December 15, 2017

On Christmas Pageants...and Chaos

There’s no stink in most Christmas pageants.

There’s none of the droppings from the sheep and cattle that were lowing, as we romanticize in song. If you’ve been in a barn lately, you know that they’re stinky, dirty, cobwebby places. Even freshly cut hay smells, much less after it’s mingled with the leavings on the dirt floor.

Our sweet Christmas pageants are sanitized versions of the nativity story. Children dressed in sheets, kings’ crowns sitting cockeyed on small heads, young Mary holding a wriggly, pacifier-laden infant (or a plastic baby doll).

The pageant is adorable, of course, because of the children. And we snap pictures and feel our hearts swell like the Grinch’s after the kindness of Cindy Lou. I’m thrust right into the spirit of Christmas as I watch young shepherds trip over bathrobes.

For even if there is no stink, there is chaos. Wonderful, sweet chaos. Baby Jesus wants to crawl, not pose serenely on Mary’s lap. One of the angels is nervous and sucking on her two forefingers like they’re lollipops. The shepherds sit on the first step with their elbows propped up and chin in hands, very serious looks on their faces. And then come the animals. In our church, the youngest children play the cows and sheep. Most have recently transitioned from horizontal to vertical movement and jerk from left to right when they walk and wobble. Stage directions are not a high priority for these young actors.

On Sunday, the red-headed cow followed his cues, going straight to the feet of the shepherd and sitting down. But the sheep, ah, the sheep. The two little girls frolicked down the aisle, checking at each pew for familiar faces. One pulled off her fuzzy (probably scratchy) sheep hat. They played, one cajoling the other to come forward.

The crowd loved it. Indeed, children do the darndest things.

When I posted on social media some pictures from the pageant, I mentioned that the sheep were not interested in being herded. A friend responded: Aren’t sheep supposed to wander?

Yes, they are. And yes, we do. In several places, the Bible offers the metaphor of sheep and shepherd. Despite our presumptions, we are not cast in the starring role as shepherd. We are the lost sheep. We wander. We bleat and low. We don’t follow stage direction, and sometimes we create our own chaos.

Each year, the recounting of the first Christmas teaches me something about this Christmas. Two thousand years, and the story never gets old. In these final days before the coming of the Christ child, I am reminded of the Good Shepherd, who corrals us, loves us, laughs with us, and mourns with us. We who wander are filled by Christ with wonder. A great miracle indeed.