Better Late Than Never
Here’s Christmas only a matter of days away, and nobody’s even started planning a Christmas program. As usual, everything’s left to the last minute!”
Perhaps you haven’t heard these remarks made in your Sunday school. Possibly weeks ago, the staff began preparing to take advantage of the one season in the year when a large part of the world stops to think about the birth of Jesus Christ.
You may also be inviting your pupils’ parents to come and hear their children recite and sing the great Christmas poems and carols of the Church. If so, you can be quite sure of a favorable response, for most parents love to see their youngsters take part in a program. Furthermore, at Christmas time, a great many folks warmly welcome an old fashioned carol sing.
A Christmas program in the Sunday school can be a great blessing to all concerned, both in the preparation and in the presentation. After all, the theme of Christmas is one of the most glorious subjects that human hearts have ever been privileged to consider: God has entered humanity through the virgin birth of His Son!
But the planning and preparing of a good program require plenty of thought and effort, and TIME, and this year, there’s precious little time in which to do anything about a Christmas program. In fact, many would say it’s hopelessly late. Well —better late than never!
True, for certain types of Christmas programs, there is insufficient time left in which to make adequate preparations. Just a few days remain between now and the 17th, 18th, or 22nd of the month — possibly some of the best dates for holding such an event at this time of the year.
However, for the Sunday school staff which would still like to capitalize on the opportunities provided by the season, there is still the distinct possibility of preparing an adequate and effective program if a start is made immediately.
One of the first steps in the preparations will be the mailing of invitations to the Sunday school pupils’ parents. In view of the shortage of time, a mimeographed announcement could be sent to them all, with a touch of personalization in the individual names and addresses on the envelopes.
For the sake of those who might not come to hear the message, a Christmas tract could be enclosed. If supplies have not been ordered from a distance in advance, a local bookstore might be able to meet the need from existing stocks. Failing all this, a few Bible verses about the birth of Jesus could be placed at the bottom of the invitation.
The mailed invitations will be supplemented, of course, through oral invitations given to the pupils to relay to their parents at home. In some special cases, personal telephone calls or visitation would be even more effective.
The most important part of the program will be the Bible message. This could be delivered in a variety of ways, but perhaps a different approach might be used for a change. Not just to be different, of course, but in order to constitute the message an integral part of the program itself.
It ought to be understood that the speaker should be one whom the Lord has gifted and exercised to present the Word of God to children. In fact, he should be invited to speak to the children and not to the parents. Otherwise, parents who come are liable to feel that they have been “trapped” into coming to “church” to “get preached at” — and, if you hope to see them back again, nothing could be worse than making them feel trapped.
Visual aids add greatly to any Bible message, so if the speaker is able to use flannelgraphs, large pictures, or slides, all the better.
Instead of delivering one long, unbroken address, however, the speaker could take three or four short episodes connected with the birth of the Lord, each one being given no more than seven minutes, and each separated from the others with carol singing by groups or the congregation. He could teach the annunciation to Mary, the angel’s message to Joseph, the shepherds’ experiences, and the visit of the wise men, as four of the main topics in the general subject of Christ’s birth.
It scarcely needs to be stressed that the speaker must also be gifted in brevity, particularly for this type of approach.
To emphasize the Bible message in connection with each episode, a pertinent Scripture verse could be printed on a large poster and displayed prominently at the appropriate moment. If flannelgraphs or pictures are used, each scene and its verse could be left in sight as the program proceeds, so that by the end of the program, the complete set of episodes and Scriptures will still be impressing the audience.
The carols placed between parts of the message could be sung by various people; e.g., some by individual classes from the Sunday school, and others by the whole congregation. Most of the carols are well known, so the time for training classes to participate in this way is minimal, if not negligible.
Although most of the tunes are well known, not all the words of every verse are always known by everyone present. Therefore, it is best to provide the words in some form or another.
If there is time, the words can be printed on large posters or prepared in the form of slides. Failing the time for this, inexpensive books of Christmas carols can be purchased at many music stores. Another method is the typing of the words on stencils to be mimeographed for the occasion.
The importance of choosing the best available song leader for the occasion is surely obvious. Parents are unlikely to be favorably impressed by incompetence or confusion of any kind.
At this late date, there might not be sufficient time for the children to learn a contemporary Christmas song, but if there should be any opportunity, “Ring the Bells” by Harry Bolback is outstanding. It is available in sheet music.
If the school as a whole has too little time in which to learn a new song, perhaps one of the older classes could get together for special practice outside of regular Sunday school hours. In this way, a new song could be learned more quickly, without taking up time for the school in general on Sunday.
The old carols are perennial favourites, of course, but a touch of something new adds a great deal to any type of program, particularly if the new item has quality and is well presented.
In order to have the school singing at its best for the occasion, use the remaining time for practice to find out first the carols they sing most poorly. Then concentrate on these, and give relatively little time to the others which they know well.
Don’t forget, too, that any occasion such as a Christmas program is greatly enhanced by the warm, friendly touch provided by refreshments. They also provide a wonderful opportunity of getting better acquainted with the visitors and perhaps even a chance to speak to them about the Lord.
It’s perfectly true that multitudes around the world fail to realize the true significance of the birth of our Saviour. Crass commercialization and carnal celebrations have also served to obscure the true beauty and meaning of the Christmas story.
All the more reason then, that we who are truly the Lord’s should take every opportunity, including the Christmas season itself, to herald afresh the birth of our Lord, and to declare once again the claims of Him “who, being in the form of God … took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).