Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Some people have never understood what the Christian faith is all about. These two festive holidays are like the theater previews of coming attractions: they are interesting, they whet the appetite, but they are not the movie. Christmas and Easter are not designed as an end in themselves, but to encourage a person to a fulltime, 365 day-a-year commitment of one’s life to Jesus Christ. John Huffman
Christmas Pageant Surprise
How many of you, at some point in your life, were in a Christmas pageant? Most of us have been in one, or at least seen one. One of the wonderful things about Christmas pageants is that you never know what is going to happen.
One Christmas pageant had a surprise because of a boy who was very disappointed. He wanted to be Joseph, but was given the role of the innkeeper instead. During the pageant Joseph and Mary walked up to the inn. Joseph knocked on the door and said to the innkeeper, “My wife is pregnant. Please may we have a place to stay?” He stepped back, waiting to be turned away.
However, during the rehearsals the innkeeper had plotted his revenge. He opened the door wide and said, “Sure, come on in. You can have the best room in the house.” Everyone gasped. What do you do at that point? Fortunately, Joseph was a fast thinker. He told Mary to wait there while he looked inside. He stepped through the door and looked around. After a few moments he stepped back out and said “I’m not taking my wife into a place like that. Come on, Mary. We’re going to stay in the stable.”
Beatrice Stevenson tells the story of one of the most unusual Christmas pageants. She was the wife of a Presbyterian medical missionary. One year she and her husband were in India at a Christian hospital. Beatrice was having a difficult time getting into the Christmas spirit. For one thing, she was sick. The climate and the food didn’t agree with her. She was also away from her home and from her own children. She was in a hot and dirty town. She didn’t feel at all the joy and excitement of Christmas.
The hospital staff were putting on a Christmas pageant for the community. It was on Christmas Eve. As the sun set the carpenters and electricians were finishing the outdoor stage. It was right next to the hospital. One wall of the hospital was the back of the stage. The courtyard, where the audience would sit, was rapidly filling with curious people from the community. Most of them had never seen a Christmas pageant. Most of them were not Christians and didn’t even know the story. They were excited and alive with energy.
As the lights dimmed a hush fell over the crowd. There was a clatter of hooves as a donkey entered the courtyard. A pregnant lady, Mary, was sitting on top of the donkey. Joseph was walking behind the donkey, hitting it with a stick to get it to move. Eventually they got up to the stage and went up to the inn. They were told that there wasn’t any room but that they could stay in the stable. Off in one corner was a stable, with real goats and goat herders. Suddenly there was a burst of music. The lights shined on one side of the second floor balcony. There were angels up there. They sang Christmas carols and told the story of the birth of Christ. The lights came up on the manger scene. Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus were there, along with the goats, the goat herders and the Wiseman. It was your typical pageant, beautiful and touching, yet the story was just beginning.
The angels began to scream in terror. The shadow of a cross appeared on the wall above the manger. The angels cried out “What is this? Will this be the fate of this little child? Who would do such a terrible thing to the Lord of Heaven? Who will help?”
A band of soldiers came across the stage. There were in full uniform, with their guns and everything. They paused at the manger. The leader looked up with contempt. “What can this helpless little baby do? The only true power in this world is that of a gun.” Then he led the soldiers off the stage. A beggar hobbled across the stage with a crutch. He had bandages on his feet and a begging bowl. He looked at Jesus and said, “What can I do? I’m just a beggar filled with pain and faint with hunger. I can’t help you little child, any more than you can help me.” A young mother came next. She had an infant on her hip and several small children clinging to her dress. “I don’t have time right now, little child. My children take everything I’ve got. Maybe in a few years, when my children grow up, I will come back to you.” Finally a bearded guru walked over to the manger. He had many books in his arms. “I worship many gods. You can be one of them if you want. I’m very open minded. But don’t expect me to worship you alone. That would be ridiculous. I need a different god for every occasion.”
The angels shook and covered their ears with shame at this sacrilege. They cried out to the audience, “Is there anyone who will give their allegiance to the King of Heaven? God has come into your world. Will anyone follow him?” The questions made the crowd very uneasy. They started to feel restless. This was a country where Hinduism and Islam are the most common religions.
Next, a young nurse came out onto the stage. She said to Jesus, “I will worship you and serve you gladly, for you have made all the difference in my life.” Then she turned to the crowd. “I was born in the southern part of India. My parents were both Christians and I was raised as a Christian. That has made all the difference in my life. I was not forced to marry at a young age. I was allowed to go to school and to choose my own career. Because of Jesus I have the freedom to work with you here at this hospital.”
The gardener for the hospital came out onto the stage. He looked at Jesus. “I will follow you, for you have brought meaning to my life.” Then he turned to the crowd. “As a young man I had leprosy and could not participate in society. I was all alone until I was healed by the doctors at this hospital, who work in the name of Christ. Because of their love I am able to be a useful part of society.”
Then a surgeon came onto the stage. He was known by everyone in the audience. He had treated most of them at some time. He talked to the crowd. “I was born as an untouchable.” He was at the bottom of the caste system in India, not even considered a real person. “I was a nobody. The only job my family could get when I was growing up was cleaning the latrines. We scrounged on the garbage heap for food, often competing with the dogs. I was not allowed in school, yet I wanted to be someone. I wanted to be a doctor. I heard of some Christian missionaries who would educate me, so I left home, went to school and became a doctor. I have served as your doctor for 20 years. I have sewed up your wounds. I have fixed your broken bones. I have healed your families. Because of Jesus I was able to become a doctor and help you.” Then he turned to Jesus, bowed and said, “Thank you, Lord Jesus.”
At that point the angels sang Silent Night, after which the audience silently went home. I have to admit, that type of Christmas pageant would have been a surprise. I can’t say that I have ever seen a Christmas pageant with a cross in it.
The fact that Christmas pageants are filled with surprises is the way it ought to be. Christmas is a surprise. It is the story of God’s surprise gift of love. The birth of Jesus is a surprise. Who would have expected Immanuel, God with us, to be born in our midst as a helpless little baby? The surprise is that the Lord of the universe emptied himself, he took on the form of a slave, and he humbled himself and became obedient, even to death on the cross. The surprise is that even though we are sinners, God loves us enough to send his son into our world to save us.
The question we need to ask is the same one that the angels asked the crowed in India. “Is there anyone who will give allegiance to the King of Heaven? Who will follow him?”
One last story of a pageant. Wally was 9 years old and disabled. He should have been in fourth grade, but was only in second. He was big and clumsy, but he had a heart of gold and the kids liked Wally. In this particular pageant Wally was given the role of the innkeeper. On the night of the play Wally was so caught up in the performance that the director had to stand behind him to make sure he didn’t wander onto the stage.
Finally, Joseph and Mary appeared. Joseph knocked on the door. Wally, the innkeeper, opened the door. “What do you want?” he asked gruffly. “We need a place to stay.” Wally looked straight ahead at the audience. “There is not room here. You’ll have to find a room somewhere else.” Joseph said, “Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is great with child and needs a place to rest.” At that point Wally made a mistake. Instead of continuing to stare at the audience he looked at Mary and froze. There was a long pause. “No! Begone!” came the cue from the side.” “No! Begone!” Wally repeated automatically. Joseph sadly put his arm around Mary. She laid her head on his shoulder and they started to move away. Wally watched the forlorn couple. He face was filled with compassion and his eyes filled with tears. “Don’t go, Joseph. Bring Mary back! You can have MY room!”
I have no idea how that pageant was resolved, but my prayer is that we would all have the same attitude as Wally. I pray that we would make room for Jesus in our lives and invite him in. Jesus is the surprise gift of God. God is waiting for us to receive His gift.