“The Ghosts of Christmas Pageants Past”
The Liturgy of the Word this morning took the form of the annual Christmas pageant. This year the pageant was written by the Vicar, with his wife Anne assisting and apologies to Charles Dickens. High school students took the roles of ghosts of Christmas pageants past; younger children in the congregation took the other roles.
I. Domestic Tranquility at the Vicarage
The pageant opens with the Vicar sprawled on a chair, sleep-fashion, with a quilt over him. His wife is under the quilt on a chair next to him. He tosses and turns, then speaks.
Vicar Oh, I just can’t get to sleep.
Anne For heavens’ sake, settle down. What’s the matter?
Vicar It’s the Christmas pageant. I just can’t come up with yet another one. Why didn’t I decide to retire December 31st?
Anne Now, take a deep breath. You’ve done Christmas pageants for the last 30 years. This will be your last. It will happen. It always does. You can do it.
Vicar Don’t “therapist” me. You don’t have to do it.
Anne Oh, no? Seems to me that I and the Lauras and a few others of the moms are the ones who pull it off every year. You just kind of preside over the chaos and take credit for the cuteness.
They’re interrupted by the clanking of chains, as the Ghosts of Christmas Pageants Past enter, dressed in gray or white vestments. Monica carries a blue veil for Mary, Ben carries a shepherd’s crook. Tom, Amanda and Jon wear “king” sashes or other magi regalia.
Vicar Wha . . . what are you?
Connor We are the Ghosts of Christmas Pageants Past. Don’t you remember us? We remember you.
Vicar Well, you do look vaguely familiar. But you were cute and little then. Now you’re big and, well . . . some of you are bigger than me. Why have you come back to haunt me?
Amanda You have to do a Christmas pageant, Fr. John. Oh, please! It’s what we remember from growing up at Holy Cross.
Ben Yes, do you think we remember your sermons? Dream on! We remember being in the pageants. I was a king. It was wonderful.
Vicar I remember you. You were kind of a short and pudgy king. Not at all majestic. In fact, a bit of a brat sometimes, as I recall. But never mind . . . . Why are you here?
Tom We are here to give you heart. Your wife is right.
Monica As usual.
Jon The whole point of a Christmas pageant is to tell the story of God breaking into the confusion and chaos of this world to be born as a little child.
Connor So it doesn’t matter that the pageant’s not going to be perfect. Perfection is your hang-up. The world into which Jesus was born wasn’t perfect. As Jesus himself said, “No one is good except God alone.” So it doesn’t matter that you never know until the last minute who’s going to be in town to take the various parts in the pageant; who’s going to be sick and have to cancel out; who’s going to get scared and not want to be a sheep after all. Christ is going to be born one way or another. It doesn’t depend on you. It’s up to God.
Amanda Trust! Like you’re always telling us: trust! Trust God to pull it off, like Mary and Joseph trusted way back then.
II. Mary, Joseph and the Babe in the Manger
Luke 2: 1-7 – The Birth of the Savior
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
People Thanks be to God.
“From heaven above to earth I come” Hymnal 80
As the hymn is sung, Mary and Joseph enter, carrying with them the Baby Jesus in a manger. They take their places in front of the other actors. Monica takes off her veil and puts it on Mary’s head.
Vicar You know, you’re right. I remember when we couldn’t get a boy to be Joseph. So Tammi Compagna volunteered and we painted a moustache on her. She did very well, too.
Ben That’s the spirit! Trust in the Lord: he will provide.
Monica Joseph isn’t exactly a guy part anyway, if you think about it. And these days, what’s gender?
Vicar Wait a minute! If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 30 years of ministry, it’s don’t mess with Christmas or Easter. Respect tradition at Christmas and Easter . . . or lose pledges.
Vicar Poinsettias at Christmas, lilies at Easter. That’s tradition. They don’t teach you that in seminary, but you learn it on the job, believe me!
Tom Well, anyway, Mary and Joseph aren’t really very important in the Christmas pageant. What’s important are the littlest kids. The shepherds and the sheep. The angels, the heavenly host.
III. The Shepherds and Angels
Luke 2:8-14 – The Shepherds and the Angels
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!
People Thanks be to God.
Angels from the realms of glory Hymnal 93
As the hymn is sung, shepherds, sheep and angels enter. Ben gives the shepherd’s crook to one of the shepherds.
Vicar You know, speaking of Christmas pageants past, I remember how there was always a boy who wanted to be the sheep dog – Ryan Plamondon, for instance; I remember him barking at his little brother Wyatt. Or going back a ways, I think you, Connor, wanted to be a sheep dog.
Connor Actually, I think I wanted to be the wolf. But you said there wasn’t any wolf in the Christmas story.
Vicar Right. My role is to maintain orthodoxy.
Connor And spoil the fun . . . just kidding.
Ben As we all got older, what we really wanted to be in the pageant was one of the kings.
Amanda It was neat that girls got to be kings as well as boys. You gotta love the Episcopal Church!
Vicar But we always had three kings. Tradition! Although actually the Bible never says anything about how many kings there were.
Tom But you have to have three because you had three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Tradition!
IV. The Visit of the Wise Men
Matthew 2:1-12 – The Visit of the Wise Men
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: `And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
People Thanks be to God.
We three kings of Orient are Hymnal 128
As the hymn is sung, three of the ghosts of pageants past put on king costumes and bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, laying them before the manger.
Monica So, you see, Fr. John, there it is: your Christmas pageant. You have nothing to worry about. Trust in the Lord. He’s always being born in this world of ours, if only we have the hearts and souls to receive him.
V. Trust God
Joy to the world Hymnal 100 vss. 1 & 4
The cast bow as the hymn begins, then depart. The Vicar and Anne remain.
At the conclusion of the hymn, the Vicar speaks to his wife.
Vicar I just had the most beautiful dream. It was all about Holy Cross and how wonderful our time here has been. All those Christmas pageants. All those memories. All those little kids growing up to be big kids. I don’t ever want to retire!
Anne See, I told you not to worry. It always happens. It always will happen. But it will happen even after you retire. Trust the people of Holy Cross! Trust God!
They stand and bow. The Vicar says
Vicar The peace of the Lord be always with you.