When our son was young, I spent many years helping with Sunday School. Each year, inevitably, as fall progressed into winter the time came to plan for the yearly production - Christmas Program. Things do not always go as smoothly with these things as we adults would sometimes like. We never knew for sure how many kids would be there each week for the essential costume “fittings”, practicing of lines to say and songs to sing. And so one year, we tried a new approach.
In early November, we began to work on this Christmas program. We wanted to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. We wanted music. We wanted everyone to be in it, and we wanted it to be a little different. Well, it certainly was.
Each week, we’d costume the kids on the spot, using whatever odds and ends we had on hand. Then, we’d head outdoors for a photo shoot, while I diligently tried to capture them on film (This was before we all had digital cameras.) The first week, using everyone present, we asked the kids to become “Jews trudging to Judea”- across the back of the church property and through Murial’s pasture. The 2nd week the younger kids were transformed into angels, complete with tinsel halos and wonderful, childish humor. The 3rd week we met in a nearby field, hastily dressing preadolescence boys in scraps of burlap and other rough fabric. Handing them wooden staffs, we lit a small fire and cautiously tried to herd a small flock of leery sheep within camera range. The 4th week we met at our house, using our old barn and 3 sheep for the crucial manger scene. It was a night I’ll never forget.
It did occur to me our schedule was tight. If we missed one week, or I ruined one roll of film, we would not be able to complete our plans. But we blundered ahead and somehow it all worked out. The day of the program we all sat back and relaxed (more or less). We did tell story of Jesus’ birth. The Kids' Choir sang, a couple of kids played piano pieces, a few of the older ones read our rendition of the Christmas Story. And all the while, on the screen in the front of the sanctuary, flashed picture after picture of our precious children - every single one of them. Not everyone sang on key, nor remembered all the words. The musicians tripped over some of their notes, the narrators missed some of their cues, some of the slides were too dark or slightly out of focus. None of that really mattered - and to this day, one memory stands out in my mind.
Picture this: a cold, dark, rainy night in an old, dingy barn - rain beating down on the tin roof, crowded with wise men, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, baby and hay-filled manger - and real sheep. The noisy, smelly kind. We were only pretending, but in doing so we got a little closer to each other, a little closer to that baby born so long ago - a little closer to the real meaning of Christmas.
Let none of us forget - that is where it all began.
It is the children who help us remember.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.