About twenty-five years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a little book that became a best seller. It was called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Fulghum was able to parlay the popularity of that book into a successful career as a speaker and a storyteller. What most people did not know is that Fulghum was also a Unitarian Minister; and many of the stories that he would tell involved churches. One of his best is called “The Christmas Pageant.”
The story goes something like this. Some members of the congregation of a small church in the country approached the Minister and the Sunday School Director about having a Christmas pageant. They thought it would be a great idea to involve all the children in Sunday School in telling the story of the birth of Baby Jesus. The Minister and the Director agreed this was a good idea; and so the plan was approved and implemented. The congregation gathered in Church for the pageant, but very few things went as planned. The child playing Joseph had caught the flu and upchucked all over the doll which represented Baby Jesus. Two of the angels got so nervous being in front of people that they wet their pants and had to leave the sanctuary before singing to the shepherds. One of the kings arrived late and ran in with his gift just as the play was ending. After this disaster, everyone agreed that there would be no more Christmas pageants.
Years went by. The church had a new Pastor and a new Sunday School Director. One November some newer members of the congregation came forward and said, “We should have a Christmas Pageant.” The Pastor and the Director thought this was a wonderful idea. Someone in the congregation was able to get a live donkey for the pageant. The plan was for the choir to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” as the donkey carrying Mary walked across the stage. Mary would then dismount and lie down and pull the Baby Jesus doll from under the straw as the choir sang “Silent Night.” Well, the donkey took two steps forward and developed a severe case of stage fright. He wouldn’t move. So the church Deacon and the Director went up and tried to push the donkey across the floor. By this time the choir had finished singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and there was silence in church. A sound then came from the backside of the donkey that needs no explanation; the donkey then let out a loud bray; and the congregation broke into laughter. Afterwards everyone agreed that there would be no more Christmas pageants. Yet some years down the road it is highly likely that some church members will approach the Pastor with an idea, “Let’s put on a Christmas pageant.”
I love this story because I do not think we are all that different from the people in that little church in the country. Every year at Christmas we go through the same family rituals, we sing the same songs, and we tell the same story in church of a baby born in Bethlehem. We do this not because we always do it perfectly. We keep doing this because deep down we know that this baby born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago is the hope of the world. We know that this baby came to bring peace on earth and good will to all and we know that this is exactly what this world needs. Celebrating Christmas is an affront to the violence and hate and negativity and cynicism that so fill our world. Celebrating Christmas is a prophetic act: we are declaring that our world was meant to be a better place than it is and that we are meant to be better people than we are.
This past year we have seen the Middle East burst open in a new and terrible campaign of violence. In our country the scars of racial injustice have been laid open for all the world to see. Churches seem to be fading more and more into the cloud of political incorrectness and irrelevance. Very few of us can say, “I have been the best person I could possibly be this year.” Yet none of this changes the fact that God loved the world enough to be born as a baby in a stable. If such a miraculous event is possible, then what is impossible? Is peace or compassion or conversion of the deepest darkest soul impossible? And so we tell the story of the baby one more time. We need to be reminded that God still believes in us, and that could make all the difference in the world.
Have a blessed Christmas.