The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14 (NIV)
Early Christmas carols were sung in Latin, and since most of the people didn’t understand Latin, the practice fell out of favor after a few hundred years. (Imagine singing words you don’t understand at the church service.) But then St. Francis came along and introduced the Nativity Play in the Thirteenth Century along with songs that were sung in the language of the people. This was the beginning of the annual Christmas pageant.
Our family initiated a Nativity pageant when my children were small. Out came blankets for cloaks, scarves for headpieces, bathrobes for Joseph and the Wise Men, and my dad fashioned a manger from his shop scraps. We made sets from packing boxes. Momo played the piano as the cast sang and performed the Christmas story for the little ones.
The children have grown older and now have children of their own. We’ve done adaptations of Amahl and the Night Visitors, improvised versions of the Nativity story, revised traditional tales, and this year we will have an original story based on the characters’ preferences. (When five-year-old Caroline said she wanted to be a lamb in October, we knew this was important.) William has decided he will be a dog. The two teen-aged cousins, Mckenzie and Kassidee, have graciously accepted roles as the Two Wise Men. (The Third Wise Man had an undisclosed ailment which kept him from joining them.) Sam (now a young adult) is always the moving/flexible player. This year he will be a shepherd.
Putting together a skit with designated/determined characters is a little like cooking with the ingredients you have on hand. My little ones are set on being a lamb and a dog; the other three are fitting in. We have begun rehearsals with a story line that varies from practice to practice. Improvisation has been taken to a new level.
The whole point of this family tradition, like Francis’ ministry, is to make the story real, to allow the children to be part of the story and to connect with the Baby and his holy family. They are not just observers; they are the story. They experience a sense of Mary’s awe when Gabriel visits; of the holy couple’s rejection in Bethlehem; of the wonder of the shepherds (and lambs and dogs); and of the quest of the Wise Men. And as they participate, the Word becomes Flesh and lives with and in them.
Father, thank you for all the creative ways you’ve given us to share your story in word, in deed, and through our lives. Especially this season, help us to show Jesus to those we love best. AMEN.