By Peter & Mary Minson
This is a dramatic narrative of the Christmas events, staying close to the biblical texts with emphasis on the personal cost to the characters involved. It does not include the involvement of kin, Herod or the birth of John the Baptist. It does include Epiphany. The narration is aimed at keeping children on board as much as possible and so is "all age" worship material
4 Wise Men
(The cast enter and begin assembling huge pieces of jigsaw, which is facing away from the congregation. Soon after they have begun, Narrator A detaches from the cast to begin narration, while the remainder quietly continue the jigsaw. The back of the jigsaw is all the audience sees at this stage.)
Narrator A: Once upon a time God began a story that went on and on. Heroes came and went and still the story went on and on. People lived and died and so did their grandchildren, and they only heard little bits of God's story because it was still going on and on when they died.
Right through this long, long story, God was building a picture of Himself and the Jewish people.
One day in the story, thousands of years ago, God made a promise to a man called Abraham that one day God would send someone very special to help people through their troubles.
Then on and on again went the story. Every now and then, God would give some more information about this special person. For example.... bring us a piece of that jigsaw [name of actor]
(A piece is brought to the Narrator, and placed on a stand, still with its back to the congregation. The cast stand around it, and perform a choral reading based on Isaiah's prophecy.)
Narrator: What a terrific person is promised. What an amazing planner God is. And then, in the story, came the time for that wonderful Son of his to be born. God called one of his great angels - named Gabriel - to come in one morning, and he explained the next bit of the story to this wonderful messenger. Gabriel was told to carry a message to a young woman called Mary. Let's see how it all happened
(Narrator departs, jigsaw departs, and all of the cast depart.)
(Mary enters, carrying skeins of wool. When she reaches centre stage, Gabriel enters.)
Gabriel: Rejoice, Mary, God is pleased with you.
MARY: What? What do you mean? Who are you? Do you come from God?
GABE: Mary, do not be afraid. You have won God's favour. Look ... you are going to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called "Son of the Most High". The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor, King David. He will rule over the House of Jacob for ever, and his reign will have no end.
MARY: (who during the above speech has sunk to her knees) How can this happen, since I have no husband? I am engaged to Joseph, but I don't live with him yet.
ANGEL: Joseph will not be the father of this child. The Holy Spirit of God will come upon you, and the power of the most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called the Son of God.
Mary: I am the Lord's servant. Let this happen to me as you have said.
Mary: What an amazing experience! I am going to see some great events! But it may not be so easy, because if God doesn't protect this baby and me, the people here could turn on us and kill us. My family could throw me out as a shameful woman, if God doesn't stand by me. And my lovely Joseph might call me a liar and leave me. If God doesn't cause the life of this baby, nothing's going to come of all this anyway, ..... but no! God HAS spoken, so I believe this miracle child WILL be born!. He WILL be great, and I AM the servant of the Lord. No matter what happens, I WILL trust Him to make it happen, somehow. But what an incredible thing! Let it happen then, as that wonderful angel said it would!
Narrator A: So Mary goes off to visit cousin Elizabeth.
Narrator B: Hey! What cousin?
Narrator A: Well, you see, the angel also told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was have a baby too. And Mary's gone off to help her. She's 60 years old, you see.
Narrator B: Amazing! Gotta be a record! How long did Mary stay with Liz?
Narrator A: Till Elizabeth's baby was bom.
Narrator B: Boy or girl?
Narrator A: A boy Hey, you truly don't know this story?
Narrator B: No. It's all news to me. So, how did this old lady cope?
Narrator A: Great, actually ... you know ... [pretends to read from newspaper] "Mother and child both doing well. Thanks to the staff at the maternity hospital."
Narratorv B: Oh yes.. then what?
Narrator A: Mary came back home, but by then everybody could see she was pregnant, and most people assumed it was Joseph's baby.
Narrator B: Yes, I suppose they would, Mary and Jo being engaged and all that..
Narrator A: Yes, but Joseph knew it wasn't his child.
Narrator B: Ahhhh..
Narrator A: Joseph was in a real mess....
Narrator B: Bet he was
Narrator A: Mary goes: "It's God's baby," and y'know, tells Joseph all about the Archangel Gabriel and that stuff, and says she still loves him. Joseph, he doesn't know what to think, and whether he should believe a word of it, and even if he does believe it, what's he going to do? Should he look after Mary and this mystery baby or drop her? If the baby really WAS God's chosen one, then that marked Mary out as pretty scary material. But then she'd sure have a hard time if Joseph chucked her out. But then perhaps some more angels could come and help her. But then Joseph hasn't seen many angels pitching in to help her lately.
Narrator B: Heavens, don't ask me what he should do! I don't know!
Narrator A: No, you don't know a lot really, do you? Right now, poor Joseph's tossing and turning, thinking all this over, and he can't sleep. But all of a sudden, God decides to take pity on him. (Exits.)
Narrator B: And about time. Hey! wait for me [Exits]
(Joseph is still lying on the floor, tossing and turning. The lamp is burning. Angel enters.)
ANGEL: Joseph, descendant of King David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. She has conceived this child by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.
JOSEPH [sitting up] Wow! What a..... an angel! Now I've seen one as well. That sure sorts a few things out. Mary will come and live with me, and I'll keep her and God's baby safe. What an amazing time to live in! But some of my friends are going to take me for a fool - looking after a baby that's not mine - some of my family too. But no matter. I believe God is involved in all this, and that calms me down. (Pause) Mary and the baby will have to come with me to Bethlehem for the Census, though. That could be quite a hard trip for us all. Still, God wants this baby born, The angel said not to be afraid, And one thing I HAVE been afraid of sometimes is a boring life. No more boredom now, I'm sure of that. So ... let the day begin. There's work to be done! [Exits]
NARRATOR A: (Enters) And before Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary DID have to travel to Bethlehem for the Census. They had only just arrived and still hadn't found anywhere to stay when the time came for Mary's baby to be born.
(5 Innkeepers are positioned round the front with their signs. Joseph will approach each one in turn, and each will turn away. Only their signs will remain facing the audience. Only the last Innkeeper will speak.)
JOSEPH: (To 1st Innkeeper) Have you got any room for a traveller here for the Census? [To 2nd Innkeeper] Have you got a room to spare? Even for just one night. My wife is very tired. She has an extra burden to bear, you see. [To 3rd Innkeeper] Have you got any room? There are two of us and my wife's baby is due very soon. I must get her a room ... please? [To 4th Innkeeper] I want a room for myself and my wife - you can see she's unwell. Please! Her baby is coming!
[ASIDE, IN PRAYER] God above, this is YOUR burden, too. Help us, I pray, God of our ancestors. Help Mary and this baby, Jesus. We have no-one to rely on but you!
[To 5th Innkeeper] Sir, my wife is unwell and she's in labour. Please, have you a room? Please have pity. Is there nowhere at all?
(The 5th Innkeeper, after turning away from Joseph, turns back at the words "nowhere at all).
Innkeeper: Look mate, me missis has had heaps of kids. This yer first? [Joseph nods.) Look, I got nothing here, but ... I got a stable round the back of the pub. Yer can't miss it, mate. But I gotta run. I'll send someone round to check on yer later.
(5th Innkeeper turns away again. Mary, Joseph and all the Innkeepers exit.)
NARRATOR: So Joseph found a place for Mary and Jesus. Meanwhile, out in some nearby hills, God was about to tell some shepherds what he was doing.
SONG: The First Nowell.
(As song is sung, cast come on with ponchos, blankets, staffs, etc. They move about as though they cannot find the spot where the singing is coming from. At the chorus, an Angel climbs a ladder for his announcement. The Shepherds are transfixed with terror.)
ANGEL (calls out) Do not be afraid! [SHEPHERDS remain transfixed] Look! I bring you news of great joy! A joy to be shared by all people! Today in the town of David a Saviour has been bom for you- He is Christ the Lord, your saviour and your God. And here is a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
TAPE: "Glory to God" from Handel's Messiah
Shepherd A: It's stopping........... [gazing about]
Shepherd B: It's all fading....
Shepherd C: I can't see them anymore
Shepherd B: I wonder if they'll come back
Shepherd A: I don't know
Shepherd C: It's so still now
Shepherd B: What did that .... um ... angel .... say? ... that this is all because some baby saviour's been bom?
Shepherd A: Yes. That's it! Our God and our saviour born - all in one. This is the greatest thing that's ever happened to us! This might be bigger than Moses and the Red Sea!
Shepherd B: It's incredible!
Shepherd A: Well, that's what he ... er ... it said
Shepherd B: I want to go. I want to see our Saviour!
Shepherd C: Yes, so do I
Shepherd A: So do I, but what about our sheep?
Shepherd B: Look at them! They're all thunder-struck. They'll be ok for a few hours. Let's go.
Shepherd A and C: Yes, yeah, yer, etc.
(3 Innkeepers take position with signs, as if asleep. [Innkeeper 3 was previously Innkeeper 5]. Shepherds rush in again from main doors down to front.
Shepherd A: Where's the baby? Hey! Heard of a baby?
Shepherd C: [to innkeeper 1] Anyone in this Inn in labour?
(Innkeepers come to life, but stay still. Call out to shepherds where appropriate]
I/K 1: What are you on about?
I/K 2 and 3: Yeah! What are you on about?
Shepherd A: We're looking for a baby.
I/K 1: Plenty of those about.
Shepherd B: Ah yes, but we've got 3 clues about this baby in particular: Number 1: It's gotta be born today. Number 2: it's gotta be wrapped in swaddling clothes, and Number 3 [and this is the odd one] It's gotta be presently situated in a manger.
I/K 2: We've got one upstairs, but last time I looked it had booties on.
C: Sorry mate, no booties allowed.
I/K I: There's one along at my cousin's down the road, but it was born last Saturday.
Shepherd A: No mate, It's gotta be FRESHI
I/K 3: There's one here, born this afternoon - it's in swaddling clothes, but it's a girl and it's in a bassinette.
Shepherd B: No dice mate - gotta get all three clues right to hit this jackpot.
I/K 2: Well you're not likely to find a baby in a manger - health regulations and all that, even if you do get your other clues right.
I/K 3 Oh I don't know .... had a man call here today ... his wife was already in labour, he said. And we had no room so I told him to try the stable - maybe you blokes could hit paydirt out the back...
(Shepherds become animated)
Shepherd A: Could it be?
Shepherd B: Yes it could.
Shepherd C: Something's happening.
Shepherd A: Something good
Shepherd B: Is it Tonight?
I/K 1: Hey what's the rush anyway? What's the prize?
Shepherd A: Prize? Greatest night of your life mate! We're history in the making!
NARRATOR 1: So off went the shepherds to find the baby named Jesus. What a great night for them indeed! Another group of travellers are also excited about the birth of Jesus. Some wise men from the East have been studying stars in the sky. They discovered a new one a while back, and they believe it might be there to mark the birth of a wonderful new king. THEY want to see this king too, so they're on the move, looking for Jesus ... except they don't know nearly as much as the shepherds about who or where he is yet.
(The 4 kings are grouped around a rock.)
King 1: You know, give this world of ours a couple of thousand years or so, and people may not remember much about us.
King 2: You people, for instance, may not remember our names
King 3: Or exactly where we're from.
King 4: Or exactly how many of us came.
King 3 : You may not still know the science of the stars we studied to know when this special star came into our night sky, and how we knew what it meant.
King 2: You may not have been told who was the best organiser of our travelling arrangements, and which one of us told the best jokes.
King 4: But you'll always be able to say of us that we chose to look for the deeper things of life - the things that take people beyond home and food and money and presents and pleasant moments
King 1: We chose to treat the deeper meaning of life as seriously as life itself. Seriously enough to leave our homes, our careers, our families.
King 3: We chose to put up with the risks and discomfort of winter travel.
King 4: Indeed, some might say, "A cold coming we had of it."
King 3: But no-one could argue with our reward either - and we're still having it. We had the glory of watching the new star rise - the thrill of seeing heavenly action in ordinary lives.
King 4: We believe in this new king for our wretched, glorious, dishevelled world.
King 2: We believe in this new king enough to come and worship him.
King 1: He'll be a different leader from that old king Herod we met in Jerusalem - Herod's the sort of politician who just seems to want power, and who's dangerous when he's angry. I wouldn't trust my camel to Herod.
King 3: But with what we know from our studies, this new-born king will be excellent! He'll be worthy of our allegiance and our reverence.
King 4: So here we are, right outside Bethlehem. And there's our star again. goodness! Look at that - I think it's moving!
King 2: Moving? What? Why so it is!
King 3: Where? Let's see? Well, glory be! It's moving ahead of us.
King 4: Come on then. Look ... now it's stopping - directly over that building of some kind.
King 3: It must be the place. Very well, let us go and see if our King is there.
(MARY and JOSEPH enter first. Mary puts Jesus in the manger and fusses over him.)
(SHEPHERDS enter and talk to Joseph. They mime the story of the angels and look at the baby, then kneel in awe. The WISE MEN enter and do likewise, miming the story of the star. They kneel, offering gifts. CONGREGATION sings SILENT NIGHT. After the song, King 2 steps forward.)
King 2: So now you've heard the story of how we found Jesus and how he became real to us.
I wonder: is Jesus real to you? Or is it all a puzzle?
To us, your life in the 20th Century seems a puzzle where everybody seems to be looking out for themselves... You appear to have lost your sense of community.
None of US were prepared to move from OUR comfort zones - to be ready to extend a helping hand - but it was when we gave away something - sacrificed something - that the puzzle was complete and Jesus became our new comfort zone.
What's interesting, though, is that God's jigsaw is not complete. It goes on today and tomorrow, What piece of the jigsaw do YOU hold? [picks up the last piece of puzzle and places it] What are the things that God and you still have to do? I'll leave you with that lovely question as your Christmas present.
© Peter & Mary Minson 1996
All rights reserved
This play may be performed free of charge, on the condition that copies are not sold for profit in any medium, nor any entrance fee charged.
In exchange for free performance, the authors would appreciate being notified of when and for what purpose the play is performed.
They may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org