Christmas pageants are the equivalent of a biblical “Stone Soup.” No one gospel account has enough details to put together an entire pageant, so we fold them together to find enough parts for everyone to play.
By adding something from each Gospel, along with some pieces from the prophets in the Hebrew texts, we get an entire story.
Most of the parts can be expanded to accommodate as many or as few actors as any congregation has to offer. For example, the number of shepherds and angels can be infinitely expanded. The costumes are simple enough — tinsel for halos and kitchen towels for shepherd headgear. And there is always the possibility of different animals, depending on what families or churches have on hand. One year, we had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in the mix at the manger on that holy night.
Clearly, the “kings of Orient are” get the best costumes.
But, what about the real star of the pageant? Do we use an actual baby? Who would trust a 9-year-old to hold one and manage its vulnerable neck and head? Or should we use a doll? If so, which ethnicity? What is the underlying power of this annual re-enactment that we continue to make space for it in our Feast of the Nativity?
From an anthropological and theological perspective, I believe it is because we all need to demonstrate publicly that we are part of the story of God coming into the world, transforming each of us from where God incarnate finds us to where God incarnate calls us. That is, God meets each of the players where they live such as in the faraway “Orient,” the mountainside sheep fields, the Jerusalem carpenter’s shop, a humble home or a royal palace. Then he invites us to come together to witness the moment God reaches through eternity and into time.
Not every person who encountered God’s incarnation that night in Bethlehem was positively changed, at least for all we can see. Some returned to exactly where they had been before God’s invitation. One initiated a holocaust out of fear; others returned home but by way of a different path; and, some resettled in an entirely different land.
The risk of Christmas pageants is they are too precious by half. When this occurs, it is easy to overlook God’s compelling call for us to take our place in this holy scene. Still, the power of this opening segment of “The Story” cannot be underestimated.
Annually, it calls out to each of us: Stop what you are doing! Be wholly aware of the presence of God. Change the way you live. Even consider relocating.
Don’t be fooled by those adorable angels with lopsided tinsel haloes. There is a place in this story for each of us. “Oh come, let us adore him.”
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Park is the associate rector at Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville. She can be reached at email@example.com.