A Christmas Sacrament Meeting, the Sequel
Last Christmas, for the second consecutive year, I was charged with creating the Christmas Sacrament Meeting program in my local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) ward as part of my calling as Ward Music Chair. I embarked on the project with a certain degree of writer’s block. What could I do that would be new and fresh (not the same as the year before)? And while I had rewritten the story with more modern, simple language when I was charged with a Primary children’s program, and used my own contemporary voice the time I was asked to give a Christmas talk, for a group program in the chapel with narrators I felt more comfortable pulling directly from scripture rather than asking other people to recite words from my voice. But the Biblical source material from the gospel of Luke hadn’t changed since my last Christmas program. How could I make this one different if I stayed with the scriptural text?
For awhile, I debated using the same script as the previous year and only changing the songs. It is the same story, after all, and as proud as I was of the narration I had already written, I doubted many people would remember it well enough to notice if it were repeated.
However, I was inspired as I listened to the words of Evangelical/Episcopalian feminist theologian Rachel Held Evens and the sermons offered at her funeral in 2019. She and others from her faith tradition would weave disparate scriptures from across different parts of the scriptural canon together, showing common themes from these surprising combinations. I decided to do the same with my Christmas program. I looked for imagery from the nativity story in other books of scripture—stars, night, shepherds, angels, gifts—and weaved them into my narration alongside the book of Luke.
There were also characters I had wanted to include the previous year that I hadn’t managed to fit into that half hour program, such as Elisabeth and Samuel the Lamanite, so I made sure to include them this time around (which, sadly, required me to drop other beloved characters that had made the cut last time). Our church’s use of the King James version of the Bible is a barrier to using the story of Elisabeth in a modern Christmas program; her words are somewhat unintelligible in that translation, so I substituted the New King James Version there, which better conveys the meaning of her profound testimony to modern ears.
Here is what I came up with! (And for another alternative, here is my Christmas program from last year.)
(The videos provided are not the artists who performed in my local congregation and not necessarily the same musical arrangements.)
Opening Hymn: Hymn 208, O Little Town of Bethlehem
Sacrament Hymn: Hymn 196: Jesus, Once of Humble Birth
Administration of the Sacrament
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)
Congregational Hymn: Hymn 201, First Verse: Joy to the World
The angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth. …And the angel said unto [Mary], “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest and the Lord God …and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” (Luke 1:26-33)
Mary bore testimony: My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. …For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:46-50)
Congregational Hymn: Hymn 205, First Verse: Once in Royal David’s City
The angel Gabriel told Mary: “Behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:36-37)
Mary went to Elisabeth and when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb, and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. (Luke 1: 39-41)
Elisabeth said: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45, NKJV)
Congregational Hymn: Hymn 202, First Verse: Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful
Samuel the Lamanite foretold that people far away from Bethlehem would see signs of Christ’s birth: For behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day. …And behold, there shall a new star arise, such a one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you. (Helaman 14:3-5)
And it came to pass that the words…were fulfilled, according as they had been spoken; for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came. (3 Nephi 1: 13, 15)
Jesus taught: I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)
Special Musical Number: O Holy Night
Vocals: Young Men and Young Men Leaders, accompanied by cello
Jesus told his disciples: The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. (Matthew 8:20)
And yet, Jesus promised them and us: Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11: 28-30)
Mary and Joseph were far from home, in Bethlehem, when Jesus was born.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 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. (Luke 2:6-7)
The Primary children are now invited to come up to the stand.
Special Musical Number: Away in a Manger
Vocals: Primary Children
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23: 1-4)
On the night Jesus was born, 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.
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. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)
Congregational Hymn: Hymn 213, First Verse: The First Noel
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14)
O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people…that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth. (Alma 29: 1-2)
Congregational Hymn: Hymn 212, Third Verse: Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
And, lo, the star, which wise men saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11)
Congregational Hymn: Hymn 210, First Verse: With Wondering Awe
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Matthew 22: 36-39)
But Jesus warned that, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matthew 24:12)
Ward Choir and Clarinet: In the Bleak Midwinter
The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. …But ye, [sisters and] brethren, are not in darkness. …Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-9)
When prompted by the conductor, please join the choir in singing the third verse of Silent Night.
Closing Hymn: Ward Choir, Joined by Congregation in Third Verse: Hymn 204: Silent Night