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Monday, December 18, 2006

'Not-Yet-Ready-for-Prime-Time' Christmas Pageant

Ask any pastor with the courage to give an honest answer: The coordination of the Annual Christmas Pageant is a task best assigned to curates, the newly ordained and/or members of the congregation with an indomitable spirit, invincible determination and the unmitigated chutzpah known primarily (although not exclusively) by the young and inexperienced.

“Organized chaos” is a term too mild to be applicable.

Yesterday's pageant at St. Paul’s, however, was not like your ordinary Christmas Pageant. It’s more like a Tableau by Rembrandt. There is only one speaking part: The Narrator – which is shared by three children. There are, however, lots and lots and LOTS of parts for kids to play: Angels, Stars, Sheep, Cows, Donkeys, Camels and Horses; Roosters, Chickens, and Ducks. This year we even had a Frog and a puppet Mouse who kept squeaking whenever one of the narrators spoke.

There are, of course, Shepherds in striped bath robes, three Wise Men with long beards of cotton held on by an elastic around their heads, Mary, all wrapped up in a blue sheet, Joseph, looking suspiciously like one of the Shepherds, and the Infant Jesus, this year, played by an infant girl I recently baptized. (Well, we do know why there’s a pink candle in the Advent wreath – because Mary really wanted a girl!)

At the appointed time announced by the Narrator, the appropriate characters come forward and take their place in the tableau in front of the altar. That’s it. All they have to do is make an entrance on cue.

It’s brilliant, really. No lines to memorize. No undue stress during the already stressful holiday season. Just a few rehearsals and lots of coaching from the sidelines and you’re home free. Well, that is if the cow doesn’t bellow because the horse stepped on her foot and one of the angels doesn’t announce in a very loud whisper that she has to go potty – RIGHT NOW!

The play is accompanied by the Youth Choir and a hearty band of Church Minstrels: five violists and one cello, a French horn, a bassoon, three flutists, four clarinets, one trombone, one trumpet, one tenor sax and, of course, a piano. The sound is not exactly heavenly, except upon the ears of the parents and very proud grandparents who have the uncanny ability to hear only their child’s instrument, anyway.

I’m sad to note that there were no guitars this year. I sort of liked last year’s version of ‘Silent Night’. It was performed by several young adolescent men with extraordinarily high levels of testosterone, matched only by the length of their hair that mostly covered their eyes. They strummed away, guitar resting on a hip thrust out just so. ‘Posers,’ the girls called them. It was ‘Silent Night’ as it has never before been played. With attitude. Tons of attitude. Just the way I suspect the Teen Jesus would have loved it.

Second only to this experience is the Children’s Sermon at Christmas Eve, wherein the pastor sits on the chancel steps, surrounded by children who would much rather be at home, shaking and jiggling the Christmas presents to guess the contents, or snitching one more piece of candy off the plate left out for company. One of my clergy friends described this experience as akin to diving into a bucket of live bait.

Last year, the children helped me put the crèche together, identifying the different characters as I told the Nativity story. They correctly guessed the names of two of the three wise men, Melchor and Balthazar, but got stumped on the third. Just as I was about to reveal the name, one of the children excitedly raised his hand. “I know, I know!” he said. “It was Eisenhower!”

You have to give the young child credit. It does go better than ‘Gaspar.’

Organized chaos. I imagine that’s exactly what the First Noel was like. An indomitable spirit, invincible determination and the unmitigated chutzpah known primarily (although not exclusively) by the young and inexperienced. Feeling awkward and vulnerable but surrounded by those who love you unconditionally and are rooting for you to do well. Everyone having a part to play – no matter how small – in the unfolding drama of God’s incarnation. Listening for the holy amidst the cacophony of human life.

Come to think of it, life doesn’t get much better than that! For that matter, neither does church.

May your Christmas be filled with unexpected but long-awaited joy and delight!


Bateau Master said...

We might be on different spectrums about much, but not on pageants:
2006 & 2005 are on this page - both chaotic, this year's almost to fiasco level, but everyone that left smiling or at least grinning politely.

Have a blessed Christmas and sleep late on Tuesday!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

GREAT pictures. We'll have ours up on the church web page: in a few days.

Talkingred said...

I am a youth coordinator in DIOPA and we just had our right you are. This year Mary missed her cue, became flustered and began to walk to bethleham with the Baby Jesus already in her arms. Once it was out of her arms, I got it to an acolyte who gave it to Mary after the narrator read the line "and that night the child was born." After the service a member of the congregation came up to me and said "And that night the baby was born...and promptly given to mary by an Acolyte." All in all though it is beautiful, and it the is choas and insanity that give it that special flare. Thank you I enjoyed this post immensly!