UNFORGETTABLE CHRISTMAS PAGEANT
By SARA CORE
She just could not be more excited! Sara was so honored to have been chosen the narrator of her third grade class’s Christmas program. She had waited for this day for weeks through many days of work memorizing her lines and rehearsing with the other students. Since this event took place in the 1960s, this meant that her school’s Christmas program would include the account of the birth of the baby Jesus from the gospel of Luke.
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” (Luke 2:1, 3-5)
Sara had carefully memorized parts of Luke Chapter 2 that her teacher had given her. The language seemed a little odd to her, but her mother explained that the words were from the King James Version of the Bible (because everybody knows that when God spoke, it was in the language of 17th century England!) “Mother, what does ‘being great with child mean’? Does that mean that babies are great to have?”, she asked. While agreeing that babies were great, her mother explained that Mary was pregnant and was about to have a baby, so her tummy was very large.
Every day at three o’clock, starting right after Thanksgiving, the children assembled in the cafeteria for rehearsal. Sara took this very seriously, and resented it when Mike, and some of the other boys who were shepherds, kept horsing around. She wouldn’t even look their way, because they were beneath contempt, and Sara wondered why the teacher had even included them in this most important event.
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7 )
Sara’s friend Carol played the role of Mary. Carol was a bright girl with a ready smile, and Sara was in awe of Carol, because she lived on a farm and got to ride horses anytime she wanted to! Some of the other kids’ mothers didn’t want their child playing much with Carol, because (said in a whisper) her mother was “divorced,” but Sara didn’t care. She liked Carol anyway.
As preparations for the big day continued, Sara’s mother one day said, “Let’s go shopping for a dress for you to wear for the play.” Sara didn’t care much at that point for shopping, but this was an important event, and the fact that her mother (also a hard-working school teacher, and also not much of a shopper) thought it worthy of a new dress made Sara want one, too. They went to Sears to the girls’ department and picked out a pretty black velvet dress with a white lace collar. When she put it on, Sara even felt like an important narrator!
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:8-11
Sara was pretty sure that her teacher had misspelled “Savior” in the lines she’d been given. (Sara in later years would be known as the “spelling nazi,” which made wrongly spelled words seem like a sour note played for someone with perfect pitch. Don’t even start with picking the wrong version of there, their, or they’re!) But, she decided that was just King James at it again.
The big day finally arrived, and after one last rehearsal, all the kids went home for supper to return promptly at 6 pm for the program at 7. Sara was too excited to eat much, especially when she found out that her Daddy and older sister would be there, too! Jane, her older sister, was a very mature eighth-grader, who loved to torment her sibling in her usual smart-alecky way. “I bet you’re gonna be the cow in the manger scene, right? Mooo-ooo!” But even Miss Junior High was impressed when she saw Sara in her new black velvet dress. “Wow! You actually almost look nice,” she said in the closest thing to a compliment Jane could muster.
The school cafeteria was crowded with parents and family by the time the program would begin. Backstage, there was a lot of chaos, and the principal seemed to take forever setting up the mic and welcoming everyone. Sara was nervous, but mostly excited. Anxious, but ready. And finally, the curtains opened. The cafeteria was hushed. The manger scene was empty and dimly lighted as Sara stepped up to the mic and began to speak. When Mary, padded to look “great with child,” and Joseph entered, the stage took on a soft glow.
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.”
Magically, a baby doll appeared and was carefully placed in the manger. The shepherds appeared right on cue, and knelt before the manger, their shepherd’s hooks casting interesting shadows on the wall. The set seemed brighter still as they gazed at the baby Jesus. Even Mike seemed to realize the sacred moment. Sara actually had a lump in her throat as she looked on.
“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
The three kings arrived dutifully and laid their gifts before Jesus just in time for the big moment. The angels appeared, standing in the back on the risers as Sara said,
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, (all the children in unison) Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” Luke 2:13-14
The stage glowed with a warm, sweet light. The brightest point was shining down on the baby Jesus, and in that light, the baby doll looked almost real. It was only some days later that Sara realized that no one had been controlling any added lights, there was just the usual overhead fluorescents. Yet, the scene was glowing.
“O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”
What a night. Even many years later, Sara still could recite those lines from the Bible that she learned for that Christmas program all those years ago. She knew she would never forget it.
Sara Core is a member of First Central Presbyterian Church, retired veterinarian, and a spiritual director.