I’ve gone to the big productions that have clearly been rehearsed for hours and hours, that involve lighting and live animals and stars hoisted on high using seamless mechanics. They are impressive. And I’m glad people do them.
But the kind of Christmas pageant I like is small and a little loose and has room for all kinds of people in the inn.
Pageants with an adult with Down Syndrome as the angel who came to Mary and Joseph, saying, “Do not be afraid. Be joyful,” loudly and clearly into the microphone despite her nerves.
Pageants with a dear brother and sister team as Mary and Joseph, because that’s who they wanted to be (and hopefully didn’t notice the adults giving each other little shrugs and smiles over their heads during rehearsal).
Pageants with a recovering addict as the prophet, dancing her prophetic word.
Pageants with little kids in sheep costumes who cannot be controlled and wander down the aisle early to see their grownup, and meander down the aisle way after everyone else is already in their spots. With a little dude who’d wanted to be a sheep, but I made him a shepherd, and he did it without a fuss. With a little boy shepherd who would only be in the program if his mother also dressed up as a shepherd with him, who wound up striding confidently down the aisle without his mother — because she was caring for a sheep who was upset about her broken headband.
Pageants with a wide array of wise ones/Magi: a woman with Down Syndrome, a teenage boy bribed to be there by his mother, and a college-age woman who volunteered ten minutes before the service started.
Pageants with teenage girls shedding the self-consciousness that often comes with their age, and dancing beautifully as angels, doing their own choreography.
Pageants with children’s choirs that have a mix of loudly enthusiastic and totally silent, wide-eyed participants, that are led by a man who manages to create an atmosphere where the soloists are the children who are often anxious and nervous, but bust out their parts with total confidence.
Pageants with parts that can be played by children who never came to a rehearsal, or who are visiting church that Sunday, but are willing to put on a costume and follow along.
Pageants that are part of a regular church service, folded into the liturgy, so the kids and the people who are often considered the recipients of ministry, are the ones up there ministering.
This is the kind of pageant I like best — not remotely perfect, but you just want to hug everyone in it.
For this Advent season, my wish for you is that you stay alive to moments that surprise you with joy — they may not be the impressive moments, they may not happen when they’re supposed to, they may contain unlikely characters, and they may sometimes involve tears. But your joy will be full.