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Posted by on Dec 1, 2016 | 0 comments

Nativity: Look Again


Most of us have 1 or 5 or 10 of them.   You know crèches…nativity sets…little wooden houses with painted shepherds, magi, doting parents, and the baby Jesus in a manger.  They are an ancient and effective tool that the church uses to tell the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.  We also see them so often during Advent and Christmas that well…maybe…we don’t see really see them at all.  Here are some ways you might use nativity sets in the worshiping life of your church to reclaim them as a tool for telling the story of the good news of great joy:

  • Massed Sets – A friend and colleague of mine, Bonnie Belfield, suggested that we invite the entire congregation to bring in nativity sets to display in our sanctuary for one Sunday or the whole Advent season.  We brought in wooden TV tables, covered them with fabric, and placed them in a variety of places all over the sanctuary.  As sets were brought in, we set them up and during worship we invited the congregation to explore them (before, during and after the service).  We also extended a special invitation to the individuals and families who were lighting our Advent Wreath to bring in sets and tell the stories of how they acquired them and what they meant to them.  The visual impact of massed nativity sets draws the congregation’s attention and invites them to look again.
  • Sermon Series – With or without massed nativity sets you could preach a sermon series that uses a nativity set as a guide.  Each week during Advent, Christmas and into Epiphany preach about one of the elements…shepherds, angels, animals, etc.  Projecting different images of the characters could be a nice supplement to the sermon.
  • History of the Nativity – What is the etymology of the word “nativity?”  How did the tradition of nativity sets start?  Maybe a standalone sermon about or a printed information sheet could help your congregation to look again.  See link here as a place to start your research.
  • Nativity Making Workshop – Do you have any woodworkers in your congregation?  Pick a Saturday before or during Advent and host a nativity making workshop for children, adults, families or whatever.  Sound too complicated?  How about just simple blocks in different shapes and sizes?  For inspiration of set designs, look here.  When done, invite the makers to display them in your sanctuary.
  • Manger Making Workshop – Similar to the above but making a manger instead of a whole nativity set.  There are many free plans and designs online.  I like to size them to fit under our Christmas tree at home.  We also use a larger version as a platform for holding our Advent Wreath.
  • Baby Jesus Squad – Consider leaving the baby Jesus out of the nativity set(s) until Christmas Eve.  Invite some of your children/youth on Christmas Eve to put the baby Jesus figure(s) into the nativity set(s) in your sanctuary.  A job of responsibility and wonder they won’t soon forget!

© Rev. Kevin Goldenbogen, 2016

Kevin Goldenbogen is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ serving an amazing congregation in the foothills of the Green Mountains of Vermont. He skis, climbs, runs, bakes bread, rides a red Vespa, and tries every day to follow Jesus. He is married to the perfect woman and has two boys who he loves beyond words.

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