Nativity of Our Lord: “The Baby Was Real!”
Christmas Eve & Day 2017
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
The video of a Christmas pageant run amok in White Pine, TN, has gone viral this week. The cuter-than-a-bug’s-ear pre-schoolers of First Baptist Church in White Pine put on a pageant no one in the audience will ever forget. The Nativity scene starts out predictably, traditionally, with pint-sized, blonde-haired, blue-robed Mary and solemn Joseph garbed-in-green, in place, pre-school brows furrowed in concentration, kneeling by the manger. A little angel with the world’s largest halo hovering like a dinner plate over her head is standing at attention center stage, looking on adoringly. Little guys in smock-like sheep costumes, wearing wooly hats with huge black ears like pandas, watch over the invisible Baby in the makeshift crib. (One of the sheep is kneeling, the other standing, apparently balancing on his hind legs .)
There’s a 2-year-old in the foreground, identified later as “my little sheep” by her mother, even though it looks like she must have lost her headgear somewhere along the way. She’s content with her role as an extra until the children’s choir starts to sing Away in a Manger. She gets into the spirit of things and decides to scoop up Baby Jesus and dance with Him in her arms. She’s happily making her moves, mugging for the camera, holding Him tight in the limelight, until a concerned, frustrated, proactive and protective Mary decides to retrieve her Child. A tug of war ensues, with the Baby returned to the manger, tucked in, and plucked right out again, back into the sheep’s custody. Finally the sheep, a wannabe contender for “So You Think You Can Dance,” is hauled off stage by her mother to the roars of the congregation. On-line the event has been dubbed “Toddler Nativity Brawl of 2017.”
I don’t think our Holy Trinity Christmas pageant last Sunday ended up on U-Tube, but it certainly had its memorable moments J, as any event with that many kids is bound to! I found out afterwards that as Miss Meg and the parent-helpers were busy getting the children ready for their entrance, Pastor Mark was busy breaking into the Sunday School office. Miss Donna had left her purse there, and when she went to get her phone, an essential communication device for any modern-day pageant, the door knob just kept spinning and spinning. She had noticed there was a problem with the knob earlier, so she hadn’t quite shut the door, but a security-conscious friend didn’t know that and made sure to give it an extra nudge to shut it tight. Pastor Mark was in the vicinity and his tools are conveniently located right across the street, so he retrieved them and got to work. He eventually succeeded in opening the door, after which he dutifully texted the co-chairs of our Property Committee and ratted himself out as the one who destroyed the doorknob.
On his late way up to worship, he passed through the holding area for the pageant participants who were lined up waiting for their cue. On little person was whining, “I don’t WANNA be an angel.” Pastor Mark assured her she had a very important role delivering God’s messages and telling people not to be afraid. He enjoyed passing through the gauntlet of willing and unwilling angels, stars, sheep, wise men, and even candles (Christmas pageant versions of Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast J). He felt the costumed children’s presence transformed the space and created a holy, hopeful path as he walked through the nursery and up the narthex stairs. Sometimes that happens, right? We’ve walked the same ol’ path, taken a certain route a thousand times, visited a familiar place time and time again, and suddenly we see an aura about it. All at once we realize we’ve been treading and occupying holy space all the time, never pausing to remove our shoes, never realizing how thin the veil is between heaven and earth, at unexpected times, in unexpected places…. Like the sun shining in majesty through the clouds after a storm, or the moon rising in glory over the water, sometimes God writes the divine Presence large and unmistakable on the canvas of creation. “Remember? I’m here!”
Upstairs, after things got rolling, we were treated to a pageant panorama that included a well-spoken Christmas tree with a human face peering out from between the boughs, a cue-card-holding Teddy Bear, a rosy-cheeked Doll, cow and donkey, sheep and shepherds, somber wise men, gossamer angels in satin gowns, gold garland halos and gauzy, feather-tipped wings, a wonderful constellation of glittery stars bedazzled with strings of Christmas lights, a host of candles in fiery capes and very impressive headgear, and of course, Mary, Joseph and the Baby.
The Baby was the big surprise. That’s because the Baby was real. Little Maximus is just 6 months old but has already played the biggest role of his life! Baby Jesus…. There were, of course, no lines for him to learn. He was completely silent. Through the whole pageant. Through a lot of hustle and bustle and singing and movement. He was wheeled down the center aisle in his carriage, floating in a cloud of gold tulle, mostly invisible to those who weren’t in the choir loft or seated on the center aisle. I had parked myself in a pew on a side aisle, and could only see tiny toes rising up above the rim of the carriage. I knew what was coming but the grandma in the pew next to me didn’t. She half-gasped, half-laughed aloud, “It’s a real baby!!” The violin started to play and our favorite emotional support pup let out one little bark in surprise, and we heard the lines from Scripture describing the birth in Bethlehem and everything was magical. Mystical.
It’s the humanity of it all that warms our hearts. The candle-child frowning and brushing away stray feathers that tickled his nose as an angel walked by. The little shepherd with the black-framed glasses. The angel with wings that had rotated so they were horizontal instead of vertical. The little Doll who got homesick for Mom and ran back to the pew. The boy dressed as a candle who grabbed a handful of hay from the bale on which Mary had been sitting. The baby who was hungry by the end of it all, and whose chubby hands appeared from the midst of all that tulle, clutching his bottle. The baby, after all, was real….
The original Baby was real, too. He was born once in Bethlehem and angels announced His birth. He was born for the hardy shepherds on the hillside who smelled of their flocks, were looked down upon by more “religious” folks, yet were God’s choice to be the first to hear the Good News of Jesus’ birth. He was born for His maiden mother who went into labor far from home, delivered her baby on a bed of straw and who surely remembered His arrival in the world years later when she stood at the foot of the cross and watched Him depart this life. He was born for the little earth angels who leaned against the altar during dress rehearsal and unknowingly left feathers on the altar cloth, and He was also born for the head of our altar guild who found and puzzled over those feathers later in the day. He was born for the little girl in White Pine, TN, who stole the Baby Jesus in order to dance with Him, and with diminutive, disapproving Mary who grabbed Him back again. He was born for me and he was born for you.
Martin Luther said the two most important words in the entire Christmas story are “to you.” “To you is born in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” To you. To you who viewed the pageant or were in the pageant this year or 60 years ago or never. To you who look forward to this holy celebration of our Lord’s birth every year, and to you who are here under protest or because your mom said your presence here is the only Christmas present she wants. To you who are especially glad and to you who are especially sad this season. “To you is born in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” To you, in particular. To you, with love, from heaven. Amen
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham