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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Penguins in Bethlehem

The Annual Christmas Pageant - Luke 1:26-38
Advent IV – The 8 AM Service - December 21, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

Note: I preached this at the 8 AM Service. The weather was horrible - icy rain and snow made for really awful weather. But, neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor dead of night will stop the Annual Christmas Pageant. I hope to have pictures up tomorrow. Perhaps even a video! I know I say this every year, but it was the best Christmas Pageant EVER! (And yes, a penguin did appear unto us in Bethlehem. Well, Bethlehem, New Jersey, that is!)

In just a few hours a miracle of sorts will occur. On this very day. Right here in this very church. St. Paul’s. On Main Street. In Chatham. In New Jersey, of all places.

Soon and very soon, this sacred space will be filled with shepherds dressed in bathrobe and towels, wise men, resplendent in old vestments and crowns from Burger King which have been covered with sparkly things, the tiniest of angels tinkling of tin foil who will cling shyly to each other as if God were watching their every move and listening in on every naughty thought.

There will also be childlike animals of every sort and manner – cows, sheep, and donkeys, and while I understand this year there will be neither frogs nor unicorns named Jerome, there will be an as yet unnamed penguin whose face will look hauntingly familiar if not a bit older than in years past when he came as the unicorn and a frog.

Oh, and of course, Joseph and Mary will be here, looking serene if not just a tad confused. Mary was once Baby Jesus, a little miracle in and of itself, I suppose. She’s been studying for the part for seven long years. She knows exactly what she’s to do and she is more than ready for her close-up, Mr. DeVille.

But Baby Jesus, ah, Sweet Baby Jesus meek and mild will have come to us this year from Taiwan so if she still looks a bit confused by all of this activity, you will understand. Actually, I saw her in rehearsal last week, and she looked positively to the role born. One look at that angelic little cherubic face and your heart will melt.

Well, that is, if she keeps still long enough for you to actually catch a glimpse of her beautiful little face. When I saw her last week, she was absolutely fascinated by the cow, and while both Mary and Joseph did a good job of distracting her, it was pretty clear that she really, really wanted to get up into the pulpit.

Once again this year the choirs of angels and heavenly hosts will be assisted by “the band” – our junior high and high school kids who will play a few solo’s and lead us in the familiar hymns of Advent and Christmas.

I met one of the two narrators in Modell’s yesterday, doing some last minute Christmas shopping which his mother who tells me that he has been standing on the stairs at home, working on his projection. He seemed a bit nervous about it all, but I assured him that I just knew he was going to do a great job.

As I looked up, several mothers in the check-out cue were smiling and nodding their heads. I suspect their kids had been narrators once, too, and, look – they lived to tell the tale.

I can’t wait to hear his lovely voice announce in child like wonder the words of this morning’s gospel, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." (Luke 1:26-28).

This year we have three walkie-talkies so that Tim and Melissa can cue each other from their respective positions in the sanctuary and narthex without waving their hands madly over the crowd.

It will be fun to watch them whisper into these large black boxes in soft conspiratorial sounds, “Cue the angels. In four, three, two . . . Good. Standby penguin donkey and cow. . . Standby . . . now the Wise men . . . fix his crown. His crown . . .FIX THE CROWN!!!”

Before we all know it, we’ll be singing Silent Night and parents and grandparents will be wiping tears from their eyes, and it will all be over for another year.

Another story of the Nativity of our Lord re-told and re-enacted.

And . . . “Nobody got hurt.”

The miracle of Christ’s birth will come to us again in the miracle of the Christmas pageant. He will appear in wayward angels with tilted crowns, and in the anxiety of young narrators of the story.

He will be with Tim and Melissa as they whisper into their walkie-talkies and in the waddling, creative fun of this year’s penguin. He will be there in the proud hearts of parents and grandparents.

These are all reflections, bits and pieces of the original miracle of The Light of the World, who came into the darkness of our lives, to show us the path to peace and joy.

Yes, a miracle will come to Main Street, Chatham, NJ later this morning, and into this very sanctuary. They tell me it happens every year, whether we’re ready for it or not.

This is the stuff of miracles. They happen whether you’re ready or not and in very surprising ways. But, they can only happen if you, like Mary, say ‘Yes.’

‘Yes’ to entering the story and following your script. ‘Yes’ to the chaos and the noise. ‘Yes’ to timid angels and boisterous sheep.

That’s when miracles happen. In this sanctuary. On Main Street. In Chatham. In, New Jersey. In our lives. Mine and yours.

Just a few weeks ago, Tim mused, "Wow. We're going to have an African American as President and an Asian baby as Jesus. Imagine that!"

Yes, imagine all that - AND - the possibility of penguins in Bethlehem.

And the angel said to Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God." Amen.


Brian R said...

Wonderful, we had a bit of a problem when one of the shepherds decided he would head off to Egypt with the Holy Family (probably one of them was a sibling). Mum had to bring him back and remind him to care for the sheep.

gerry said...

I'll have to use walkie talkies next year.

This was my first pageant and the hardest part was keeping track of the folks in the west transept, children's chapel, and flower room waiting for their cues; and the weather delayed Mary and Angels getting dressed in the common room.

But the miracle was there, we celebrated the incarnation and God was with us this morning, despite the bad weather, the missed cues, etc..

The pews were full; the smiles and laughter and tears were manifest as our 8 yo Joseph covered for missing kings by miming wonder and pleasure at their invisible gifts, and a shepherd saved a temporarily blinded 3 yo lamb from toppling down the chancel steps only to himself flash the congregation when his top rode up as his trousers sagged fashionably.

The lamb had been blinded when a 7yo sheep pulled the lamb's ears down over his eyes in retaliation for something no adult saw and no child would admit.

Christ is With Us...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks Brian R and Gerry, I love stories of Christmas Pageants. You just can't make this stuff up.

Padre Mickey said...

Our pageant is at Epiphany, but there are preparations for a Christmas pageant by Red Mr. Peanut Bank and Gallito Mescalito and the gang at padre mickey's dance party.

Great stories, everybody!