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Luke 2: 8-20

Crackers are great things to use in visual aids at Christmas, because they're really versatile. They're fun, they allow the children to participate, you can hide things inside, and (possibly best of all) you can use them for virtually any Christmas Day sermon!

So although I have suggested using Luke 2:8-20 (the story of the shepherds) you could just as easily use crackers to illustrate Matthew's account of the Magi's visit, or Isaiah's prophecy of the Messiah - just use your imagination.

Making the cracker

You need a lot of bits of wood for this one. It helps if you are the sort of bloke (and it really is only blokes who are of this sort) who enjoys pulling bits of wood out of skips and storing them in your shed or garage. Otherwise you will be spending a fortune down at your local timber merchants. So this is what you need (makes one cracker, as they say in the cookery books):

  • 12 bits of wood about 35x12mm and 400mm long
  • 6 bits of wood about 35x12mm and 700mm long
  • 6 bits of wood about 35x12mm and 1000mm long
  • a 1200 x 600mm bit of 4mm thick MDF
  • a broom handle or similar, about 25mm diameter and 1220mm long
  • another broom handle about 25mm diameter and 1520mm long. Actually it's likely that this will not be a broom handle at all, unless you are very tall and have brooms made specially for you.
  • some panel pins
  • wood glue
  • an understanding wife (not essential for making visual aids, but it is my personal recommendation)
  • a shed or garage. You will probably end up making these when it is cold and dark outside and although you could use a security light to see by and a patio heater to keep you warm, you will have the Archbishop of Canterbury down on you like a ton of bricks.
  • Lots of coloured paper. I use "fadeless art paper" made by the Pacon Corporation - an American company - and sold by various firms over the internet (search for "fadeless art paper").

The sizes of the bits of wood are not super-critical and if you have retrieved different sized pieces of wood from your local skips you can adjust the cracker size accordingly. Two of these crackers will fit in a VW Polo, if you fold the back seats down. There's also room for the driver and one uncomfortable passenger.

(1) The first thing to do is to make the end of the longer broom handle a bit pointy, so it's easier to guide it into holes. Put both broom handles on the floor.

(2) Then cut out eight circles of MDF. You need six circles 300mm diameter and two circles 280mm diameter. Two of the big circles and one of the smaller circles need D shapes cut out so you can get inside the cracker later. Leave a 65mm wide strip up the middle. Drill 25mm diameter holes just above and below the centres of the circles, as shown in the picture. For the circles with two holes, make the lower one a touch larger - about 27mm. You'll find that it's very difficult to cut out neat circles with a jigsaw. There again, it's even harder without one.

(3) Fix the circles of MDF to the broom handles. On the short broom handle the circles need to be 150mm, 400mm and 500mm from the left hand end, with another just in from the right hand end. On the long broom handle the circles need to be 150mm, 400mm, 500mm and 750mm from the right hand end. At this stage the whole thing is alarmingly wobbly.

(4) Glue the bits of wood to the MDF circles as shown. On the middle section the yellow part will slide into the orange part, and you have to make sure the bits of wood don't bang into each other. So put the yellow (inner) bits in between the orange (outer) bits, like this:

Wood bits setting out

It helps to fix the bits of wood in place with panel pins while the glue dries. Be careful to put the panel pins in square and in the middle of the MDF or they will poke out and injure small children. The panel pins will split the MDF a bit but this doesn't really matter.

By now the cracker will have progressed from alarmingly wobbly to more wobbly than you would like. This is an improvement, but to reach the ultimate goal of not at all wobbly you will need to nail in some diagonal bits of wood, like this:

Diagonal stiffeners

As I have only now remembered to draw these diagonal bits, they don't appear in the main pictures. You'll need them to the left of circles 2 and 6, and to the right of circles 3 and 7.

(5) The worst is over. You can slide the two bits of cracker together now.

(6) shows them a bit closer....

(7) ...closer still...

(8) ...even closer...

(9) I am sure you have the idea by now, but still I continue to produce these pictures.

(10) Docking is complete.

(11) Slide them apart again, and repeat until the novelty wears off.

(12) Stick some bits of paper between circles 2 and 3, and between 6 and 7, in order to hide the broom handles and provide that essential cracker appearance.

(13) Now wrap the wooden frames with more paper, holding it in place with staples. At this point I discovered that, despite having three staple guns and several boxes of staples, none of the staples would fit any of the staple guns. How did that happen?

(14) Add some kind of picture to the cracker (the one in the picture is St James' Muswell Hill's logo), put gifts, funny hats, sermon points etc in the left hand part and...

(15) assemble the cracker.

(16) and (17) are real photos. The cracker was a bit bashed about over Christmas, so it looks a bit tatty.

It's vital, if you have a talk that uses two or more crackers, to identify which is which. Otherwise you will get your points in the wrong order, you will have to say, "I have made the most terrible mistake" and start all over again.

The Christmas talk

You may remember (it was some time ago now) that I said you could use crackers to illustrate Luke 2:8-20. This is how I did it:

Firstly, I made three crackers and covered them with white paper. Then I covered the ends and the outer bit in the middle with cotton wool. Amusingly, the cotton wool flew off the crackers and landed all over the house, even though they were in a room on their own with the door shut.

I identified the three crackers using the three pictures in this file, stuck on circles of white card.

Every cracker should contain a funny hat (easy to make from crêpe paper), a gift, a joke and - in the case of Christmas sermon crackers anyway - a message. The gifts (very appropriate for shepherds) were:

  • a jar of mint sauce
  • a sheep bell (bought from BHV on the corner of Rue de Rivoli and Rue des Archives in Paris. It's the best hardware store I've ever been in, but it's a long way to go to buy a sheep bell.)
  • a calendar - made using the same pictures that were on the crackers.

The jokes were up to the normal standard of cracker jokes, and all had a sheep/shepherd theme:

  • What's a sheep's favourite sort of party? A baaaabecue!
  • Why didn't the sheep write to his mother? Because he had no ink in his pen!
  • What would you call James Bond if he kept sheep? A shepherd spy!

The congregation had to shout "Baaa!" when each cracker was pulled, we had a bit of fun with the hats, the gifts and the jokes, and then we unrolled the message from each cracker. These were written on bits of paper about 4m long. We pinned them up across the church and read them out together. Based on what Luke tells us the shepherds heard, said and did, the messages were:

  • Today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born.
  • Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.
  • The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God.

The first is the message of Christmas: a Saviour has been born. The second shows that the shepherds, when they heard this, didn't just ignore it - they went to find Jesus. And the third tells us that they praised God because of what they had learned.

And that's what we should do: in response to the Christmas message, run to Jesus straight away, and praise God for what he has done.

These yellow and orange crackers were made for my friend John Paul (now a minister in Bologna, in Italy). He spoke on the wise men's visit to Jesus in Matthew 2:1-12. He had only two points (which at least ruled out the "why are these crackers so big? because they're three king size crackers!" joke). The messages inside the crackers reflected responses then and now to Jesus. Not wanted was the response of Herod, and many people today. But the right response to Jesus is to worship him. That's what the wise men did, and that's what we should do too.


MDF circles2
giant cracker assembled16
Giant cracker pulled17

Desert island church by John Parker. Contact me via the about page. Text and images copyright © 2014 John Parker www.desertislandchurch.co.uk.