Our church’s Sunday School Christmas program was December 20. It was the usual combination of costumes, cuteness and holy moments that Christmas programs usually produce. But this year I was more deeply involved in putting it together than I have been for a few years, so the impressions it made are more deeply carved in my memory, and I am still enjoying them. (Confession: I love having 12 days to enjoy Christmas, especially after the hubbub of getting to December 25 are over.)
I loved that some of the kids who were not interested in anything to do with costumes or speaking lines in front of the congregation enjoyed making a new, many pointed star for the wise men to follow. One of them carried the star on a pole for the Wise Men to follow. They also enjoyed making and holding up cue cards with hymn numbers on them, so the congregation could join in singing at the appropriate points.
I loved that an 11 year old who was afraid she was too old for the program wanted to be the Angel. She ended up having the most lines outside of the narrators and she was wonderful!
I loved that we found places for the quiet ones by having a lead Shepherd and a lead Wise Man, and that Caesar Augustus, who had one line, spoke it with style and authority. He owned his golden victor’s wreath/crown and handled a microphone glitch with calm and resourcefulness.
I loved that the child playing evil King Herod was not afraid to be over-the-top evil and petty, and brought down the house when he fell dead off his throne. (To be carried out by his two trusty bodyguards.)
I loved that the sheep (and we had a lot of them, because we have a lot of Littles), acted like sheep and kept their Shepherds busy. And that the Narrators, one of whom stepped in at the last minute, kept things moving and read their parts as if they were telling a bedtime story- with confidence and interest to see what would happen next.
But most of all, I loved that the younger children who were Mary and Joseph aced their simple identical line: after the Angel (standing on a small chair) spoke to each of them, they replied firmly, “Oh, OK!” What a perfect response to God’s message!
With all these thoughts swirling around in my head and heart, I was open to see the possibilities in an unexpected gift I received for Christmas. The giver of the gift is a person who has struggled through many obstacles and disappointments- some self-imposed and some not; all painful. Now life has begun getting better, if not easier.
The gift is a Nativity set. All the family and many friends know I have a number of them, but none like this. The stable is a huge, hand-made labor of love, found in a resale shop. You can see where it has been repaired clumsily with a hot glue gun. The characters to go in, and with it, are not a matching set. In fact, they are a motley group. Some are plastic and some are older, made of plaster. Mary has been repaired in several places. The Angel that sings Gloria above the stable broke in my hands. Thankfully my husband is a genius with glue repairs, so I’m not too worried about that.
I love this Nativity set like I loved the Christmas program. It’s not “perfect” in appearance. But the stable is huge, with plenty of room for more animals and people. The people I have already don’t “match”, so the people I bring in can be just as mixed as we are in real life. I can bring in more chipped and broken and repaired characters and animals and angels, because there is room for them. I can welcome them as God welcomes us.
I believe God loves the broken and mismatched and outcast among us with a special love. I believe God welcomes and heals and cares for the wounded, the fragile and the scattered sheep. I believe God understands the chaos that is often a part of our lives.
We are all invited to audition for the Christmas pageant as shepherds, sheep, innkeepers, kings, angels, census-takers or animals in the stable. We are all invited to be Mary and Joseph. We are all given the opportunity and the help to say, “Oh, OK”, when God tells us something new. The stable is big enough. It’s a hand-made labor of love. And we all have a place inside.