I remember the time when our youngest daughter Bethany first appeared in the annual children’s Christmas pageant in church. Even though I was the pastor, I was not involved in selecting who would play the various parts. I knew that our daughter, Bethany, was in the Christmas pageant, but I had no idea what her role would be. I do remember that landing the part of “Mary” was a sign that you had finally “arrived” at the apex of the acting world in the wonderful world of Christmas pageants. Other major roles included Joseph, the innkeeper and, of course, the three wise men. The way our church program portrayed the innkeeper was unusual. He was portrayed as an angry man who seemed to come out of a set which looked like the Marriott behind him, with dozens of rooms which were probably empty, but he slammed the door in the faces of this couple declaring he had “no room in the inn!” There were several boys in our children’s program who loved to play that part. Then, there were the wise men. They were always the climax of the play. They got to proudly parade down the center aisle at the close of the service in their bathrobes, excuse me, I mean, first century garb, with paper crowns on their head which had been covered with gold wrapping paper and sprinkled with glitter sufficient to hide the words, Burger King from the crown. (There was probably a Burger King in Jerusalem in the first century, but Bethlehem apparently had only a Dairy Queen). The magi would carry “gold” (a brick spray-painted gold), “frankincense” (a bottle of perfume) and “myrrh” (a lump of coal). Secondarily, landing a part as a shepherd or one of the angels was the next acting tier. After all, the shepherds were able to carry around the large crooks which could be used to whack and poke people during the pageant practice sessions. Indeed, putting a tool of potential torture into the hands of an 8 year old boy shows the sheer bravery of the “people called Methodists.” The young girls who were chosen to play angels got to wear large plastic wings which were attached to their backs. Even though they were wrapped with tinsel they, too, could be a force to be reckoned with as they spun around and caught an unsuspecting shepherd looking the wrong direction at the wrong time.
Well, there I was the proud parent on the opening night of the Christmas pageant sitting in a metal folding chair waiting for the pageant to begin. A few boys dressed in black came and pulled back the makeshift curtain (yes, a string of bathtub curtains) and there standing on stage was our daughter Bethany with two or three other small children. Their faces were beaming out from a cardboard star painted bright yellow which encompassed each of their faces. It was a large five pointed star with a hole cut in the middle for the face to shine through. Bethany was a star. She was playing the part of a star. Bethany had no speaking part. She had no acting to do. She was instructed to just stand on stage and smile and be “as happy as a star.” I never thought about a star being happy or sad, but if you are going to have a star in a Christmas pageant, it should be a happy one. I have heard of dwarf stars and red giants and so forth, but it was the Christmas pageant that told me about “happy stars.” Bethany loved being a star. For her, as a four year old, it was just great being part of the event.
It was a beautiful reminder to me that night that the most important response to the Christmas event is to step out of the limelight and stand in awe, smiling at the wonderful grace of God in Jesus Christ. Isn’t it great to be even a small part of this big thing God is doing in the world?