This past Christmas was my first in a new congregation. I inherited the early worship service on Christmas Eve. This service is intended to be family focused, and comes with the long standing tradition of having ALL children in attendance dress up and participate in the service in some way, usually in an adaptation of a pageant.
I was torn. More than once, I have learned the important lesson of honoring tradition in a congregation. However, I also had no idea of what this particular tradition looked like, nor did I know what to expect on Christmas Eve. How many kids would be there? How many would be the children I knew from Sunday morning worship and how many would be new to our congregation? With so many unknowns, how would I coordinate the children’s participation in our worship service in a way that was meaningful for everyone in attendance? I was incredibly tempted to abandon the whole thing but was not particularly interested in learning that lesson again.
I found out that the tradition on Christmas Eve is that children are invited to choose the part they would like in the Nativity Story. They do this by choosing one of three headpieces laid out on tables in the narthex. Angels wear garland halos. Wise people have crowns made of cardstock, with stick on jewels. Shepherds sport striped fabric headdresses with a knotted piece of rope glued in place on the fabric.
In my preparations I discovered a great idea! I would love to tell you where I read it and give credit to those who suggested it, but I cannot track down the source. The suggestion was fantastic – to have children write their own ABCs of Christmas. It seemed like a wonderful way to tell the Christmas story and there are a few books out there that do just this. While I loved the idea of having kids come up with their own prose to articulate the meaning of the Nativity, I wanted to tell the story in a way that followed the narrative as well as our order of service. So, equipped with the Alphabet and the Gospels, I set out to do just that. I was very graciously assisted in this task by anyone who happened to be in or near my office when I was stuck on any of a few particularly difficult letters.
As we began our worship service, those who were interested were invited to participate at first from their seats. Anytime the word “angel” was mentioned, all the angels were asked to respond by shouting out “Hallelujah!”. Shepherds were asked to show us their best surprised faces and sounds. Wise ones pointed and said, “Look, a star!”. This was enhanced by the projection of the image of a star when the wise ones were mentioned. We practiced all of these responses a few times before we started our alphabet so that we were ready when each was named in the service.
We proceeded through the alphabet, some letters read by myself or my teammate in ministry, and some letters read by children in the congregation who had prepared ahead of time. During the offering time, we offered ourselves by creating a tableau of the Nativity. Two teens in the congregation were dressed as Mary and Joseph with a baby. We sang the carol What Child is This? and as the angels, shepherds or wise ones were mentioned in the hymn, they came forward. An older child dressed as each guided them into the scene. As the children returned to their seats, the pianist played the tune softly.
Like many churches, we concluded our service with the lighting of candles and singing Silent Night. The service worked out well, and I’m glad for that.
The ABCs of Christmas Worship Outline
Come in, sit down. We’re glad you’re here. We want to share a story with you. It’s a story you might know well; one you may have heard before. Tonight, we want to tell you this story with something else we know well, our alphabet.
A is for an angel, Gabriel, who began the story with a greeting:
“Good evening! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you!” Luke 1.28, The Message
B is for Bethlehem, where our story takes place. People traveled from far and wide to arrive in the city; it was a very busy place.
C is for a census (that’s a counting of all the people) the reason so many people filled the city of Bethlehem.
D is for the donkey that carried a family on their long journey to Bethlehem to be counted.
E is for exhausted, that’s how everyone felt when they arrived – tired from all the travelling.
F is for family: Mary and Joseph and their new baby Jesus, who was born that night in Bethlehem.
Carol: O Little Town of Bethlehem
G is for the Good News about to be shared with all the earth. This is what was said:
Scripture Reading: Luke 2.8-16
H is for herds, all the animals that were present in the stable, and the flocks of sheep in the field with the shepherds when they heard the good news.
I is for our imaginations, stirred by this story!
Carol: Jesus, Our Brother
J is for joy the excitement and happiness that a new baby, and now, this special night brings.
K is for kindness, shown by the innkeeper that night, allowing a tired family to stay in the stable when there was no room in the inn.
L is for the love we share with one another all through the year and especially at Christmas.
M is for the manger, it is usually used to hold food for animals, but this time it held the baby because he had no crib.
Carol: Away in a Manger
N is for Noel, another word for Christmas. It means new birth, that’s what happened in our story, and it happens every year.
O is for offering, there were many gifts for the baby; we even have some to share now!
Sharing Our Gifts
Carol: What Child is This?
P is for prayer and praise and pondering, all different ways people reacted the amazing thing that happened. We pray and praise and ponder together:
Prayers of the People
Q is for quiet, the deep peace that Christmas brings – knowing that God is with us.
R is for revelation, God showing us who God is (in a little baby born one night)
S is for one special star that shone bright in the night showing wise ones the way to Jesus.
Carol: Still, Still, Still
T is for trust, the confidence we have in God.
U is for unity, all different people brought together tonight to celebrate God’s love!
V is for vulnerable, a little child needs to be cared for, protected--that’s our job.
W is for wonder-- our amazement at the beauty of how much God loves us.
Carol: Twas in the Moon of Wintertime
X is for Xmas, the x is actually the symbol for Christ – it is the first letter of the Greek word.
Y is for You! here to celebrate and worship.
Z is for zeal, the passion with which we share the Good News and God’s love, tonight.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Sharing of the Light
Carol: Silent Night, Holy Night