Last Saturday, the first service back in our renovated church building was the children’s Christmas pageant. Still today, maybe in a corner of a pew or on the steps to the chancel, one might see something shiny, an artifact resistant to brooms and mops, proof that the stars and angels glittered here again this year.
I’ve been to more children’s pageants than I can count. There is no better way to experience the joy of Christmas than to gaze with wonder at the exuberance of the littlest angels rearranging their haloes and wings and perhaps their socks too, and hear the sweet voices of children singing impossibly high notes while an angel Gabriel holds sway in the pulpit with a big smile and open arms, waving shyly to her dad.
Sometimes the pageant looks pretty chaotic, and sometimes someone needs his mommy or needs her costume removed right now. But the pageant also offers a unique doorway into the holy, a place of timeless shimmering stillness. Sometimes there's magic in the mess.
Every year, and this year was no different, there’s at least one angel who, despite the action all around her, creeps quietly ever closer to the baby with radiant joy, who cannot stop looking at the baby with love and awe. Someone suddenly needs to kneel or curtsey with folded hands. There’s always someone, often a few little someones, who I can see are feeling the magic, the mystery, the marvelous love that is at the heart of the beautiful story of the incarnation, of God coming to live among us as a little child, looking out upon us from the lap of his mother.
Indeed, I saw many pairs of shining eyes beneath those cloth headcoverings and tinsel halos and fuzzy animal suits as the children made their way back down the long aisle to their waiting parents. The pageant is where the story of the incarnation is truly told in all its glory, and the opportunity to take part in it is nearly irresistible, even for the painfully shy. Acting it out, wearing the costumes, playing the parts, being up close in a holy space - that’s how the children in the pageant experience the joy of Christmas.
And truly, don’t we all want to edge in, to slide forward on our knees inching toward the baby, toward the young mother, toward the tallest most confident shepherd, maybe to touch the hem of a sparkly or soft robe? Don’t we all want to be part of the story in a tangible way that, sadly, becomes harder and harder as one grows older and the cares of the world threaten to overwhelm us?
How can this be? Mary asked, and so do I. And yet, amid the crying and the bewilderment that may be more obvious among the younger set but is still a big part of my life, Christmas is at its heart a beautiful mystery of love, a time of mutual gazing in adoration, that gives life to hope, that makes my heart sing.
And so again this year, I want to tap into joy, that sense of wonder and awe, by putting myself in the story despite the distractions that beckon me to burden my heart with worry and grief, by letting myself just fall on my knees and creep forward toward the baby, ready to adore him.