Before this Christmas season leaves us, and while it is still fresh in the memory, here is a plan for Stations of the Nativity that you are welcome to use and adapt – but please give credit to this blog!
At St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Elyria, Ohio, on the evening before Christmas Eve, we read the scriptures for each station as noted. The whole journey took us around an hour, and we lingered for some conversation about our experience after Compline was done. We were few in number; as presented, this is most suitable for a small group or groups travelling together, because of the musical portions.
Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome!
Stations of the Nativity
- In the beginning John 1:1-5, 9, 14
We will begin our evening with candlelit prayer , celebrating the Light of the World coming among us.
(We prayed a form of An Order of Worship for the Evening, BCP starting at p. 109, including a hymn to light and the lighting of the Advent wreath, and a reading from the Gospel according to John)
- An angel appears to Zechariah Luke 1: 5-25
The story of the angelic announcement of the forthcoming birth of John the Baptist. His father is rendered speechless after asking the angel for a sign.
Zechariah needs to tell his wife, Elizabeth, what has happened, but how can he, when he can’t even speak to her? You may like to help him write her a letter!
(My prompts read: How would you tell Elizabeth? What sort of a letter would you write to your wife? Not to make it seem like a cruel joke? Not to make it seem like you have lost your mind?
I had letters to Elizabeth started and abandoned, and a last letter: Dear Gabriel, Please come back and tell Elizabeth for me. But keep the flaming sword in its sheath. Please. Sincerely (and silently), Zechariah. Blank pages and pens set out for people to write their own versions. Also, this poem:
Tongue-tied and frozen,
teeth on a knife-edge,
overwhelmed and overcome;
if he could have spoken,
told them what he had seen,
where would he find the words?
- The Annunciation Luke 1: 26-38
The angel tells Mary that she is to bear a son, Jesus. The Roman Catholic prayer (also used by many Anglicans), Hail Mary, or Ave Maria, is a combination of the angel’s greeting and that of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin (see next station):
Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
[Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.]
You may like to use the prayer beads to help you pray the Hail Mary, or this:
Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, 240)
(I set out prayer beads (Anglican rosaries) and played a recording of the Ave Maria by Schubert)
- The Visitation Luke 1: 39-45
John, in Elizabeth’s womb, jumps for joy at the approach of Mary, who carries Jesus. Elizabeth provides the second half of the Ave Maria greeting.
Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, 240)
(There is a stained glass window in our church depicting the Visitation, which we looked at before praying the collect. An icon could also be used at this point.)
- The Magnificat Luke 1: 46-55
Mary sings to celebrate the coming of the kingdom of God. Her song is similar to one sung by Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel, after he is born and given into God’s service.
The song has been set to music many times. The example playing here is by Thomas Tallis (Alistair Dixon & Chapell du Roi – Thomas Tallis: The Complete Works – Volume 6)
(We sat and listened to the music. I had also provided a table comparing the songs of Mary and Hannah)
- The birth of John Luke 1: 57-80
John is born, and it is expected that he will take his father’s name, but his parents know that he has been given to them by God, and they give him the name that the angel told to Zechariah. Now that Zechariah has listened to the angel’s words and heeded them, he can speak once more.
How did you come by your name?
(We gathered at the font for this part of the story and talked about names and naming, the names we received at baptism, and the importance of the naming to Zechariah, who could now speak once more.)
- Joseph’s dilemma/Joseph’s dream Matthew 1: 18-25
Because Mary was already contracted to be his wife, and was now pregnant, Joseph had the right to demand cruel punishment of her. He had already decided that this was not his way, and when the angel came to him in a dream and explained the situation, he was already, by his open and generous nature, ready to receive the news and act accordingly. Are we open to God’s prompting to unexpected acts of mercy?
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, 239)
(I had set up a rock and a shawl either side of the station to represent Joseph’s choices. We were at our intercessory candle station at this point, and lit candles for those facing difficult decisions as well as praying the Joseph collect and lighting a candle for him)
- The journey to Bethlehem Luke 2: 1-5
On a modern map, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is slated to take around two hours. In Mary and Joseph’s day, it would take days. They could take only what they could carry in their hands, or maybe on a small pack animal. They would need to take food, water and their own shelter. Mary was very pregnant and would need special care and plenty of rest stops.
(I had googlemaps images printed of the journey. Also, items gathered to pack. If so inclined, a game could be made of trying to pack what is needed into a small bag (oversupply large items like sleeping bags, pillows, packs of diapers, drinks and food, etc, and offer a small pack to get it into))
- The child is born Luke 2: 6-7
The birth of a child: always surprising, always unique, always a holy mystery.
(An empty manger was offered for silent reflection)
- The angels appear Luke 2: 8-14
Join in the angels’ song! (from Relient K, Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand)
(I set up a group of as many angels as I could gather near a group of shepherds from the church nativity. We joined in this fast and raucous version of the Christmas hymn – available on iTunes – quite a change from Tallis and Schubert!)
- The shepherds adore him Luke 2: 15-20
Spot the odd sheep!
(An icon was set up, and all the toy sheep I could gather from home, as well as a reindeer trying to blend in … We also read part of a poem: “The Lamb,” from The Creatures Choir, by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, translated by Rumer Godden (London: Penguin, 1965) )
- The wise men adore him Matthew 2: 1-12
Gold, frankincense, myrrh … what gift will you offer Christ this Christmas? Use the card to write or draw an offering and take it home with you to put under your tree, in your stocking, or wherever will remind you of what you have brought to the Christ-child this Christmas.
(Offered green and red index cards, pens, crayons)
- The flight to Egypt and Herod’s outrage Matthew 2: 13-18
One part of the Christmas story is not PG-rated. We will light candles for those innocents who still suffer the outrages of tyrants, and for refugees from dangerous and oppressive regimes; younger children might wish to remain with the wise men drawing their gifts, if their parents prefer to delay the telling of this chapter.
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, 238)
(A table of tea lights in glass containers was left in the front of the church from the previous evening’s Blue Christmas service, and we lit candles as indicated above)
- The Presentation in the Temple Luke 2: 25-40
The song of Simeon is included in our Compline service. We will end our evening in prayer together.
(We returned to the choir where we had begun the evening and used the reading during Compline)