Living Nativity Service 

First Unitarian Church

Of Providence

in Rhode Island

19 December 2010

This service is based upon an original produced by the First Parish, Unitarian Universalist in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It has undergone serious revision over the ensuing years. The principal authors of the revisions are Noreen Kimball and James Ishmael Ford, but diverse hands have had their input…

(Holy family, star, wise people all gather early to the “front” of the church. One stage manager should go down to the platform, others to the “front” of the church. Pick up players will be instructed to go the area near the front doors for costuming and will process up all three isles as instructed. stage manager note: Head angel & associate Head angels will need to discretely go into the pulpit area from front pews during offertory…)

Prelude Holiday Medley

Welcome and Announcements Martha Rice Sanders

Lighting the Chalice & Call to Worship

(Introit or Rise Up Oh Flame)

Prayer & Silent Meditation


The Pageant


This is the Solstice, or so, so close. This is that pause between the darkest day of winter and the slow, but sure march toward spring. We respond to solstice just as people have been responding to it since the beginning of humankind. The signal fires that leapt through the night from hill to answering hill as the sun gradually, finally returned have today become flickering lights on the menorah, the pristine white lights on Christmas trees, gaudy-colored lights in city parks and suburban neighborhoods. The ancients knew these lights dispel the gloom, and remind us all that spring will return. To notice and to acknowledge this not only honors our ancestors all the way back, but very much speaks of our own hearts, our own longing in our darkest moments for the breaking dawn.        

So, of course, as naturally as an apple ripens, we reach to the simple, sacred stories that make this a season of the heart. Despite all the distractions, despite the craziness of this many or that many days until gifts are given, despite the crassness of commerce at its most avarice, we are each year given a deep gift. Each year this season stops us long enough to pay attention to each other and to our own hearts, and from that to try to do what we can to make this a sign of hope, to once again try to be what we should be—not so much more faithful, nor devout, but more human, more gentle, more careful of love.

We celebrate to prepare ourselves for the long, cold season that is waiting outside this Meeting House. And it works. That old holiday Christmas is such a beguiler; it wins us over every time. During this waiting, the months of December and January and bitter February and sometimes even more bitter March, we will keep the memory of the midwinter lights and the midwinter celebrations.

And so this morning is a revel—a gathering of song, a retelling of stories so old, they have been used as themes in religions from before memory right down to this day, to today. This story of hope birthing in the midst of night; of hope held within a child, an ordinary child, will be told again today in our own way.

(Announce hymn)
HYMN During the pageant please remain seated for all hymns and carols. # 244 “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”



Those who study the stories from the Bible suspect the story of Jesus’ birth almost certainly is a story that takes place in the spring. But over the course of time, certainly by the early middle ages – more than fifteen hundred years ago, and maybe a bit more – Christians were celebrating this event in the mid-winter, actually a really good spot for a story of hope birthing in the night.

And, of course, that is the heart of the matter. The Christmas story is not only the wonderful story of the birth of the baby Jesus, but very much the story of hope arising at the darkest part of the year. It is a story about our lives, and how in the worst times, if we look deeply within our hearts, we can find the seed of new life. And that is the story that calls to so many of us here.

And so today, rather than just hear a story, we’re going to demonstrate how it is a living thing, or can be, by doing it ourselves. As the story unfolds we hope many of you will take parts in our do-it-yourself Christmas pageant.


Now we’re Unitarian Universalists, so we are going to read the story slightly re-written from Luke’s account. But, don’t worry; we will all recognize the familiar characters and the familiar plot. 

And, for all of us, but particularly those who take on the various parts: don’t worry about mistakes. There are no mistakes; certainly not in sacred time, in a time like this where we are inviting ourselves to be present to hope and to joy.

This story is a beautiful and meaningful one and all we’re called to do, is notice it, to allow it to enter our hearts. The rest is details.

So, let’s begin.


Imagine a humble carpenter and his wife, and the baby born to them in a stable; shepherds in a starlit field who leave their sheep to go and see the new-born child; and, gentle animals who gather ‘round in the stable where the baby lies in a manger.  Imagine that in this story, everyone is longing for peace on earth and good will to all people, everywhere. 


Imagine that you are hearing a story that questions the power of large armies and great wealth.


Imagine a story in which three powerful, wise souls and humble shepherds celebrate one tiny, newborn child.

Imagine that you hear a story that talks about the transforming power of love.


In those days, long, long ago, two thousand years ago and more, a decree – an announcement – went out from the Emperor, Caesar Augustus, who as it turns out looks remarkably like our local state senator saying, 

(blaring horns)

READER (as Caesar) Sen. Rhoda Perry

Dramatic entrance. Hand-held mic.

All the world should be registered so they can pay taxes to me!


We need some First, Second & Third Grade stars now – as many as possible. Please go back to the front doors where the stage managers are now waving. Also, please note, we don’t card anyone for any of these parts. If your heart is second or third grade, please feel free to join in.

We also need some animals—as many as possible. It would be nice if most to come from the Fourth and Fifth Grades. And remember, that includes those fourth and fifth grade hearts. Please, go to the back of the Meeting House where your horns, fur and feathers are waiting.

Stars go over to the back and they are each given a star.  Animals go too and get costumed. Fred will provide “traveling” music here…


All the people were required to go to the town where they had been born to register and for some people that meant a long journey.

(Stars, led by YMODE line the aisle on both sides. Joseph & Mary & family and their donkey then slowly, that is we mean, slowly, begin making their way up the aisle toward the front.)


Joseph, a carpenter, had to go all the way from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the City of David that was called Bethlehem, the same village of Bethlehem that is there still today.  Joseph went together with Mary to be registered.  Joseph and Mary had to travel a long way, and they knew it would not be easy because Mary was expecting a child very soon and she would be very uncomfortable both walking and riding on their donkey. But there was nothing that could be done about it; they had to go.  So, they started on their journey, traveling by day and sometimes through the dark nights lit only by bright stars.

(Holy family pause, if necessary, at first pews.)


(During music stars proceed to front pews, take seats. Holy family takes seats on platform.)


When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby, but there was no room in the Inn, the only place with comfortable beds.  Joseph looked everywhere but the only place he could find for Mary to give birth to the baby was a stable behind the Inn where there were a donkey, two mice, a horse, two bunnies, a cow, a couple of cats, a dog, two pigs, two ducks and maybe a camel. And many other animals – parrots, lions, wild boars, unicorns, reindeer, elephants, a zebra, a Gila monster, maybe even a manatee.

While we are singing the next carol, the animals will all go down to the manger, where they will mill about, trying not to cause trouble. And that means you, Mr Elephant.

HYMN #233 “Bring a Torch: English verses 1 & 2

(Animals to Manger area. Mill around. Try not to cause trouble.)


Now we have our manger, and our scene is beginning to be set. Next, of course, we need some Shepherds…and their sheep. First, I’d like to invite any Sixth and Seventh graders to the back. And, of course, sixth and junior high of the heart folk.


The animals welcomed Mary and Joseph into the stable, and the animals were even kind enough to give up their hay-filled manger so the baby could have a bed.  And meanwhile, there were shepherds out in the countryside watching their flocks.

(Animals move to surround them. And the shepherds move up the aisle and stop at the end of the pews, facing the manger. Stage manager will help)

Shepherds and Sheep up aisles to Platform.


Now we need about ten angels drawn from Pre-school and Kindergarteners to join our YMODE angels. And others called to be angels, naturally. Head to the back, please.


Thus, Mary gave birth to her firstborn child in a stable, surrounded by animals, and wrapped him up in bands of cloth and placed him in the manger.

(Announce Hymn)

HYMN #243 “Jesus Our Brother” vs 1 – 4


K1 angels stay in place until their music cue “then there was with the angel a multitude…”when they walk down and stand on the seats in the round pews…

READER (over the quiet music) James

It was late at night. The Shepherds were drowsy.


Then an angel stood before them.

MUSIC “And Suddenly” from “The Messiah”, sung by our soloist.


Head angel pops up from hidden spot during solo.


And this angel was truly magnificent and the glory of God shone around the shepherds, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them…

Head Angel

Do not be afraid, for I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.  To you is born this day in the city of David a child of hope.  Let this be a sign to you. You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. 

Note: Large print text placed on pulpit.


And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of angels, saying…

Associate Head angels leap up and stand, saying…

Associate Head Angels

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and goodwill to all!

(shepherds & sheep begin to walk down aisles)


With joy and delight the shepherds went with their flocks to Bethlehem to see the baby.

Shepherds into position.

As the story goes, the wise people from the East were following a star to Bethlehem. They were bringing gifts to the child of hope.

Wise People (Three presidents) being to process, following “the Star.” Large cut out star held aloft on long pole carried.


Note: during the song, stage manager will “artfully” arrange the shepherds, sheep, animals and angels into a tableau, allowing for a space for the Wise People.



The wise souls followed the star until it stopped over the stable where the newborn child was lying.

The star has been carried to around Up Stage of the Manger, and is held up high directly over the manger and the baby

When the wise souls saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy and entered the stable. 

Now the wise persons go to the manger and kneel down and take out gifts.

There they saw the child with its mother and offered their gifts that they had brought with them.

The whole cast now holds the scene.


Now that we have gathered our whole cast of characters, let us pause for a moment.  Behold.  (pause)

Contemplating all this, what took us to this moment, the pain and suffering and joy yet to follow, all encompassed within the fullness of our human lives, let us join together in reading # 616.


As our cast returns to their seats in the pews, let us join together in hymn #237, “The First Nowell.”

Hymn         #237, “The First Nowell.”


Extinguish Chalice        


Benediction Cathy



Jesus/Mary/Joseph         changes yearly
Stars                  2nd & 3rd
Animals                  4th & 5th
Shepherds and Sheep         6th, 7th & 8th
Lead Angels                  Youth
Angels                  Ks, 1s & Youth

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