So last night we watched The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Years ago, and I do mean years ago I auditioned at The Youngstown Playhouse for this stellar production and was given the part of Claud Herdman. I was in Seventh grade at the time. It was fun being at the playhouse, learning the lines having rehearsals, hanging out with the friends that I made there. I remember all of us lounging on these huge rolled up carpets that were stacked and leaning haphazardly in the corner. You know how they bend and fold and offer the perfect place to just relax if you’re all of 12 or so. I told Amberly about it and said that grandma has a picture from the paper with me in it and probably a video tape of the performance. She is interested in seeing daddy from all those years ago. It was such a different time. The world in front of you, the chance to do something and be anything. I maintain that growing up is highly over rated, things were so much easier as a kid, and even though I didn’t realize it then, I realize it now. I think it’s the curse of humanity to never be content, to always want to look at what’s coming and what will be instead of being where we are and soaking up all that we can from that moment in time.
As we were watching I had to laugh at the TV special version of the play I was in, mainly because so many of the lines were the same, there were times when I would just sit there and say the lines of Claud, my character, under my breath of course.
The story is a simple one, in fact it follows a blueprint, and I think it’s safe to say that it has been duplicate in one form or another over the years. The down and out bullies, the middle and upper middle class spoiled kids, the church that is comfortable with things the way they are. The bullied boy trying to get one over on his antagonist only to find that dangling sweets in front of him, will bring him to church instead of having the desired effect of making him feel bad… I’m sure you can figure out the rest of the story. Bad kids take over Pageant, good kids and church members rude and indifferent to the reason they are even in church in the first place. Bad kids have moment of clarity, evidenced by the girl bully crying as she is Mary and apparently realizes the significance of the whole thing, and one of the wise men bringing the baby Jesus the ham out of their food bank provided Christmas food basket. It goes without saying that all the stuck up church members decide it was the best Christmas Pageant Ever, hence the name. A neat and tidy happy 80’s optimistic story ending.
That’s just it, it’s a story ending. My face was leaking several places. When the girl seemingly realizes the importance and meaning of what was happening, when the boy runs down the isle with the ham, when the snobby girl in the choir who was supposed to be Mary and the little girl narrating the story are also tearing up because they too get it. All these things appeal to the emotional side of a guy who is getting older and with that age comes this emotional state that was never there before.
Is it realistic, no not at all, far from it actually, which is sad. As I watch the different Christmas specials with my family this year, I am struck by the difference in what was and what now is. From Charlie brown and what I watched last night, to Olive the other Reindeer and Arthur Christmas things have changed.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Santa, I really enjoyed Rise of the Guardians with the Girls over Thanksgiving weekend, but Christmas has really lost a lot of what it was, and what it should be. My eyes leaked for a couple of reasons, one remembering a time that was so much simpler in my own life, two thinking about the meaning of Christ coming to our world. God really being with us, literally living and moving and having all the same issues that we have. Seeing the transformative power of Christ in lives, even if they were acting does it to me as well. Watching someone realize that they have tried other things and they finally found something that would work for more than a few minutes hours or days. All of those things can bring out the emotion in me.
I think what would make Christmas better for most of us, especially those of us that claim to be a Christ follower would be to remember what I am increasingly coming to realize are some of the most important words in the story of the birth of Jesus;
Luke 2:19 (NLT) but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.
I think it would do us all good to substitute out one word in that short verse in Luke. I’m sure you can guess which one. If not I have given you a hint, just look back at the verse. See that proper name that’s the one you and I need to replace, if you need further instruction on the matter…well that’s just sad…
Seriously though part of our world’s problem is that those who claim to be Christ followers don’t think about the things we claim to be in our hearts often enough. We get so busy with all the things we are supposed to do as Christian’s and church goers and whatever else we are that we don’t take the time to really sit down and think about what we say is in our heart. We don’t filter our decisions and our world view through that. It’s easier to sit in a comfortable chair in a worship service we have chosen to attend in a church we have chosen to call our own and let someone else do our thinking for us, let someone else pour into us what we believe instead of really getting down to it with God and having a faith that is ours and ours alone, a faith that we think about that we work on, that we hold onto and that we go back to time and again because it has become an integral part of who we are.
As a pastor I have enjoyed teaching and preaching, I have enjoyed working with large and small groups of youth and adults, but I fear, when I look at some of the people who I have had the opportunity to influence, and I see where they are now, and I read what they are doing, I wonder if I had been more intentional about getting the people God put into my care to think about these things for themselves, to really work out their own walk with God. I wonder if they would be better off. John the Baptist said the he had to become less and Jesus had to become more. As Christians we would do well to remember those words when we are enjoying this holiday with family and friends. Maybe we need to stop at Luke 2:19 when we read the Christmas story, Maybe we need to make the whole story about Luke 2:19. People need to think about these things. I need to think about the things that are in my heart, and I need to find out what other things He wants to put there.