Dear Disciples of Christ,
Have you ever seen any movies of a city church’s children’s Christmas program? If you have, you have an idea of what really happens in a church like mine in Brooklyn. Let me describe the Christmas tableau (you know, the scene that develops as children come forward as various participants in the story).
With limited resources on the part of the church and the children, these programs are known for their ingenuity. Any and all items people had at home were likely to be used to make the child appear to be the person they represented. So, for example, the three wisemen were often dressed in their father’s bathrobe (even if the wise man was a wise woman – we used all the participants we could get). Angels wore white and Mary was dressed in blue and you really haven’t seen a cute “sheep” until you’ve seen them bedecked with cotton balls.
To be honest, what helped a lot was the “low lighting” in the room. If it was low enough, the bath robes became kings’ robes. The cotton balls became sheep’s wool. But what really made the night, of course, was the Christmas story itself, the lesson about the birth of the little One. The children were mesmerized to be part of the story. Before the service I told them, year after year, how serious their part was. They were preaching the sermon. They were the sermon (so no “messing around”). And they didn’t. They listened intently and, of course, the parents were proud as could be to see their children presenting the Christmas message. It may not be as “professional” as churches can do with more money, but it certainly was as meaningful.
It isn’t unusual for some present to see the children more than the story. Such was the case one year when a beautiful young girl by the name of Edna volunteered to be Mary. We would always choose among those who “wanted” to be involved (not who felt they “had to”). It wasn’t hard to see young Mary holding baby Jesus (as Edna held a baby doll wrapped in cloths). When our organist, Heidi, began to sing beautifully, “Oh, Holy Night,” we were transported as a group back 2,000 years and 5,700 miles to the very cave with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.
But it was then that her (non-member) father stood up with his camera (a first generation movie camera with a light as big as a spotlight). The low lighting disappeared and the quiet of the room with the song being sung was filled with the whirr and grind of that newsroom size camera. There was no way to stop him, proud parent that he was, seeing only his beautiful (step daughter) and not Mary at all. I wished I could have gotten his attention but he was not looking at me in the pulpit but only proudly at his daughter.
It is that Christmas experience that has led me for my entire ministry, to ask parents to recognize the sacred message being shared and not distract worshipers who are trying to “see Jesus” and worship Him. It has seldom had much impact on parents with cameras (and these days, who doesn’t have a smartphone?). But the power of the Word cannot be stopped. In reality they are not just recording their child but recording the Christmas message. Their child has perhaps memorized a few lines but present it often with all their heart. They have been a part of the Christmas story. I have found that most are moved and honored by having a part in the program.
So the parents may be recording their child in action but they get The Child as well. God is like that with His powerful Word. It has power and, He promised, that power would do its work. “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-12
So, the power for what we are doing is that Word of God. That explains how and why we are still inviting children to be part of the story thousands of years after the event itself. May God always give us eyes of faith to see Him come for us not just at Christmas but each week as He provides His body and blood and the power of His Word.
Peace in His service,