…Christmas pageant vocabulary….

Were I a philosopher, I should write a philosophy of toys, showing that nothing else in life need to be taken seriously, and that Christmas Day in the company of children is one of the few occasions on which men become entirely alive.”

-Robert Lynd

I went to my godson’s Christmas play on Sunday night. I’m the son of a vocational children’s pastor, so to say that I am acquainted with children’s drama in church is an understatement. I’ve seen plays, been in plays, helped with plays, and recorded plays. There is a certain charm and appeal in this genre of performance art that is unique and I think that it probably has something to do with the moment-to-moment understanding that absolutely anything can happen. Children’s dramas in the church are firmly rooted in spontaneity and the unexpected, this is true because childhood is also rooted in spontaneity and the unexpected. Though it’s not physically possible, and science has yet to be able to explain it, 4 children can actually go in 6 directions at one time. So attending a children’s play is not a chore or an obligation but a privilege and an honor. It’s much better than anything on television, that’s a fact.

Though this post isn’t about this play specifically, it was good. Kudos to the organizers, directors, and volunteers, theirs is a special place in glory. About half way through the performance it occurred to me that there are certain things about children’s plays that are accepted and not questioned and I began to jot a couple of them down during the show. This is a short list, and definitely a “lighter” post today, but serious only goes so far sometimes.

Christmas Pageant Vocabulary:

Involuntary Atonal Dissonance: The result of a large group of elementary school children imitating an angelic choir in a Christmas play or pageant. (Note: this becomes Voluntary Atonal Dissonance at the end of the bridge section in “Mary Did You Know?”, and at the last note of any up tempo song)

Circle the Wagons: The only “in the flesh” dance allowed at a Pentecostal Christmas play. It consists of small children walking in a circle around Giant Jesus for the duration of at least one song.

Giant Jesus: The strange, historically unfounded belief that Jesus was twice as tall as everyone else…this theological viewpoint is only seen in modern times in children’s Christmas plays where the role of Messiah goes to either the tallest boy in the group or it becomes the obligatory adult role.

Low Start Theology: the belief that the “star in the east” was actually made of stranded electrical lights and was located roughly 12 to 18 inches above the tallest Wise Man’s head that is on stage for the Nativity.

All Clapping: the pattern of rhythmic hand clapping that represents every beat in the any composition. This is seen in the “funky” song in the program when children are asked to imitate an urban gospel choir with sway steps and hand claps. It typically looks less like swaying and more like slam dancing, and less like rhythmic clapping and more like applause.

I offer none of this with any malice, the play was well done and the kids well-behaved. All is presented in fun.

I will say one more thing. It struck me near the end of the play that some of the older kids on stage, 11 or 12 years old’s, would have likely only been a couple of years younger than Mary when she and Joseph trekked to Bethlehem in her third trimester. I generally want to think of them as adults when I read  Matthew and Luke’s account of Jesus’ entrance into our world, but they weren’t, at least she wasn’t. They were just as scared and concerned as any other teenage family would have been. Joseph was a carpenter, not a mid-wife and not an OBGYN; to say that he was ready to deal with the birth of a child is laughable. Building a desk and delivering an infant are two very different things, trust me, I’ve been in the room for both.

As I looked at those kids singing and swaying and clapping and dancing it began to become apparent just how unassuming and unlikely the first Christmas was. As cute and talented and smart as any of those kids on stage were, who would ever think that God Himself could be born by and raised by any of them? Of all the Christmas stories and anecdotes that I will read and hear this year this one just might stick the longest: if God can take an adolescent girl and a blue-collar young man and entrust to them the life that would literally save the world, what could He possibly have planned for me if I am willing to let Him do anything?

Perhaps, in that vein, the greatest vocabulary word that came from Sunday night’s Christmas play is

Hope: the deep stirring of anticipation that comes from knowing just how committed God is to using the unlikeliest of people to do the grandest of things.

Christmas, in its final essence, is for grown people who have forgotten what children know

– Margaret Cousins



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