Christmas Pageant day has become one of the holiest and most hectic days I know each year. By the time we get through the final rehearsal, I’m usually tired and a tiny bit worried (at least in a small part of me) that something huge and Herdmanesque is going to happen this year. Then God reminds me that he shines everywhere, and gently nudges me about how important it is to laugh a lot while we sojourn on this earth. He also reminds me that…oh yes, he came as a baby and that this story, big and beautiful and profound and life-changing as it is, is a story that little ones can and should enter into wholeheartedly, and that when they enter it, they bring the hearts of the older generation with them into it. And God does amazing things in that mix.
This year was full of its usual crazy beauties, the kinds of moments that make me so thankful that it is our real, human, messy lives that God enters. There was the little girl who sweetly decided she wanted to be Mary, only to realize she was too shy to do it, and another little girl, not quite five and a half, who bravely stepped into the role. There was the little boy who wanted to be a sheep until he saw the older boy dressed as a soldier (we had a scene with the Wise Men and Herod this year). In fact, all the boys pretty much wanted swords and shields so they could be soldiers too. (We let the little one be a smaller soldier, but then he decided what he really wanted to be was a king!) There was the little boy who was so very little that I had to pull his wooly sheep’s costume over his head while he insisted on holding his sippy cup…we normally don’t have kids quite that young in the performance.
There was our almost 9 year old Joseph, who’s very verbal and articulate, coming up to me to say plaintively, “I don’t understand why my part is so important when I don’t even have any lines.” (A sentiment I wonder if the real Joseph might not have understood; his has always seemed like such an important and yet quietly supportive role.) I tried to explain to him how strong Joseph was, and how special since God chose him to care for Mary and the baby. His eyes widened and he said, “well, sometimes I’m strong!”
There was the second announcing angel, who stepped in to take on another speaking role as the king’s scribe (at the last minute, when we realized we didn’t have anyone else to play it). There was my own sweet eleven year old playing the lead announcing angel, skipping with joy and singing “Joy to the World” as she left the shepherd’s field…the only angel who remembered to sing. The sweet girl also did a tremendous job of being my right-hand girl in helping the little ones get ready. She often struggles with the chaos that reigns pre-pageant, as everyone is getting dressed and we’re running last minute lines, but she showed so much grace and maturity this year that it made my heart want to sing too.
There were the shepherds who forgot where to go and kept milling around the manger when it was time for them to leave proclaiming the good news, and who finally wandered on down the aisle forgetting to say anything at all but beaming at the audience as they carried their wrapping paper roll crooks. There was the little girl who played both a rejoicing angel and the innkeeper who was supposed to take pity on tired Mary and lead her to the stable, only she forgot she was supposed to lead her to the stable and just scrabbled over to the manger, reached under it for the baby (not yet born) and plunked him into the hay. Joseph hurriedly rectified that situation, proving once again what an important role he has in this story!
Then there was the eighth grade girl, playing one of the Wise Men, who burst into tears during the opening worship set (we had the kids already dressed and upstairs during the singing that begins the service, as the pageant takes the place of the sermon after the Scripture lessons). I gently led her to the back of the room to ask what was wrong, thinking someone had made her upset or she had a case of nerves, and all she could do was keep crying and tell me, in a precious not fully articulate way, “that the songs just sometimes make me feel sad and funny.” So I just patted her gently on the shoulder and told her that sometimes God uses the songs to move our hearts. I just love the fact that while I was busy thinking about entrances, exits, and line prompts, God was moving hearts in worship.
Another pageant day. Another lesson in holy flexibility, laughter, and grace.