Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I never got to be a wiseman, until now

(Originally posted December 25, 2012;
posted here with minor edits)

Christmas growing up always centered on church with the big event being the Christmas pageant.

In those days, we just called it the Christmas “program.” We were simple folk and “pageant” sounded a tad too uptown.

I always wanted to be a wiseman, but never made the cut. It was very disappointing and I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten completely over it.

By the time I was grown enough to fit the part, our little church had moved into the “modern day” by discarding the traditional reenactment of the Nativity.

Instead of the brilliant simplicity of the Christmas story read from the Bible and enacted by kids and teens costumed in bathrobes, towels, ingeniously pinned sheets, and a silent toy baby in a manger playing the part of Jesus, we moved to “skits” and “cantatas” that were supposed to make the Bible story more relevant.

These were miniaturized dramas and musicals cast in some contemporary setting that modernized the story of Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t so much about Him any longer as about the season and good feelings. Or so it seemed.

My attitude toward this was not progressive. I preferred the traditional retelling of the events. Still do.

Getting to the big day

On Christmas Sunday, which was whatever Sunday fell just prior to December 25th, that’s when it all happened.

In the morning service, it was always the little kids reciting lines from pieces of paper the size of fortune cookie fortunes.

All ages from the little to the small to the tiny participated. But no big kids, adults, or teens; they were on in the evening service.

Always there were a couple of little ones who couldn’t remember the four or seven words they were tasked to memorize, and so had to be coached by their teacher or parents mouthing the words, s-l-o-w-l-y, one at a time, exaggeratedly.

And, of course, there were the precocious kids that recited perfectly every word with the diction of an experienced Thespian.

Show offs.

But it was all adorable. And touching.

Parents ran to the front and jockeyed for position to capture the precious moment featuring their child sharing some tidbit about the coming of the Child.

In between the shuttling off stage and on stage the various age groups, we all sang Christmas carols.

Silent Night. O Come All Ye Faithful. Joy To The World. All the traditional greats.

We knew the tunes. We knew the words. And we sang our hearts out.

In fact, the carols during worship service (or what we called “the song service”) began on the first Sunday of December. The typical hymns, songs, and choruses were all sidelined. The month of December was all about singing the Christmas carols – the songs of the season sung only this one time of the year – and nothing else. Period.
Sidebar: Editorial comment 
I find it infinitely ironic that, today, there are worship leaders who refuse to sing more than a smattering of carols, claiming that people are tired of the them because they hear them over and over again in stores and on the radio throughout the month. Yet, these same worship leaders will put up the same choruses and songs week after week all year every year! Their arguments are baseless and they are nothing more than Christmas carol Scrooges and Grinches.
Back to the pageant prep

We began preparations right after Thanksgiving for the pageant. The casting calls went out, adult assistants were recruited, and the rehearsals began.

But really, we all knew the different parts by heart. The only questions were who would be cast as whom based on age and growth spurts. Whoever had the better looking bathrobes also factored in.

I moved up dutifully through the ranks.

I did the morning service several times as a small child, saying my part, and, later, participating in the song flute choir.

Everyone knew that every fourth grader was given a song flute at school so there was no dodging this duty.

And now the big show!

After my years of morning service appearances, it was onto the big stage of the evening service, our stage being nothing more than the raised front of the sanctuary. A wire was strung across the front and hung with sheets that acted as curtains. We kept it simple.

Over my years of Sunday performances I was an angel and a shepherd.

For boys, the progression went more or less like this: angel, shepherd, wiseman, and then, if you were lucky, Joseph, or maybe the innkeeper.

Every once in awhile a Roman soldier or miscellaneous bystander was tossed into the mix.

Do you see the problem here?

The same number of kids moved through the ranks, but while there was always a need for a “host” of angels and any number of shepherds, there were only three wisemen, one Joseph, and one innkeeper.

The competition for these roles heated up as we aged. It was all a matter of numbers. Although I’m guessing some backroom politicking went on among the mothers.

For girls, it was worse since they had to jump directly from angels to Mary and that was pretty much it.

Again, on occasion there would be a need for a female bystander or the innkeeper would get a wife. Sometimes girls even got to play shepherds. But these were all hit and miss.

Don’t forget the candy!


The pageant wasn’t the only thing we looked forward to on Christmas Sunday. Besides dreaming of the sweet part in the pageant we also longed for the special bag of candy.

Every year on Christmas Sunday every person in attendance got a small white paper bag of candy. There was also an orange or an apple included, but the candy was the real prize.

We all prayed that the bag we got would have one or two extra of those little caramel candies with the white sugary filling. Those were gold.

The handing out of the candy happened after the morning service and was executed decently and in order. No one took more than one bag unless a family member was home sick. After all, it was the season of colds and flus.

But the men who handed out the bags knew who was there and who wasn’t and we didn’t even have to ask for the extra bag; they knew.

As times changed and inflation grew as steadily as we did, the bags held less and less and the selection of candies became more limited.

Finally, before they were abandoned altogether, the fruit was eliminated and all that remained were a few pieces of the cheaper hard candies. The anti-sugar movement was the final stake. Bah! Humbug!

Being a real-life wise guy

I miss the bags of candy and the pageants. And I’ll most likely never get the chance to take on the role of one of the three wisemen in one.

But, for all of us, there are opportunities to be wise men and wise women every day. The Bible offers a lot of guidance on how to be wise. Here are four key tips:
  • Shun Evil: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7, NIV).
  • Embrace God: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise” (Psalm 111:10, NIV)
  • Seek Wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NIV).
  • Bank Knowledge: “Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin” (Proverbs 10:14, NIV).
Being wise in life is a lot tougher than donning a bathrobe and a cardboard crown and standing silently next to a makeshift manger as the narrator intones the Christmas story from the Word.

Real-life wisdom requires doing the Word.

There have been days that wisdom ruled. Others where, well, I played the fool way too well. Fortunately, God’s grace can redeem even the dumbest episodes.

His grace was made flesh in a manger in a cave a couple thousand years ago. About two years later, the original wisemen, the Magi, found him, were overjoyed, and worshipped him.

Those wise men had to travel from afar to find the Child, the King of kings. Today, we only have to travel to our knees and this King will take up residence in our hearts and be near to us day in and day out.

How to be a wise man or wise woman today? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).

So, I guess I made it after all!

But I still miss those bags of candy.

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What are some of your Christmas memories? Does your church still hold simple pageants or conduct a larger “event” for Christmas? Feel free to share in the comments!

4 comments:

  1. I did it again - messing with Google. I did write something here, and then was sent to a Google screen, logged in, and now everything has disappeared, and I have to leave for an appointment; will come back to this. Someday I will get this the first time. I am commenting as Google, right?

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  2. Ok, here it goes again. I don't recall ever being in a Christmas program (sort of sad), but I certainly remember Sunday School and all the great teachers and the superintendent. The latter always started the morning; was a great presence. And I recall the Sunday School bulletins with the pictures on the cover. I can still remember some of them. Did we have Christmas programs; will have to find someone to ask. Currently, at Antioch Lutheran we do have the traditional Christmas program with all the accouterments you mention, Stephen. During Lent we may go outside the box with different dramatic renderings. But Christmas is the traditional offering. No candy currently or that I can remember in the past. HMM? How good is my memory? Who can I ask? Thanks for making the past come alive. Just watched the Charlie Brown Christmas for the first time. Schultz did get the story in there. Hope this posts.

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    Replies
    1. I love the Charlie Brown program, too. Glad you enjoyed the post and appreciate your commenting!

      Delete

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