I don’t often re-cycle previous posts, but I was going through some “stuff” of mine and found this article I wrote last year after our Christmas program at my church. Just reading through it and re-living the moment brought tears…again. (Maybe I need my levels checked.) So here it is again, dear reader. I pray you experience an endearing familiarity and heart-warming resonance with this piece, not to mention the reminder of God’s greatest gift to us, His only Son.
The Christmas Pageant
Everyone sits toward the front of the church, no one in the back, all ready for the intimate remembrance of the advent. Some bear the still fresh sorrow of those passed while others hold a fearful elation anticipating a son, daughter or grandchild taking the stage tonight. Recording devices at the ready dot the gathered crowd with the promise no moment will be lost.
The 5th and 6th graders, business-casual in dress, ascend the risers with most smiling and a few waving to their progenitors who smile and wave back. The largely home-schooled group lacks the jaundiced, sullen, defiant displays I’ve seen in public school “holiday” concerts, such comportment the likely benefit of adult influence and mature attitudes inherent in homeschooling. With solemn vitality and distracted attention they sing, even the boys, to open the service, then all but one girl exits. She steps to the microphone and fluently reads the beginning of the eternal advent story—the profound entrance of grace and sacrifice into our fallen world.
The congregation stands and sings a Christmas hymn. I notice the front. An immense wooden cross draped at the crossbeam with a white sheet dominates the scene. A banner hangs from the ceiling which depicts the angels proclaiming “Glory to God in the Highest and On Earth, Peace, Goodwill Toward Men.” Poinsettias grace both sides of the stage and ribbons, thule and gifts populate the communion table.
An eleven year old boy reads more of the Christmas story as the congregation listens, only gently interrupted by the quiet sounds of a few restless babies.
Emmanuel! God with us! That baby, that Savior who was all God and all man, cried in his mother’s arms while holding the stars in their places! Oh God. I am humiliated by my sin, humbled by your grace and staggered by your love as my mind again tries to comprehend the dirty splendor and ignoble majesty of that royal night.
Now, a soft “Away in a Manger” wafts over us as the 4-6 year olds, four of them grandchildren, mount the risers guided by three adults who position them and step away. They are well-behaved to the joyful relief of their parents! The children’s inexpressible charm would soften the most hard-boiled heathen, I think. Cameras and recorders appear from nowhere as the group sings—some louder than others—and makes their exit leaving many visiting congregants without a reason to stay.
About thirty 8-11 year olds sing an unfamiliar Christmas composition with the unflappable piano accompaniment by a teenage girl, hers certainly not a casual achievement. More Christmas story is read and the young teens take center stage with many girls, now becoming young women, towering above most of the boys.
More instruments appear as the song, sung in parts by the teens, resplendently echoes through the sanctuary. The congregation stands and joins them in another carol after which a pastor starts a devotional. He describes the terrified shepherds, the angelic host, the words of the angel, “Fear not.” That angel has to be kidding. The sky is filled with eternal beings who dwell in the presence of the almighty God and the angel says to “Fear not?” Then he wonders what an angel chorus would sound like. Who can say? They announced “Glory to God in the Highest.” Think of it—glory to God—His purpose for salvation and our ultimate purpose for living—to bring glory to God, always, now and forever, to evermore worship our great Savior. The wonder fills my heart. I try and fail to imagine entering His presence. I look and see rivulets of tears flowing down the face of a woman near me. My eyes water.
The bright lights dim as a slow parade of six year olds circumspectly carry the advent candles down the isle. The singing ends with the song, “Here I Am to Worship.” Hands extend toward heaven. The service is complete.
In the ensuing swirls and eddies of people and groups, the story still vividly grips my heart. I soak quietly in the grieving beauty of the Christ’s birth and the savage violence of the cross. There in that manger lies my blessed hope, hope which is secure and inviolate in the palm of His hand. God, I pray, let me never lose the wonder.