Christmas treeAs Pastor Iman passed Eric who paced back and forth at the back of the room, the pastor asked the young man, “What part do have in the play?”

“I’m the star,” Eric said, scratching his head and facing the inquiring man.

“Oh, that’s great but what is your part?”

“I’m the star,” Eric repeated, patiently.

“I know you are the star; but what is the part you are playing tonight?”

Eric’s autism kicked in as he nervously hit the air with his fist and said, “I told you.  I’m the star.”

Christmas playRealizing that Eric’s patience was gone, the interested Pastor walked away, still wondering what part Eric was playing in our annual Christmas play.

Sunday evening, The Special Gathering of Melbourne had our annual play and cantata.  “A Florida Christmas” is a playful enactment of the Christmas events of 2000 years ago.  One song brings tears to those of us who have learned the music.  Nevertheless,  most of the music and the play is joyfully planned to be fun.

Christmas ChoirWhile the song that introduces the wise men was sung, Eric’s part was to carry the star guiding the wise men to the Savior.  As he had reported to the inquiring pastor, Eric was the star.

After the performance, Pastor Inman came to me laughing about his mistake.

There are times that all of us are misunderstood when we are trying to communicate the best we can.  However, we must continue to repeat the facts.  We are called to teach and share the good news of Jesus and his love.  His mercy and grace are free gifts and that is the story of Christmas.  Even though others may not be able to understand that simple message, it does not diminish the truth of our Savior’s sacrifice.  After all, Jonathan Smith correctly penned in one of the song that we sang this year, “I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say, but this is such a strange way to save the world.”

I often plug products that I’ve found beneficial, especially in the ministry of The Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  The Christmas musical, A Stranger in the Manger, is a well-written and joy-filled musical that becomes an excellent presentation.  Uplifting and fun songs make the music sparkle.  However, the ballad, “This is Such a Strange Way to Save the World,” is touching enough to leave half of the audience in tears.

The musical is written for children; but it is easily adapted for the disability community, especially for the mentally challenged population.  While the words and music may be more difficult than anything you have tried, it is easy to learn because everyone loves the music enough to work hard.   With children, you can supplement the recorded voices.  However, with a choir of intellectually disabled adults, you will need to leave out the extra voices recorded because the children’s voices will not blend with an adult choir.

Arrangers Johnathan Crumpton and Sue Smith have done an excellent job in translating the gospel story of Jesus’ birth into a fun, teaching experience set to music.

As a “hook” this year, I have used the winter waves on the east coast of Florida that our surfers love.  This makes our play regional.  However, you can insert any event that is peculiar to your area. There may be a Christmas tour for which your community is known or some regional arts festival, the rodeo.  In addition, we are using youth from several local churches.  They are the speakers who are leaving rehearsal to go surf.

This play is divided into 1) speakers–these are the people at the beginning of the play who are reading or speaking the modern-day part of the play. i.e. the surfers and decorators. 2) actors–they are the people who are portraying the  Biblical part of the play, Mary, Joseph, wise men.  3) choir 4) readers–they are the people who read the narration.  Our readers are usually choir members who have not been given solo parts.

Our music and words have come from the wonderful children’s play, Stranger in the Manger, by Jonathan Crampton and Sue Smith, published by Brentwood-Benson Music Productions.   I have included the words to the songs.  They are copyrighted by Brentwood Choral.  You will need to buy the Demo CD and the Split-track practice CD.  There is also a great orchestration CD and books available.  This music is certainly worth the expense.  The music is wonderful.  The words are not childish but can adapt to adults who may have a difficult time learning the choral parts.  Your members will love upbeat, big band sounds. 

A Florida Christmas

By Linda G. Howard

All the actors, speakers, choir, readers and helpers should be out front getting their costumes on.  Speakers who are youth should be helping to do different tasks.  The play will begin at set time but everything (costumes, etc.)  will be out front in full view, rather than in a backroom.  Choir should be ready to get into position on the side of the stage opposite where the actors will be entering and exiting the stage. Everyone is hurrying to get things cleaned up and out-of-the-way at the time that the play begins. 

Speaker 1 (comes out with a bathing suit–possibly a wet suit—swinging in mid-air  and a surf board under his arm and shouts)—Surf’s up!

Several people begin to get up as though they are leaving. They gather up surf boards.  Shouting:  All Right! Let’s go!

(As the Speakers are talking, the choir gets into place. People finish getting actors seated and all the boxes out-of-the-way.)

Speaker 2—(stands)  Wait a minute!  Are you getting ready to leave?

Speaker 1 (coming over to Speaker 2)—Yeah!  This is Florida, Man.  There is surf and we can catch at least a full hour of waves, if we hurry.  (Motions to everyone to leave.)

Speaker 3—(Stands in the way of the surfers.)  You promised to help with our Christmas play.  It’s time to start.  (Sarcasticlly and motioning to the audience.) The audience is here, parents, friends.

Speaker 4—(Standing with speaker 3)  You can’t leave now!

Speaker 5You don’t understand.  We wait all year for the winter waves.  This is Florida.  That’s what a Florida Christmas means waves, waves and more waves.

Speaker 2Come on.  We know better than that.  Sure, Christmas in Florida means waves but it means a lot more.

Speaker 6—He’s (or she’s) right.  We can’t forget the real meaning of Christmas.

Speaker 7—Big deal, a baby, a stranger in a manger.  How does that compare with waves, real winter waves.

Speaker 2—It’s the story telling how much God loves us.  That’s way better than waves.

Speaker 5—Okay, we’ll stay but this better be good!

(As the speakers put their surf boards away, the choir begins to sing.)

1.  Tell Me the Story of Christmas

(chorus)

Tell me the story of Christmas. I love to hear it told.

Every detail of that incredible night.

Never, no, never, ever grows old.

I love the part where the angels are singing

and the shepherds and wise men are worshiping.

I’m ready to hear all the wonderful things That happened in Bethlehem.

So tell me the story of Christmas once again.

 

Good Christian Men Rejoice

Good Christian men, rejoice With heart and soul and voice.

Give ye heed to what we say:

News! News! Jesus Christ is born today!

Ox and ass before Him bow And He is in the manger now.

Christ is born today, Christ is born today.

 

(Back to top and Repeat Chorus)

 

I really love to hear the story get repeated, cause every time you tell about the birth of Jesus,

If someone else can hear about it and believe it,

They’ll find his love.  So if you wait until the middle of November

Or if you sing it from December through December

Just tell the world about His coming and remember the way it was.

(Repeat Chorus)

Hark! The Herald Angels sing

Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!

Joyful, all ye nations, rise, join the triumph of the skies.

With Angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King.

(Repeat Chorus)

Tag–So Tell me the story of  Christmas once again.  Again!

As the song ends, the curtains should open half way.  Mary and Joseph should be on stage by the end of the song.  Holding hands, smiling.  

Speaker 1 to Speaker 5—(They should be carrying the final box of costumes out of the stage area. They stop in the middle of the stage area but on the floor.)  Ahh, maybe this won’t be too bad.  I guess the waves can wait.  (They continue to stand-off to the side on the floor area.)

Joseph:  (Joseph comes to the edge of the stage.  He puts his finger to his mouth and says) Sh-h-h.  (Everyone joins him, including the choir. Joseph puts his hands on his waist and walks to the side of the stage.  Angel walks up to Mary and begins to talk to her.)

Reader 1:       God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin girl who lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee.  The girl was engaged to marry a man named Joseph.  Her name was Mary. 

(Mary’s angel leaves. Mary goes to Joseph to talk.  They walk to center stage.)

Reader 2:       Mary was engaged to marry Joseph.  But before they married, Mary learned that she was pregnant with a child by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Mary’s husband, Joseph was a good man.  He did not want to bring shame to Mary before the people.  So he planned to divorce her secretly. 

Speaker 1 to Speaker 5:  (They should be standing on the floor area but still in view of the audience. Speaking loudly.) This is my favorite part.

Except for Mary and Joseph, everyone–including the choir–says:  Sh-h-h.  (Speaker 2 comes and helps them to sit down.)

Mary walks off stage.  Joseph goes to center stage.  He is confused, hurt, and angry.  He sits down and drops his head as though asleep.  Joseph’s Angel comes on stage wakes him up and talks to Joseph. 

Reader 3:  While Joseph thought about these things, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream.  The angel said, “Joseph, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the baby in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus.

As the Joseph angel exits, Joseph goes and gets Mary.  They stand together talking as the choir sings.

2. The Answer is “Yes”

 (Verse 1)  What do you say to an angel who suddenly appears

With news that’s so surprising you can’t believe your ears?

Do you have to think awhile, or do you tell him with a smile

(Chorus) The answer is “yes” to whatever God says. His plan is all right with me, wherever He leads.

Anytime, any place, I’m gonna obey. He knows that I know that He knows best.  That’s why the answer is Yes.

(Verse 2)  What do you say if you find out

The Father’s calling you for something very special  He’s planned for you to do?

Do you try to run away or bow your head and simply say:

(Repeat Chorus)

(Verse 3)  The answer isn’t “Maybe” or  “Come back and ask me later.”

When you choose between your own will and the will of the Creator

(Repeat chorus)O-o-oh  He knows that I know that He knows best.  That’s why the answer is Yes.  Yes!

Reader 3:  And Joseph did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream.  He married Mary.

(Joseph puts his arm around Mary.  Mary and Joseph walk off the stage. Close curtain or the stage should be empty.)

(Shepherds move into place at the front of the stage on the floor.)

Reader 2:    At that time Augustus Caesar sent out an order to all people.  The order said that all people must write their name in a book.  All people traveled to their own towns to be registered.  So Joseph went to Bethlehem in Judea.  Joseph went with Mary.  While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have the baby.

(The Angels come out to the shepherds.)

Reader 4:       Some shepherds were in the fields watching their sheep.

Reader 5:       An angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds and said,

Reader 6:       “Don’t be afraid.”

Choir sings “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

3.  Angels we have Heard on High

Angels we have heard on high,

Sweetly singing over the plains

And the mountains in reply,

Echo back their joyous stains.

(chorus) Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Come to Bethlehem and see

Him whose birth the angels sing.

Come, adore on bended knee

Christ the Lord, the newborn king.

(repeat Chorus)

Tag:  In excelsis Deo.

After the choir sings, the curtains open, Mary, Joseph and the baby are there.  Choir sings “A Stranger in the Manger.”  Some of the shepherds who can go up the stairs and kneel go up and kneel by the baby.

4.  Stranger in the Manger

(verse 1) There’s a crowded inn in a little town,

At the barn out back shepherds gather around.

As they go inside, they are all bowing down.

What can it be?  Come look and see.

(chorus) There is a Stranger in the manger, out where the animals are fed.

There is a Baby in the hay, we’ve seen, who’s using that manger for a bed.

Why are there songs of joy praising this little Boy?

Telling the reason that He came?

There is a Stranger in the manger, and King

Jesus is His name.

(verse 2) It was long ago. It was far away but we’re still surprised

When we hear it today.

Could the Son of God be asleep on the Hay?

Yes, it is He.  Come and Believe!

(repeat Chorus)

Why are there songs of joy praising this little Boy?

Telling the reason that He came?

There is a Stranger in the manger, and King

Jesus is His name.

Jesus is His name.

Jesus is His name.

Angels should move on to the stage. 

As the music begins for “Walkin’ Like a Wise Man,” the wise men begin to move from the back. 

At first, they should be looking up into the sky, as thought they are  wandering around. 

Then Speaker 7 should come out carrying a large paper star on a stick. He will walk from the floor onto the stage and stand behind Mary and Joseph with the star held hight.   Then WiseMen see the star, point to it and come to the place where Mary, Joseph and the baby are.   They come on stage and kneel on the floor before the baby.

5.  Walkin’ like a Wise Man

(verse 1) Just another moonlit night like many they had seen

But there was something different about the sky above them.

It had to be the brightest star proclaiming heaven’s King

And if they follow, they would surely find Him

(chorus) Three men out searching in the night,

Who walked by faith and not by sight.

Woh-h-h-h   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

Woh-h-h-h   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

 (verse 2) Just a humble village where nobody would have guessed

The men would bow in honor of the little Baby.

But as they knelt before the child to offer up their best,

They knew they found the reason for their journey. (Return to chorus then “We Three Kings”)

We Three King

We three kings of Orient are.

Bearing gifts, we traverse afar

Field and Fountain, moor and mountain

Following Yonder Star.

Now everyone who follows Him

Is really walking just like them.

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

 

In the darkness, faith is the key.

When you trust Him, you’ll find you’ll be

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

 

Speaker 7 with the star should be on stage standing behind everyone.  Joseph should take the baby and hold him walking around the stage or just standing looking at the baby.  Choir sings, “A Strange Way to Save the World.” All of the speakers should come on stage and bow before the manger during the song.  

6.  A Strange Way to Save the World

(verse 1)  I’m sure he must have been surprised

At where the road had taken him cause never in a million lives

Would he have dreamed of Bethlehem.

And standing at the manger, he saw with his own eyes

The message from the angel come to life.

And Joseph said,

( Chorus) Why me?  I’m just a simple man of trade.

Why Him? With all the rulers in the world?

Why here? Inside this stable filled with hay?

Why her? She’s just an ordinary girl.

Now I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say,

But this is such a strange way to save the world.

(verse 2) To think of how it could have been if Jesus came as He deserved.

There would have been no Bethlehem, no lowly shepherds at His birth.

But Joseph knew the reason love had to reach so far.

And as he held the Savior in his arms

He must have thought,

(repeat Chorus)

Tag:  But this is such a strange way to save the world.

Joseph puts the baby back in the manger.  Speaker 1 goes to Speaker 2 and puts his arm over his shoulder. 

Speaker 1:  You are right this is much better than surfing.

Speaker 2 and everyone else:  Sh-h-h.

Choir sings “When I think of Christmas.”  As each new verse is introduced the person mentioned will leave. 

Verse 1:  Speaker 1 and the other youth (except Speaker 7)  will come and give the baby to Mary. 

Verse 2:  The youth will take away the manger and wave. 

Verse 3:  Joseph will wave and leave.

Verse 4:  Mary will wave and leave.

Verse 5:  Youth holding the star will wave and leave.

Verse 6:  The Angels will wave and leave. (Youth should help them where necessary.)

Verse 7:  The Shepherds will wave and leave. (Youth should help where necessary.)

Verse 8:  The Wise Men will wave and leave.

Verse 9 and 10 the Youth with the star should come back at the star verse.  Last time one of the SpG speakers will pull him off the stage area.

7.  When I Think of Christmas

When I think of Christmas, I think of how God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful,

the manger was empty Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how a new star was shining bright

Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how the angels sang “Glory,” a new star was shining bright.

Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how the shepherds were frightened,

The angels sang “Glory,” a new star was shining bright.

Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how wisemen came searching,

the shepherds were frightened.

The angels sang “Glory,“ a new star was shining bright.

Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how the whole world is different cause

wisemen came searching.  The shepherds were frightened,

The angels sang “Glory,“ a new star was shining bright.

Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how God’s love is the reason the whole world is            different cause wisemen came searching, the shepherds were frightened,  The angels sang “Glory,” a new star was shining bright.  Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty Till God’s only Son came to earth.

Choir Sings:

8.  Finale–Joy to the World

It was, long ago, It was far away but we’re still surprised

When we hear it today

Could the Son of God be asleep on the hay?

Yes, it is He.  Come and Believe!

(chorus) There is a Stranger in the manger, out where the animals are fed.

There is a Baby in the hay, we’ve seen, who’s using that manger for a bed.

Why are there songs of joy praising this little Boy?

Telling the reason that He came?

There is a Stranger in the manger, and King

Jesus is His name.

Joy to the World

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come

Let earth receive her king.

Let every heart prepare Him room

And Heaven and nature sing,

And Heaven and nature sing

And heaven and heaven and nature sing.

He rules the world with truth and grace

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness

And wonders of His love,

And wonders of His love,

And wonder, wonders of His love

For our 2012 Special Gathering Christmas music, we are using the score from a children musical,  Stranger in the Manger, by Johnathan Crumpton and Sue Smith, published by Brentwood-Benson Music Productions. Brentwood Choral holds the copyrights.

Even though it is a children’s musical, it will adapt easily to the needs of the adults in your program.  You will need to buy the Demo CD and the Split-track practice CD.  There is also a great orchestration CD and books available.  This music is certainly worth the expense.

Crumpton and Smith’s music and words are wonderful.  The words to the songs are not childish. They tell the message of the miracle of God’s son’s birth in a touching and anointed way.  In fact, everyone has their favorite song. Most of our choir members tear up during one of the song. I’ve had to almost harden my heart to the song, “This is Such a Strange Way to Save The World,” because the words are so powerful that the first 500 times I heard it, I cried.  Even now, writing about and remember the powerful words of the song, I am fighting back tears.

The musical score can easily be adapted to adults who may have a difficult time learning choral parts.  While many of the words may be difficult to say for people who have speech impediments, I’ve found that our members are learning the words because they love the music.  The big band, upbeat sound of the orchestration and musical score make this musical easy for our members to learn because they want to work hard to learn the words and be a part of this choral expression.

Yesterday was one of those days.  For months, I’ve tried to figure out how The Special Gathering of Indian River Christmas play should be written.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our population learns more slowly than normal; yet they are adults.  It is important that the play is not only educationally appropriate but also appropriate for adults.

Regarding the play, I write it.  Therefore, I begin searching for ideas for the next year as soon as the play is written for the current year.  Sounds as though I’d be way ahead of the game by mid-summer, doesn’t it?   That could be true if I can “see” the logistics of the play.  Many years I’m a bit stumped regarding some portion of the production.  My idea this year comes from the participation of the youth department at our program in one of our programs.  Yet, how do I make it appropriate for our other program.

During my prayer time yesterday, I suddenly knew how the play should be written so that it would be age appropriate and would easily adapt to our other program that does not have youth participation.  I began working on the play about 6:30am.  By 9:30am, I was ready to send it to our staff and volunteers for their suggestions and comments.

Then I began working on other deadline projects.  I was able to complete them all.

By the end of the day, I was thrilled at the productive time I’d experienced.  As I crawled into bed, I was pretty satisfied with the accomplishments of the day.  I prayed, “Lord, thank you so much for the great day.  I feel your presence and your pleasure because of all the work I was able to do today.”

Gently, I felt the Lord’s response, “Linda, I’m with you, leading and directing you at your least productive day, also.  Sometimes I have a greater goal in your life than finishing tasks.”

Whoa!  My tired brain soared.  Of course, it is great to be able to complete tasks.  But what about the days that you work diligently and nothing is accomplished.  Is God pleased with your failed efforts?  Will the Lord honor us, even when we fall short?

Johnnie and Peter Lord

Years ago, Johnnie Lord, the wife of well-known Pastor Peter Lord, said that the Lord assured her that he was much more concerned about the intent of her heart than her actual performance.  While the Bible teaches us this truth, we forget.

How has God assured you that he loves you even when you don’t “perform up to par”?  Are you able to pass on to others the same gace and mercy?

Each year, I wrestled with what to teach and preach on the Sunday of Christmas.  Then I got the best advice regarding this that I’ve ever received.  It came from Richard Stimson, The Special Gathering executive director.  His advice was simple.

Tell the story.  People don’t come to church in overflowing crowds to hear a new revelation.  They simply want to hear the story of the birth of the Savior of the world.  They want hear about the virgin girl and her perplexed fiance.  They want to wonder in the glory of angels and Magi and “Peace on earth.  Goodwill to me.”  They desire to search with the shepherds for a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

It’s the story they come to hear.  People want to hear and rejoice in The Story.

I am a real believer in delayed gratification.  In fact, as much as I love gifts, I love the anticipation even more.  As a child, I gave up the Christmas gift hunt.  The annual childhood adventure wasn’t hard in our house, because our home was small and there weren’t many hiding places.  But I loved the wait.

Daddy always locked the cellar where he spent hours working on new toys and refurbishing old favorites until they were like new.  Mother’s hiding job was harder because her sewing machine was in clear view.  We usually shopped with her when she bought the material for the mountains of new clothes she would make for us.

My last Christmas at home, Mother made me a wonderful new coat.  It was red with gusset sleeves and I thought it was the most beautiful coat I’d ever seen.  The fact that she made it added to its value for me.  I was married two weeks after Christmas that year so she spent added hours that fall working on my wedding dress and my trousseau.

I’ve always felt sorry for people who had to have Christmas or to get married without my mother.  She made all our clothes, working endless hours sewing and fixing and shopping.  That year, she planned the wedding, made my dress and my going-away suit.  She made the food for the reception and shopped for the cake.  My job was to pick out the bride’s maid dress patterns and materials, design my wedding dress and stand for hours for fittings.

After Mother died, I found that the gifts didn’t end.  At last I had the money to purchase the garden furniture that I’d been eyeing for about four years.  I took a small part of my inheritance and went to the store to buy the chairs, tables and couch.

Before I purchased them, I walked out of the store.  I knew that an era was over.  Thanks to mother’s careful savings, I wouldn’t be searching and saving for the perfect combo for my backyard garden.  I would have them.

I also knew that Mother’s gifts to me were almost complete.  I went to my closet and felt one more time my lace wedding dress, now faded with age.  The next day I returned to the store.  Over night, the set I wanted had gone on sale.  I was able to buy it at a huge savings.

I giggled as I purchased my garden set.  Mother’s gift giving wasn’t over.  When I sat on them perched perfectly under the shade of the gazebo.  I cried and laughed and thanked God for a wonderful mother who helped her children understand and cherish the wonder of His love.  I silently praised him for a mother who made elegant wedding gowns and who taught me to wait for better gifts and to love sales.