If you have worked in Children’s Ministry as long as I have, you undoubtedly have a stash of crooked angel halos, tattered shepherds’ gowns, and assorted containers fit for exotic gifts from the East.
Children and the nativity story belong together. Does your heart swell when a gracious child invites awkward Joseph and uncomfortable Mary into his stable? When an angel with a lisp tells good news to the shepherds and their unruly sheep? And when small magi offer more (imaginary) wealth than they have ever owned in their lifetimes?
My memory of Christmas pageants takes me back to the place where my family worshipped when I was a child. It was First United Methodist Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. The stained glass windows, organ pipes, and wooden pulpit adorned with deep red poinsettias framed the place where children told the Christmas story through songs and poems and letters held up one at a time to spell out some word.
The year I was in 3rd grade and my sister was a 5th grader, her class rehearsed a Christmas play at my house. I don’t remember how many times they came over to practice, but it was enough for me to memorize the entire play as I watched and listened. So when the night of the program came and one of the main characters had the flu, I was asked to step in and take her place. What a thrill for me! (Maybe not so much for my sister.)
My own children have participated in numerous Christmas programs at our church, and I have watched their confidence and stage presence grow with each opportunity. That is one of the side benefits of children singing or speaking in front of people in a place where they are loved and safe. Speaking, singing, or playing an instrument in front of others becomes easier with each successive try, at least if the child isn’t pushed too soon but is allowed to be successful at his own pace.
When she was three years old, our youngest daughter was assigned a part as an angel in the church pageant. Although she did like the halo and wings, she wasn’t impressed with the simple white angel gown. It was certainly not as pretty as the blue ruffled dress she was already wearing. As it became closer to the time for the angels to appear, her confidence wavered, and she decided that she would be an angel sitting securely in the pew. And since the wings were keeping her from sitting back comfortably, during that pageant she wore a blue dress and halo and sat about three rows back next to her dad. In her mind she was a beautiful angel. And she was very proud.
Our church children are presenting an Epiphany pageant next week. Maybe someone will come down with the flu. There will undoubtedly be distracted shepherds, wandering sheep, and more love and joy than can be contained. The angels will dance and the children will be affirmed. Gifts will topple over and the child Jesus will be unpredictable and very human.
Now if you excuse me, I need to go prepare some angel gowns for children to wear (or not).