Our historic Virginia church on Main Street was packed with parents and visitors ready to watch the annual Christmas Pageant. After weeks of rehearsals, my preschool and elementary cast of shepherds, wisemen, angels, and stable animals were ready to perform. I hoped.
The pageant began with a nervous fourth grader narrating, “And a decree went forth from Sy uh REE uh…” She struggled with the pronunciation. We all felt her hesitation, including a preschooler dressed as a nativity rooster who belted out, “DY-uh-ree uh?” Giggles resounded from the rest of the preschool barnyard of sheep, donkeys, roosters, and cows. The audience nervously joined in the laughter. That was only the beginning.
I didn’t know it could get worse until the angels began fighting in the balcony. Prior to the performance, my assistant director suggested that because the kindergarten and first grade angels were unsure of their song, I should move my daughter Christine to the Angel of the Lord’s mike and have her sing directly into it to bolster the multitude of heavenly host. I told Christine to stand next to Mason (the Angel of the Lord) and take over after he had announced, “Fear not, I bring you glad tidings of great joy…..” But I forgot to tell Mason.
As head angel, first-grader Mason was not going to allow kindergartener Christine any time on his mike. Mason rubbed the feathers off her furry white wings, bumped her away, and projected his haloed head over his mike. Wings flapped and the angel chorus nearly took flight. “Gloria! Gloria!” the other angels sang as two microphoned angels fought hard over their own glory.
I continued conducting the song from below, my flailing arms imitating the angelic ones above. What else could I do? Christine was doing exactly what she was supposed to do, and my Angel of the Lord had been taught that choir members should never sing directly into the mike unless performing a solo. Especially not the Angel of the Lord’s mike. The audience howled with laughter as they watched the battle in the heavenly places. For many, it was the highlight of that year’s Christmas pageant.
Why was it the highlight? Probably because the unscripted innocence of children is what delights our hearts. With children, the unexpected is what we can expect. Their spontaneity takes the spotlight as they share their gifts of anticipation and excitement.
As a child, I always wondered why grownups said, “Let’s not exchange gifts among the adults this year.” How could they give up their presents? Now that I’m grown up, I understand.
When my first daughter Christine was born four days before Christmas, she was a gift that is still giving. In Parenting 101, no one explains the bewildering joy we feel at receiving a color crayon portrait, a spontaneous hug or seeing the way a child plays with the gift box more than the gift inside. No cashmere scarf, DVD, or toaster oven can compare with these serendiptious gifts of the season.
On that first Christmas, I wonder if Mary felt the same way. Surrounded by shepherds, barnyard animals and wisemen, Mary had much to ponder. An expected baby took the spotlight in a rude stable.
Christ’s audience, didn’t get what it expected. The King of Kings found in a manger? God was certainly creative in how he chose to meet us. I’m sure He’s equally creative on a daily basis if we keep our eyes open for the unpredictable. Keep your eyes on Him, and you will not be disappointed.
Arriving in such an unexpected way, without beautiful packaging, God sent a baby to touch our hearts and to become the gift that keeps on giving.
Ann Marie Stewart
Copyright Ann Stewart 2004
Used by permission
No reprint without author’s permission
excerpt from “Preparing My Heart for Advent” published by AMG
About Ann Stewart
Ann just won the Christy Award for Best Debut Novel of 2017 with Stars in the Grass, originated AMG’s Preparing My Heart series, and writes “Ann’s Lovin’ Ewe” for The Country Register. When she's not writing, she's waving her arms directing musicals, teaching middle schoolers, or watching UVA Basketball, This is Us, or Madam Secretary. In her free time she hangs out with her husband, raising two lovely daughters and a whole flock of fuzzy sheep on Skye Moor Farm, in Virginia--where unscripted drama provides plenty of entertaining material.
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