At our church Christmas party the children were taken in groups to participate in a little nativity play. The casting was very simple. To one side of the room was a bin full of multiple costumes for each part. Kids declared which part they wanted to play and the costumes were distributed. Then the costumed children then stood while a man read out an abbreviated version of the biblical account of the birth of Christ.
When it was my kids’ turn to participate, Joseph stepped forward with three Marys. They shuffled their way over to the single manger and then faced the logistical dilemma of placing three dolls in it. The resulting compromise was to stack the Baby Jesuses like cord wood. Next came a small herd of be-dish-toweled shepherds. Each carried a small stuffed sheep. The stuffed sheep proved to be excellent missiles for knocking the tinsel halos off of the angels. Last to shuffle forward were the two wise men. Apparently turbans and boxes are not as exciting as dish towels and sheep.
All the actors huddled around the manger with their backs to the audience. There was much nudging and shuffling as the story was read. Several angels ran to parents for halo replacement. From the middle of the crowd a sheep made a ballistic arc to land on the floor and then had to be retrieved. I pulled out a notebook and began to take notes. It was either that or give in to a fit of giggles. I pondered whether the whole affair was a tad sacrilegious. I mean Joseph looked like a polygamist standing up there with three Marys.
Then the program reached a point where everyone was invited to sing. By the second measure of Silent Night both the audience and actors had stilled. Suppressed giggles from the audience subsided and even the sheep stopped flying through the air. I watched as the youngest Mary reached out and tenderly touched the head of her Baby Jesus doll. For just a moment it was perfect and beautiful.
Then the song ended and chaos renewed. But the sheep didn’t fly quite as hard or as fast. The audience was still smiling, but less inclined to giggle. Despite the amusement it was a very good pageant indeed. No one was excluded or shoved into a role they didn’t want. Everyone had a chance to huddle close and contemplate the religious center of the Christmas season. I looked again at Joseph, and his three Marys, and the babies stacked in the manger. It was all just as it should be.