No-rehearsal Nativity Play: In Jesus' Name
For years, I've been intrigued by the fact that Jesus has over fifty names/titles in the Bible. Each one sheds light on a different aspect of his character. This year, our church is acknowledging his many names while paying particular attention to the name he gave himself - Jesus, Light of the World.
No rehearsal (mostly)
This nativity play script can accommodate whoever turns up on the day, without needing a rehearsal. The storytellers/narrator will carry the story forward while the stage manager shows the participants where to stand and sit throughout the play. So, the only people who do need to rehearse are the two storytellers/narrator, the stage manager and the musician(s). Everyone else will be shown what to do and say in the moment.
Having said that, Mary, Joseph, the Angel Gabriel, a second angel, the Innkeeper and Augustus Caesar do have lines. You can choose to either print off those sections of the play for them to read on the day. Or you can tweak the script so that the narrator carries all the dialogue and the kids merely act out the play without having to say anything.
Liturgy/Nativity Play Combo
The play is designed to be performed during worship so it also includes a couple of short, child-friendly prayers, an Advent candle-lighting liturgy, and carols. However, you are welcome to just use the play and leave out the liturgy. Feel free to make it your own.
I wrote the majority of In Jesus' Name but I was inspired by another play. I can't seem to track down who wrote the original play, so if you recognise it, please let me know and I'll update my acknowledgements. The small section from the other play that I've adapted is indicated in the script. You are welcome to use and adapt In Jesus' Name for worship purposes to suit your church community.
You can download the play here in Word format or PDF. I've also cut and paste the entire script below.
All the best for the Advent and Christmas season!
Nativity Play & Liturgy 2023
Title: In Jesus’ Name
Acknowledgment of Country
Let us pray
Thank you, God, that we can be here today to share the story of the birth of your son, Jesus.
We’re sorry for those times this week when we’ve been unloving, unkind or didn’t care about other people or nature. Help us to listen to you more, and help us to remember that you love us.
Be with us in our worship today.
Song – Carol of choice
Nativity Play: In Jesus’ Name (incorporating Advent Candle liturgy)
NB: One section of this play has been adapted from another play (the interactive part where each group calls out a line). Unfortunately, the name of that play and the playwright is unknown. Please notify me if this is you and you would like acknowledgement.
Narrator (can be one of the storytellers or someone else)
Wise Ones (at least three)
• Christmas Tree covered with 24 decorations (cardboard discs), each featuring a different name for Jesus, e.g. Redeemer, Cornerstone, Bread of Life etc.
• Leave the 25th decoration (Light of the World) on the table.
• Table, centre stage
• 2 chairs in front of table, centre stage
• 5 candles + matches
• Book of baby names
• Star hung high
• Manger with straw (stow out of sight behind table)
• Baby Jesus doll wrapped in swaddling clothes (stage manager to look after it until the time of Jesus’ birth)
• Gold, frankincense and myrrh
• Lectern (inn)
• Box of instruments for final song
Scene: Storyteller 1 is sitting on chair in front of the table facing audience. There is an empty chair beside them.
Storyteller 1: (flipping through a book of baby names). No … no … no … maybe … nope … no way … absolutely not … hm, possibly …
Storyteller 2 enters and, intrigued by Storyteller 1, sits down beside them on the empty chair and watches.
Storyteller 1: (flips to a new page) No … no … never in a million years!
Storyteller 2: Hi, what are you doing?
Storyteller 1: Oh, hi. I’m reading a book of baby names. I’m trying to choose a name for my pet parrot, but so far, I haven’t found a good one. Either I like the sound of the name but not the meaning of it, or I like the meaning of the name, but not the sound. See here? At first, I thought Belladonna sounded pretty, but then I found out it’s a poisonous plant! Anwir has a nice ring to it but it means liar. And Drystan means full of sorrow, which doesn’t suit my parrot at all.
Storyteller 2: I see your problem. Names and their meanings are important. What’s your name?
Storyteller 1: [Insert name]. It means [insert meaning].
Storyteller 2: I like it. My name is [insert name] and it means [meaning].
Storyteller 1: Lovely. (turns to children in audience). And what about you, kids? Do any of you know what your names mean? (hands book to Storyteller 2).
(Storyteller 1 facilitates three or four children sharing their name while Storyteller 2 looks up the meaning. After the children have shared, wrap up conversation.)
Storyteller 1: Today, we’re here to learn about a very special baby with a very special name – Jesus. Jesus means ‘deliverer’ or ‘rescuer’ because he came to rescue us from hate, selfishness and greed, and to remind us that our true nature is love. But Jesus is only one of his names. In the Bible, he has over fifty different names! That’s because it’s hard to describe someone really amazing, so people just kept coming up with new ways. We’ve hung some of these names on the Christmas tree over here.
Would someone like to help me read out a few different names for Jesus? Some of them are a little unusual but if you stick around after the play, you can ask the church people what the different names mean.
(Storyteller 1 leads a child over to read five or six names.)
Storyteller 1: And there are many more. (Storyteller ushers child to be seated.)
Storyteller 2: Today is the first day of Advent, a month-long season when we prepare for the birth of God’s son, Jesus. Each Sunday, we’ll be looking at a different name and a different gift that Jesus has given us. Today, we’ve chosen a name that Jesus gave to himself. In the Bible, he said, ‘I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ What a hopeful idea! Whenever we feel lost or alone, we can ask Jesus to show us the way.
(Invite two children to come forward. First child is invited to hang Light of the World decoration on tree. The second will light the candle in a moment.)
Storyteller 1: Like a burning candle that stands watch through the night, driving away the darkness, we carry hope in our hearts that love will once again rule the world.
Storyteller 2: We light the first Advent candle – the candle of hope.
(Help second child light the candle.)
Storyteller 1: Let us pray
Help us to stay hopeful even when things get tough.
Help us to remember that you are the Light of the World and we can be too.
(Invite kids to sit down.)
Narrator: It’s time to share the story of Jesus’ birth. I notice that some of you are dressed up as angels, sheep, shepherds and Wise Ones. Maybe you could help tell the story? What do you say, kids?
(Children nod in agreement.)
Excellent. (to congregation) And perhaps the rest of the congregation could help us as well?
Fabulous. We’ll tell the story and sing some songs in between, but first, let’s have a practice.
(Stage manager ensures people in costume are grouped down the front as follows: angels stage right, shepherds in the middle, Mary and Joseph in the middle, wise ones stage left. Narrator divides the rest of the congregation into groups according to where they’re sitting, i.e. anyone sitting in the block of seats stage right is deemed an angel; anyone sitting in the block of seats in the middle is deemed a shepherd or sheep; and anyone sitting in the block of seats stage left is deemed a wise one. Narrator then explains how each group has one line of dialogue and gets them to practice it one group at a time, viz.
Narrator: And the angels said …
Angels: Alleluia! Alleluia!
Narrator: And the shepherds said …
Shepherds: WHISTLE. Round ’em up! Round ’em up!
Narrator: And the sheep said …
Sheep: Baa baa!
Narrator: And the Wise Ones said …
Wise Ones: Follow that star!
Narrator: Let us begin. A long time ago, there was a young woman named Mary. She lived with her family in a town called Nazareth.
MARY ENTERS CENTRE STAGE.
Mary had been promised in marriage to a man named Joseph. One day, God sent the Angel Gabriel to visit her.
ANGEL GABRIEL ENTERS AND STANDS CENTRE STAGE NEXT TO MARY.
Imagine her surprise – an angel turning up out of the blue!
Angel: Don’t be afraid, Mary. God has chosen you for a very special job. You will soon have a baby who will grow up to be a great leader. He’ll teach everyone to love each other and his coming will bring peace on Earth.
Narrator: Mary was stunned.
Mary: How can a baby bring peace on Earth? And why am I the one to have this child?
Angel: Nothing is impossible with God.
Narrator: So, even though she was young and powerless, Mary loved God so much, she made a clear decision.
Mary: Alright, I’ll do it. I am God’s servant.
ANGEL GABRIEL RETURNS TO SEAT ON FLOOR. MARY REMAINS ON STAGE BUT MOVES TO THE SIDE, STAGE LEFT.
Narrator: And now it’s a time to sing a song.
Song: Mary’s Gonna have a Baby Boy (one round)
Narrator: Joseph was promised in marriage to Mary.
JOSEPH ENTERS CENTRE STAGE.
Narrator: When Joseph heard that Mary was going to have a baby, he felt very unsettled.
Joseph: I’m scared. Should I still marry her?
Narrator: But that night, while he was sleeping, an angel appeared to Joseph.
ANOTHER ANGEL ENTERS CENTRE STAGE (OR THE SAME ANGEL).
Angel: Don’t be afraid to marry Mary. She is to give birth to God’s son and you will give him the name, Jesus. He is coming to save the world and bring peace.
ANGEL RETURNS TO SEAT ON FLOOR, JOSEPH REMAINS CENTRE STAGE.
Narrator: All night, Joseph thought about what the angel had said. When he got up the next morning, he did as the angel had told him and married Mary.
MARY JOINS JOSEPH CENTRE STAGE THEN THEY MOVE OFF TO THE SIDE, STAGE RIGHT.
Narrator: Not long after the wedding, the Emperor Augustus Caesar, founder of the Roman Empire, was having a think.
AUGUSTUS CAESAR ENTERS CENTRE STAGE.
Augustus Caesar: (scans the congregation) I wonder how many people live in my land. I want to make sure I’m getting as much tax out of them as possible.
CAESAR GOES UP INTO PULPIT TO GET A BETTER LOOK.
Let’s see … how many people are there? (points at crowd as if counting them). One, two, three, four, five … wait a minute. I lost count. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven … wait! Is that a person or a camel? Start again. One, two, three … (sigh) This is going to forever. There’s got to be a better way … I know! I’ll make everyone return to the place where they were born and register their name. Then they can pay me more tax and I can buy myself lots of nice things – maybe a shiny new chariot or a cool hat (Caesar’s eyes gleam.)
CAESAR EXITS STAGE LEFT AND RETURNS TO HIS SEAT.
Narrator: Caesar sent everyone home to the town where they were born. Since Joseph’s family came from Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph had to travel there, even though Mary was very pregnant.
There weren’t ubers back then, so instead, Mary rode on a donkey and Joseph walked beside her. The journey would take around five days.
MARY AND JOSEPH WALK ANTI-CLOCKWISE AROUND TABLE AND STOP IN FRONT OF TABLE WHERE THERE ARE TWO CHAIRS.
Narrator: By the time they got to Bethlehem, the place was jam-packed with people. Mary and Joseph were having a hard time finding anywhere to stay. It was getting dark and the baby was about to be born. Imagine how anxious and exhausted they were. It wouldn’t have been safe to be on the streets. The couple decided to try one more inn which is another name for a hotel.
MARY AND JOSEPH WALK TO LECTERN, STAGE LEFT.
When they got there, Mary and Joseph knocked on the door.
MARY AND JOSEPH KNOCK ON LECTERN. INNKEEPER APPEARS AND ANSWERS DOOR.
Joseph: Do you have a spare room? We’ve come a very long way and Mary is pregnant.
Innkeeper: We’re full up! You’ll have to go someplace else!
Narrator: Mary and Joseph stared at each other helplessly. They’d tried everywhere in town. There was nowhere else. Noticing how desperate they were, the innkeeper felt sorry for them.
Innkeeper: Look, it’s not ideal, but there’s a stable around the back where we keep the animals. You can sleep there for the night.
INNKEEPER LEADS MARY AND JOSEPH TO THE CHAIRS. MARY AND JOSEPH SIT DOWN. INNKEEPER EXITS STAGE LEFT.
STAGE MANAGER GETS MANGER WHICH IS HIDDEN BEHIND THE TABLE, AND PLACES IT CENTRE STAGE IN FRONT OF MARY AND JOSEPH.
Narrator: Mary and Joseph gazed in dismay at the dirty surrounds. But with no other choice, Mary gave birth to her baby in the stable.
STAGE MANAGER PLACES BABY JESUS IN MARY’S ARMS.
Narrator: And because there was nowhere else to put the baby, she laid him in the animals’ feeding trough which some people call a manger.
And now it’s time for our next song.
Song: Hush Now or Away in a Manger
Narrator: Looks like we’ve got some shepherds here today. Shepherds, would you like to come forward?
SHEPHERDS COME FORWARD AND STAND STAGE RIGHT OFF TO THE SIDE.
Narrator: One of the main jobs of a shepherd is to round up the sheep. So, let’s hear from our shepherds. Do you remember your line? When I say, ‘And the shepherds said …’ you reply, ‘Round ‘em up! Round ‘em up!’ You can whistle too if you like. And sheep, when I say, ‘And the sheep said …’, remember to reply, ‘Baa baa.’
Here we go. And the shepherds said …
Shepherds and Narrator: WHISTLE. Round ‘em up! Round ‘em up!
Narrator: And the sheep said …
Sheep and Narrator: Baa baa!
Narrator: The shepherds were going about their business looking after their sheep when, much to their surprise, an angel of the Lord appeared before them.
ANGEL COMES FORWARD (COULD BE SAME ACTOR AS GABRIEL OR ANOTHER ANGEL) AND STANDS STAGE LEFT.
Narrator: The shepherds were really scared. (turns to shepherds) Can you act scared, Shepherds?
SHEPHERDS ACT SCARED.
Narrator: But the angel said to them:
Angel: Don’t be afraid. I’m here to bring you good news. A saviour was born today and he is Christ the Lord. I’m going to give you a sign so you know who it is. Go to the town and there you will find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. He is the one.
Narrator: Suddenly, a lot of angels appeared.
THE REST OF THE ANGELS COME FORWARD AND STAND STAGE LEFT.
Narrator: Do you remember your line, angels? Allelluia! Allelluia! Here we go: And the angels said …
Angels and Narrator: Alleluia! Alleluia!
Narrator: Let’s try that again. And the angels said …
Angels and Narrator: Alleluia! Alleluia!
Narrator: Once the angels had left …
ANGELS EXIT STAGE AND SIT DOWN.
… the shepherds went to Bethlehem and ran from door to door. Where was the newborn baby?
SHEPHERDS HUNT BEHIND TABLE AND AROUND LECTERN LOOKING FOR THE BABY.
They found him lying in a manger wrapped in cloth just as the angel had told them.
SHEPHERDS GATHER AROUND THE BABY STAGE RIGHT.
When they found him, they told Mary and Joseph what the angels had said about Jesus. Everyone was astonished and Mary never forgot what she was told. In fact, she kept thinking about it as Jesus grew up to be a man.
It’s now time for first part of our next song.
Song: Angels from the Realms of Glory #309 (Verses 1&2)
I think it might be time for the Wise Ones to enter the story. A long way away, a group of Wise Ones, sometimes called magi or kings, had been studying of the stars. They became convinced that it was the time for the Messiah to be born.
THREE WISE ONES STAND UP.
They were so excited they decided to leave their homes and make the long journey to meet him. But they didn’t want to arrive empty-handed. So, they gathered up some gifts before they left. One brought gold.
WISE ONES’ COSTUME PERSON HANDS WISE ONE #1 GOLD.
One brought frankincense which is sap from a special tree that is used to make incense and perfume.
WISE ONES’ COSTUME PERSON HANDS WISE ONE #2 FRANKINCENSE.
And one brought myrrh which is also tree sap used to make perfume.
WISE ONES’ COSTUME PERSON HANDS WISE ONE #3 MYRRH.
Now that they had their gifts ready, it was time to leave. But how did they know which way to go?
Do you remember how God had placed a special star in the sky as a sign (points at star)? Now, Wise Ones, do you remember your line? I say: ‘The Wise Ones said …’ and you say, ‘Follow that star!’
When it came time to leave, the Wise Ones said …
Wise Ones and Narrator: Follow that star!
Narrator: One more time. And the Wise Ones said …
Wise Ones and Narrator: Follow that star!
Narrator: So, they followed the star to Bethlehem where Jesus was living.
WISE ONES WALK PART WAY UP THE AISLE THEN BACK DOWN AND OVER TO MANGER.
When they arrived, they gave Jesus their gifts then knelt down and worshipped him.
WISE ONES LAY GIFTS ON FLOOR AND KNEEL DOWN STAGE LEFT.
And now it’s time to sing the final verse of Angels from the Realms of Glory.
Song: Angels from the Realms of Glory (Verse 3)
Narrator: And that’s how Jesus, the saviour of the world, was born. Jesus is often called the Light of the World. That’s because he brought us the light of hope and love. Sometimes our world can still feel dark and troubled but the Christmas story reminds us that we don’t need to be afraid. God loves us and we can ask Jesus to light our path and show us the way.
Could all the people in the play please gather around the manger to form a tableau of the nativity so we can take photos? We’ll sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing while we do that.
Song: Hark the Herald Angels Sing (Verses 1 & 3)
Let us pray.
Thank you, Jesus, for being the Light of the World.
May we remember that your light and love live in us. Give us the courage and kindness to go out into the world and share these gifts with others.
Final song: Joy to the World
(Hand out instruments to the children to accompany the song.)
By Marianne Vreugdenhil and the unknown author of the interactive section in which the angels, shepherds & sheep, and wise ones call out ‘Alleluia’, ‘Round ‘em up!’ and ‘Follow that star!’
You are welcome to use this play for the purposes of worship.