There is an old saying, “Christmas comes but once a year." For children, this is a phrase of disappointment, reminding them that the season of decorations, carols, sweets, and presents only happens once a year, and that there is a very long time in between.
For preachers, this saying might be modified: “Christmas comes around every. darn. year!” After you’ve been preaching a few years, annual occurrences like Christmas and Easter can become a challenge because it can be difficult to think of something new and interesting to say. The essential message remains the same of course, that God has reconciled the world to himself in the person of Jesus Christ. But finding a fresh way to proclaim that good news in an engaging way so that it will be heard and people will respond is not an easy task!
Let’s consider for a moment how we normally tell biblical stories: in the third person, past tense. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and then we unpack what this ancient story means for us today. So to do something new and interesting, let’s consider changing the tense in which we tell the story. Instead of third person, past tense, let’s tell the story in the first person, present tense. In the moment of proclamation, let’s hand the mic to the characters in the story and tell people how they saw these events.
Through these monologues--presented one per week in the weeks leading up to Christmas or combined into a multi-person drama--the congregation can gain a new perspective on the Christmas story. The scripts (which can be downloaded below) are monologues from the perspective of Mary, Joseph, and a shepherd, but your group could write monologues for Elizabeth or the Innkeeper as well.
Writing the Scripts
Don’t worry if you’re not an actor. If your church has a drama ministry, that would be the natural place to start. If not, you may have some youth who would be game to try something new and different. Whatever ministry context you’re in, first person, dramatic proclamation can be a great way to get others involved in the preparation and delivery of the message. (If you want to know more about the process of collaborative preaching overall, check out this article on the topic.)
Since most biblical stories don’t say much about what the characters were feeling, this requires some creative thinking. If you have a group getting together to collaborate on brainstorming or writing the sermon script, read the story and ponder a few questions together (some of these may involve some prior research on your part to help kickstart the conversation).
Questions might include:
- What do we know about this particular character’s background?
- What kind of family did he or she come from?
- What kind of work did he or she do?
- What was the society he or she lived in like?
- An encounter with God often caused radical change in someone’s life, and usually made things a lot more complicated, so how did those problems make the character feel? How did he or she process them and go about facing this new reality in life?
- What hopes and fears would the character carry into the future?
Let’s use Mary in the Nativity story as an example. We know that she lived in Nazareth, which was a fairly small town, and more than likely came from a normal, traditional Judean family. As was the practice at the time, her engagement to Joseph was arranged by her family, with her father and Joseph negotiating a bride price and a dowry. Mary would likely be in her early to mid teenage years, and Joseph would likely be a bit older than her. Being in a very traditional society, suddenly becoming pregnant during your engagement would be a major embarrassment both to Mary's family and to Joseph, so while Mary agreed to do what God wanted her to do, she’s probably also very scared of how people will react. She may wonder what Joseph will do and how she will provide for the child if he won’t marry her and she is a disgraced woman.
Given this background, now the group can start composing Mary's story as she might tell it to someone who had never heard it. By going through a group process in putting the first person proclamation together, you’ve not only given one small group of people a chance to reflect on and deeply engage the biblical story, you’ve also put together a fresh presentation of the biblical narrative that will entertain and enlighten the audience, helping them experience the biblical characters as real human beings who faced real struggles just like we do.
Remember, Christmas comes around every single year. Don’t be afraid to take a new approach to telling an old, old story.