CHRISTMAS PROMISE: PEACE ON EARTH*
a readers’ theatre sermon drama based on Luke 1, 2, 3 and Matthew 25
given at Mount Vernon, OH on December 24, 2014This is a readers’ theatre type script intended to be read on Christmas Eve to a congregation or other Christian gathering celebrating the Holy Night. It is recommended that the actors read their parts together in rehearsal a number of times before reading it aloud at a Christmas Eve service. The actor should when possible dress the part in costume and be familiar enough with the script that there is a sense of the words being theirs.
MINSTER: This part was obviously written with a pastor in mind, but, could be read by non-clergy as The Narrator.
POOR CHRIST: Written with a female voice in mind, and should dress as one might expect a homeless person in your town to dress in late December.
SICK CHRIST: Written for a person who appears ill health.
PRISONER CHRIST: Written with the idea the person would appear in prison or jail issue clothes, an orange jumper or blues (stripes might seem a bit cartoony).
STRANGE CHRIST: Written with the idea that this person is a stranger, an alien or some “other” to the community (or a combination of “others”).
The service begins with a prelude and if used the choir or band on the chancel. All the
CHRIST actors are seated behind the pulpit or some other nearby but nearly out of sight place as the service begins.
GREETING Merry Christmas! Welcome, welcome one and all on this glorious night of all. On this very special night our choir is not only going to lead us in carols but provide special music as well, including this beautiful version of Silent Night:
CHOIR ANTHEM: SILENT NIGHT
PRAYER: Please join me in prayer. God of peace on earth, God of good will to all, God of love, we gather this great and Holy night to celebrate the birth of a child two thousand yeas ago; a child named Jesus who grew up to live and teach the Way to peace, good will and love to all. We are so grateful for the birth of that little baby long ago, for his earthly parents who raised and protected him, and for you who guided him to a live a life that lives on even now, even here tonight. On this Christmas Eve, God, we come before you thankful and humbled by the Christmas story and the promise it has provided humankind for thousands of years. Let us leave here tonight, not just merry, but also willing to be a part of the way to peace, good will and love to all. AMEN . . .
WELCOME: God is good. ALL THE TIME. All the time. GOD IS GOOD. Greet and turns and say “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” to all these good people…
CAROL: “O COME ALL YE FAITHFUL”
LESSON: The First Scripture reading this evening is Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s song in response to her conception of Christ alone with God. Mary sings:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
MINISTER: To talk about this text and other narratives in the Bible that we will be considering this evening, we have a very special guest. Originally we tried to book Santa, but he said “Are you crazy? That’s the busiest night of my year! Besides I’m not in the Bible, I can give you the name of someone who is.”
We got a hold of the Biblical persona Santa suggested, who agreed to be here. You know this persona very well and so there is no need for an introduction. I am very pleased to announce that Christ has decided to join us for a short presentation.
So without further ado please give a warm welcome to Christ. (a few bars of Jesus Christ Superstar?)
POOR CHRIST (a homeless female): Thank you. It doesn’t surprise me that you tried to get Santa first, for a lot of people “he’s the man” for the season. But actually . . . “I’m the man.” . . . Well, actually I’m not “the MAN.” As you can see . . . It probably surprises many of you that when Christ was introduced a poor girl appeared. As you can see I’m in the form of a girl, and a homeless one at that.
Now before you get further confused or even offended, let me remind you to think back to your Bibles I told you in Matthew 25 that I am in those you care for. Remember? I said:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Mat 25:31-36 NRS)
And when I was asked when it is that you all do this caring compassionate work, this love of such “others?” I noted in the story that “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mat 25:40 NRS). To me. See, Christ – I – am the poor . . .
PRISONER CHRIST: (steps forward in prison clothes), and the imprisoned . . .
SICK CHRIST: (steps forward with an illness) and the sick . . .
STRANGE CHRIST: (steps forward with an otherness) and the stranger.
POOR CHRIST: And this church, and many of you, have done a lot to care for the poor.
SICK CHRIST: And the sick.
PRISONER CHRIST: And the imprisoned.
STRANGE CHRIST: And the stranger. So here I am to thank you, to say:
ALL CHRISTS: Job well done faithful servants.
SICK CHRIST: If you will please pardon a holiday pun: your presence to my presence has been a present . . .
STRANGE CHRIST: Christmas is the season of peace.
SICK CHRIST: The angels proclaimed it that first Christmas. Right? It’s in Luke 2: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered . . .”
STRANGE CHRIST: “All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.”
POOR CHRIST: “He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
PRISON CHRIST: See . . . shepherds were considered rough, rowdy outlaw types when this story was written. It’s to them, not the elite, whom the angels appear: As the Bible most of us grew up with says “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”
STRANGE CHRIST: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
SICK CHRIST: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
POOR CHRIST: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
ALL CHRISTS: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
POOR CHRIST: “On earth peace, good will toward men.” That “men” means all, women and men . . . If you turn to your bulletins the words to It Came Upon a Midnight Clear should be in there. Please join us in robustly (as an aside) I mean really belt it out! As we sing that great old carol.
CHRISTMAS CAROL: IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR.
STRANGE CHRIST: What a wonderful carol. One of my favorites. “[W]hen peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.” You know, the peace and good will the angels refer to in the story – and that we just sang about– is not just about the absence of war. . .
POOR CHRIST: But also the presence of justice and love, compassion and care for the well-being of everyone. Jesus’ birth brings the promise of peace. He showed us the Way to it by love for everyone. And so the multitude of the heavenly host sing “On earth peace, good will toward all.” That’s why Christmas was given to us. That is why it’s a blessing.
SICK CHRIST: Peace comes about when all have enough to be healthy, and all are respected as equal human beings.
POOR CHRIST: The poor.
SICK CHRIST: The sick.
PRISONER CHRIST: The imprisoned.
STRANGE CHRIST: The strangers are tended to.
SICK CHRIST: It’s no accident that Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 25 that those who inherit God’s Kingdom are those who take care of those in need. Christ isn’t just in a select set of people.
ALL CHRISTS: Christ is God incarnate and God resides within each of us . . . all humankind.
PRISONER CHRIST: Genesis tells us that the very breath of God is what animates humans, that man and woman are the very images of God. Remember those stories?
POOR CHRIST: And, see we, you, have a choice, we can let that Holy breath and image lie dormant, or even be hidden and tarnished.
SICK CHRIST: Or we can let Christ grow within us, let it become incarnate . . .
PRISONER CHRIST: And tend to Christ in others . . .
STRANGE CHRIST: As Mary, Jesus’ mom put it in the scripture reading, we . . . YOU . . . CAN “magnify the Lord!” And we can do this by being love in the world, by tending to the Christ, the God spark in others.
SICK CHRIST: And you all in America do that really well at Christmas. For a month every year Love is magnified in this culture. The poor and sick and imprisoned and stranger are on your radar and get more tending to than any other time of the year.
ALL CHRISTS: You see Christ, me, in the “other” and it matters.
STRANGE CHRIST: You can feel love in the air. Right?
ALL CHRISTS (looking at one another in agreement) It’s awesome.
PRISONER CHRIST: The Christmas story remembers Christ in Jesus, but it also remembers Christ – God incarnate– in Jesus’ mom, Mary, and the very first getting-ready-for-Christmas song she sings.
POOR CHRIST: Mary had Christ within her. And did you hear in the reading how she sings out before Christmas about magnifying God, serving God and the Holiness of the poor. The song is called the Magnificat, beautiful words Mary gave to us about the promise of Christmas. A promise we can hear unfolding in Luke’s recording of Jesus’ first public proclamation in a faith community, here’s how Luke wrote about it:
STRANGE CHRIST: “When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written .
POOR CHRIST: “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”
PRISONER CHRIST: “‘He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives . . .”
SICK CHRIST: “‘And recovery of sight to the blind . . .
STRANGE CHRIST: “‘to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them,
PRISONER CHRIST: “(reading from a Bible)‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” . . .
SICK: The promise of Christmas is the Spirit of the Lord through the man we know as Jesus proclaiming the need to end all oppression. Captives are to be released. Sick are to be cared for. Oppressed are to go free. We sometimes forget that our Christmas carols often call us to this promise explicitly. We are going to consider two Christmas carols that capture this promise, O Holy Night, and O Little Town of Bethlehem. 1
PRISONER CHRIST: I’m told O Holy Night is your pastor’s favorite Christmas carol. It was written in 1847 by the French poet Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure who imagined what it would have been like to be present at Christ’s birth. His friend, Adolphe-Charles Adam, set it to music. Ten years later American abolitionist and Pastor John Sullivan Dwight translated it into the popular English version. Let’s listen to the choir sing it now.
O Holy Night
SICK CHRIST: What Jesus proclaimed, what his birth promised, what his mom sang about, it’s there in that song we just heard, especially in the third verse, “His law is love and His gospel is peace, Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, And in His name all oppression shall cease.”
POOR CHRIST: Episcopalian Pastor Phillips Brooks another abolitionist in 1868 wrote O Little Town of Bethlehem as he recalled a Christmas Eve horseback ride he’d taken three years earlier from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. His church organist, Lewis Redner, set it to music. Lets all sing it now.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
SICK CHRIST: Powerful words about the promise of the season. Where humans hear the call to care. Did you hear it, did you see it in the fourth verse? “[w]here misery cries out to thee, Son of the Mother mild; where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door, the dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.”
PRISONER: The multitude of the heavenly host got it right, Jesus’s birth, his coming to earth is and was all about peace on earth good will to all.
ALL CHRIST: And it all begins with you.
SONG OF PEACE– song by the children’s choir.
A CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS STORY : “The Christmas Guest” by Johnny Cash
POOR CHRIST: Peace
SICK CHRIST: Peace
STRANGE CHRIST: Peace
PRISONER CHRIST: Peace
ALL CHRIST: Peace. It all begins with you.
POOR CHRIST: You
SICK CHRIST: Are
STRANGE CHRIST: The
PRISONER CHRIST: Bearers
POOR CHRIST: Of
SICK CHRIST: Christ
STRANGE CHRIST: Today.
PRISONER CHRIST: No matter what we have done in the past.
SICK CHRIST: No matter where we are on live’s journey.
POOR CHRIST: Peace begins.
ALL CHRISTS: With you . . . with us.
STRANGE CHRIST: Please join in singing that wonderful modern Christmas song Let There Be Peace on Earth, It’s song we sing every Sunday in this church so let’s really sing it like we have been practicing it especially for this one night!
LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH
ALL CHRISTS: Peace on earth good will to all!
OFFERING: Knowing that God has been generous giving us life and all things let us in our turn now be generous.
CANDLE LIGHTING/CONGREGATION’S SILENT NIGHT: If you are able please stand and pray with me. God of light and love and peace. Thank you for these gifts and the gift of Christmas. Bless these gifts and each person here tonight and out in the rest of the world.
MINISTER: The Christs are going to light the Christ candle.
We are the light. (Light Christ candle) The Peace of Christ – the Spirit of Christmas– comes through us.
The choir is going to bring the Christ light out to each row please pass the light to your neighbor, remember that the lit candle points up and the unlit candle dips to get the flame.
Be careful. When all the candles are lit we will sing Silent Night.
CAROL: SILENT NIGHT
MINISTER: Please extinguish your candles and join me in prayer.
God of peace, good will and love, God of Christmas, we dedicated this night to you and your incarnation in our lives through Christ, Son of God, love’s pure light. Bless each person here tonight and their families and the gifts they offer to you on the way out the door and most especially to The YOU, the Christ in others: family, friends, strangers, prisoners, the sick and the poor. Guide each of us and the world, most especially leaders of nations, to seek peace, to offer good will, to aim toward love, to fulfill the promise of Christmas, peace on earth good will to all. May we magnify the Lord. Amen.
Now please sing with me our last Christmas carol for the night
CAROL: Joy to the World
BENEDICTION: Go in peace knowing that you are loved and matter much. And God bless us everyone. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
* This sermon drama was written in 2011 as part of peace oriented sabbatical sponsored by a Lilly Grant for pastors generously provided through the Lilly Foundation (to which I am very grateful).
1. Notes on these songs are derived from information on Jill Steneck’s website at http://www.wnd.com/2010/12/245029/
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2014 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED