was a real change in the feel of the church.
It was hard to gauge the reaction of the congregation as the child picked up the gold wrapped baby and began her long walk down the chancel and into the nave. "Walk slowly," I had said to her. So had the churchwarden, the organist and about half a dozen other people...
She did. It was her decision to lift the baby high, trailing his golden cloths.
For me, the combination of the child bringing the infant Christ towards me with lights and heaters coming on behind her and the Make Way music was very moving.
"Make way, make way
For Christ the King
In splendour arrives!"
One problem we had was with the baby. Our crib baby was too tiny to use and we wanted the congregation to recognise it as a baby so we used a doll. It did leave us with the problem of what to do with the baby afterwards. I did have some vague idea of using the baby to accompany some of the crib figures back and forth but it didn't really work. On reflection I think perhaps he should have been placed in a crib at the back of the church or carried back to the altar.
with thanks to Philip Tait, Annabel Berridge and the rest of the team
For instructions on how to make these Crib figures: Click here