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A Dramatic Nativity (Christmas 2)

July 1, 2010

This lesson begins the Christmas pageant prep in earnest (although I think it would still be a good lesson without a pageant in the future) by getting students involved in a dramatization of the story.  The script includes suggested stage directions but what will work for you obviously depends on the layout of your space.  For reference, I wrote this while thinking of a church with a centre aisle, two side aisles, and a choir area in front the altar.

The script can be performed by one or more narrators doing all the speaking, including the dialogue.  If you have older or eager or reliable actors, you could have them speak the dialogue.  It would also work for Mary and Joseph, for example, to say their lines but have the narrator(s) read everyone else’s.

The number of actors can be increased by adding sheep, angels, and barn animals.  These actors can even be added minutes before the pageant starts if you have some extra halos or animal ears on hand – something I highly recommend.  It can be reduced by cutting out Herod and the innkeeper (i.e. just reading about them). Don’t forget that you can use adult actors, too – there’s something really lovely about intergenerational Christmas pageants, in my opinion.

You can cut the whole pageant by ending it before the wise ones make their appearance.  In that case, don’t send the shepherds off stage before bringing the whole cast out for the final song.

The next lesson will talk about Christmas music and add some songs into the script.

Things to know about this lesson;

  • You do not need to prepare any materials!
  • You do need to give some thought to where you will “stage” the story in the Sunday School space.
  • You also should think about how you will distribute parts.  Are you simply going to assign them?  Do the students present have a say?  Knowing how you want to handle it in advance will help head off any conflict over who plays what.
  • A PDF of all four Christmas lessons/pageant:  The Christmas Story (and Pageant).

A Dramatic Nativity


Open with prayer. (see tip sheet)

Introduce the Story

(If this is your first lesson on the Christmas story, you might like to use all or part of the introduction from A Modern Day Nativity.)

Who can remember what happens in the Christmas story? (help the group identify the key elements of the story)

Can you show me how Mary felt when the angel told her about Jesus? How about how Joseph felt when he heard that Mary was pregnant? When the angel came to him? How did they feel on their journey to Bethlehem? (Continue through the emotions in the story).

Today we are going to begin getting ready for the Christmas pageant by acting out the story as I read it. I’ll read it slowly and we can decide what should happen as we go along. Be sure to show lots of emotion!

Distribute roles (these needn’t be the final actors) and designate a stage area. Read the story and help the group act it out (without speaking parts). Go through it a few times until it can be performed with minimal prompting from you. Remember that this isn’t an actual practice so don’t worry about whether the staging is “right” – the directions given below are simply to help out.

Act the Story

[Mary is sitting centre stage, perhaps pretending to sew]

God sent the angel Gabriel to a young woman named Mary who lived in the town of Nazareth.

[Gabriel enters and stands beside Mary. They look at each other as if in conversation]

Mary was frightened when she saw the angel but he said, “Do not be afraid, Mary – God is happy with you! You are going to have a baby and you will call him Jesus. This baby will become a great man and people will call him the Son of God.”

Mary was very surprised and very confused. She asked the angel, “How is this possible? I am a virgin.”

The angel explained, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you for nothing is impossible with God! The baby will be holy. He will be called the Son of God.”

Mary still didn’t really understand but she said, “I am God’s servant. Let it be as you said.”

[Angel turns back to audience. Mary leaves the stage. Joseph enters and lies down at centre stage]

At this time, Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendent of King David. When Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, he was very angry and sad and he decided to break the engagement off.

[Angel turns to face audience, looks down on sleeping Joseph]

But that night, an angel of God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, do not be afraid to marry Mary and do not be sad or angry about the baby. He comes from the Holy Spirit. You will name him Jesus and he will save his people from their sins.”

[Angel leaves. Joseph wakes up and leaves the stage]

When Joseph woke up, he did as God had told him, even though he didn’t understand it any better than Mary did.

[Mary and Joseph make their way quietly to the back of the church and then return, walking slowly up the centre aisle, while the narrator continues]

While Mary was still pregnant, the Emperor Augustus decided he needed to count everyone in the country. Everyone had to go to the town their family came from to be counted so Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem. It was a long way from Nazareth to Bethlehem and it took them a long time to get there. They were both very tired when they finally arrived – and poor Mary was completely exhausted.

[Mary and Joseph meet the innkeeper at the top of the aisle]

To make matters worse, all the hotels and inns were full because of all the people travelling around because of the Emperor’s order. No one had any room for even two more tired travellers. Finally, they found someone who let them sleep in his barn with the animals.

[Mary and Joseph continue to centre stage and take their places in the ‘barn’]

Mary and Joseph didn’t care – they were just glad to be somewhere warm and dry where they could get some rest. But they didn’t get very much rest that night because that was the night that Mary gave birth to a baby – to their son – to the Son of God – to Jesus.

After Jesus was born, Mary wrapped him in cloths and Joseph put clean straw in a manager, an animal feedbox. Jesus fell asleep and Mary laid him in the manger.  Mary and Joseph could hardly believe what had happened. They could hardly take their eyes off their new son.

[Shepherds enter (perhaps beyond or to the side of the sleeping family – ideally, they would face the choir)]

For the shepherds in Bethlehem, though, that night was just like any other night. They were outside in the fields, watching their sheep to make sure that nothing hurt them in the dark.

[Angel enters and stands in front of shepherds]

Suddenly, a bright light appeared in the sky and they saw an angel standing in front of them. The shepherds were terrified but the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I have joyful news for the whole world. The Lord’s chosen one, the saviour of the world, was born today in Bethlehem. You will find him wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

[the choir of angels (perhaps the actual choir?) joins the angel]

Then a whole choir of angels appeared, praising God and saying

Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth.

[angels sit/leave]

When the angels had gone, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem to see this baby that the Lord has told us about!”

[shepherds go to family and kneel before them]

They hurried to Bethlehem and found the barn with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. They knelt down before them and gave thanks to God for the gift of the baby Jesus.

[shepherds leave]

Then the shepherds returned to their sheep, praising God and telling everyone about the amazing things they had seen.

[The star is held up at the front of the church (perhaps by a server) and the wise ones begin walking up the centre aisle]

Soon after Jesus was born, some people from the East came to Jerusalem. These were people who knew how to read messages in the stars and they had seen a special star rise – the star of the new King of the Jews, Jesus.

[Herod stands from his place in a pew near the front and pretends to talk to his neighbours]

King Herod was the king in Jerusalem in those days and, when he heard about what these wise people were saying, he got worried about this new king. He asked his advisors where the new king would have been born. His advisors told him that the prophets said that a special ruler who would take care of all the people would be born in Bethlehem.

[wise ones reach Herod’s pew and ‘talk’ to Herod]

Herod called the wise people to a secret meeting and found out when they had first seen the star. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search for the baby and then tell me where he is. I want to go visit him, too.”

[wise ones continue to the holy family and kneel down]

The wise people set off and, there, ahead of them, was the star. It shone down on the place where the baby Jesus was. The wise people were filled with joy and they went in and saw Jesus with Mary and Joseph. They knelt down and gave them expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

[wise ones leave]

When the wise people left, they did not return to Jerusalem and they did not tell Herod where the baby was. They were wise and they knew that old kings do not often like new kings very much.

Mary and Joseph never forgot the wonderful events of that night, the night when their son, Jesus, the Saviour of the World, was born.

[The whole cast returns for photo op/applause and to lead the congregation in a closing song.]

Discussion/Regrouping

If you have time after running through the story enough times that people can do it smoothly or are bored:

Do you have any questions about the story?

What is your favourite part of the story? Why?

Who is your favourite person in the story? Why?

Remind the group of when the pageant will be, as well as any other rehearsals you are scheduling. If you need people to bring supplies for sets or costumes, start asking now.  This may also be a good time to assign roles for the actual pageant, if you haven’t already done so.

Closing Prayer

Dear God, thank you for the power of drama. May we enter into the story of Jesus’ birth through our gifts of imagination and acting. Amen.

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