There is a great little Christmas book entitled, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” It is written by Barbara Robinson and if you haven’t read it, find a copy. It is a short read, but it will forever change the way you look at Christmas. It is the story of a church preparing for the annual Christmas pageant, the same one they have put on for who knows how many years. You know the kind where the shepherds are dressed in old bathrobes and the smallest kids are sheep and angels. Two things happen to make this year different. The woman who had been the director of the pageant for who knows how many years breaks her leg and cannot direct. This is the chance for something newer and different. They just didn’t have any idea how different things would be.
There was a family in town that was notorious for their bad behavior. The promo on the back of the book says this. “The Herdman’s are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars…even the girls, swear, and hit little kids.” For whatever reason they choose this year as the one where they will go to church. Maybe the Spirit was stirring in them. Perhaps they heard about the pageant from someone at school. No one is quite sure and in the end it doesn’t matter. They had never even heard the Christmas story before and their interpretation leaves people scratching their heads. They determine Herod needs a good beating for starters and the Wise Men are suspect in the Herdman’s book. They were amazed there was no room in the inn for Jesus, and the girl who was going to play Mary asked, ‘you mean they tied Jesus up and put Him in the feedbox’?
When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds one of the Herdman kids yelled out loud Shazam! They were delighted to see the wise men appear so they could get Jesus out of the barn, and amazed that Jesus had just been born and someone wanted to kill Him. And the youngest of the six Herdman kids was the angel who announced Jesus birth. It was a bit unorthodox…” Hey! Unto you a child is born” she hollered like it was the best news in the world. And the shepherds trembled…sore afraid, mostly because they were afraid of Gladys Herdman who was a bully. Instead of gold, frankincense, and myrrh the three wise men brought the ham out of their food basket. Nothing was going exactly as planned but then, isn’t that the way the birth of Jesus happened?
We get caught up in the clean, neat version of the Christmas story…cattle lowing and doves cooing, Mary and Joseph looking serene and rested as they gaze at baby Jesus. But the truth is, they were away from home and friends. They could find no place to stay and it was time for their first baby to be born. That in and of itself is overwhelming but this was no ordinary baby. They knew this was the Son of God. The task ahead of them, monumental. The stable was probably crude, cold, dark, stinky. Perhaps the animals warmed it up some, but it would have been cold that night. Mary and Joseph were most likely overwhelmed by it all. Who wouldn’t be? This isn’t exactly the way they had planned things out.
It was into a world that knew political turmoil, division, poverty, and challenges that Jesus was born. In fact, it didn’t look that much different that today. There were people who lived in fear, people who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, people crying out to God and others who wanted nothing to do with Him. People were hungry for good news and had no idea where to look to find it. The fields were white for harvest…just like they are today. In some ways not much has changed in 2,000 years.
We have the advantage, however. We know how this story ends. We know all about Jesus birth, the visits by the shepherds and later the Wise Men. We know about the visit to the Temple when Jesus was 12 and his first miracle of turning water into wine. We know about the last supper, Judas’ betrayal, and Jesus arrest. There were night trials, illegal in the Roman world, and the torture and punishment of Jesus. We have read about the march through Jerusalem with Jesus carrying His cross, the nails being driven into His hands and feet and His death as He hung there on the cross. But what came out of all this is Jesus resurrection. He was victorious over the powers of sin, death, and evil. He paid the price for our sin and disobedience. He made a way for us to return to God. Because He loves us. That is what this story is all about. It matters not if Mary is neat and clean or if she has a black eye from running into a door. The Wise men brought gifts that were symbolic…gold, frankincense, and Myrrh. Ham is a bit out of character, but it was a gift given from the heart. And isn’t that how we are called to give…from our hearts?
Christmas Eve is 2 weeks from tomorrow. There won’t be an official pageant this year. But that doesn’t mean we won’t celebrate. Everything is different this year, except Jesus comes. God still loves us. And angels still try to get our attention…Hey!!! Unto you a child is born. It’s the best news in the whole wide world.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W