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Costumes, Conundrums, and Christmas Programs

Before you could say “Hark,” the herald angel whaled on one of the wise men. Fluff and feathers went airborne. Soon plastic baby Jesus went flying across the room like a football with wise men hooting and hollering. The sheep and donkey were playing on an iPhone, no doubt zapping some far-off aliens.

Clearly, I had lost control. This rehearsal was getting out of hand.

Step into most any church around Advent, and you’ll find children and their faithful ministry leaders practicing and performing. It takes time and energy—both of which were quickly diminishing for me.

Why do we do this? Why have a Christmas program?

As I pondered this, I thought back to one of my all-time favorite books, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Perhaps you’ve read it.

My favorite part of that book is when dusty, dirty, ragged Imogene, through threats and extortion, snags the role of Mary in the Christmas program. When she hears that Jesus was born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manager, Imogene says, “You mean they tied him up and put him in a feedbox? Where was the Child Welfare?”

As funny as that is, she makes a point. Jesus didn’t come with an army or laser beams or fireworks. No resounding trumpets. He didn’t come and demand our attention. Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor, our King, was born in a stable and  put in a feedbox. It was the perfect picture: the dissonance of a Savior King and Suffering Servant made real.

This really happened.

“Of course this happened,” you say. Yes, we talk about it. But think about it for a moment. Did the coming of the Savior happen in the way the Israelites thought it should happen? No. Instead we have an exhausted, very pregnant Mary who must have felt so out of place as she rested near animals in a stable (which probably didn’t smell so hot). There were no painkillers for labor. No ice chips for the heat. No clean sheets or a clean area to lie down, no soap and warm water.

And in the midst of all this chaos and labor pains, she gave birth to Jesus, who really cried, who got cold and needed to be swaddled, who was hungry. All of this for us. Jesus was born for us.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 ESV).

So why have a Christmas program?

Born for us. Even in the midst of mistakes and costumes that don’t fit, that’s what a Christmas program does: brings home the fact that Jesus was born for us. Children dress up, sing about Jesus, and hear and speak the Word even as the Holy Spirit works in their hearts and minds. Children understand on a whole new level that this really happened. And that very same Jesus who was born in the stable is there for them today to be their Savior and friend.

What an opportunity for ministry. What an amazing way to nurture the children in your church and to invite others to come: the neighborhood kids, friends of friends, and yes, the Imogenes too. And you’ll know, as you chat with the families who attended, as you sweep the sparkle off the floor and put away the costumes, that your Christmas program—even with its challenges and mistakes—was worth it. It was a labor of love.

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