Word for Word 12/15/21

Rev. Laura Gentry
Rev. Laura Gentry

The Joy of Christmas Pageants

At my congregation in Lansing, we’re busy preparing for our annual Sunday school Christmas pageant. The children and youth of Our Savior’s Lutheran have performed in a Christmas pageant for as long as anyone can remember. The same could probably be said of your church.

Every year, the script has a slightly different twist but the story never changes: it proclaims the humble birth of Jesus Christ all those years ago in Bethlehem. It shines brightly with the hope of a new world this baby has come to bring.

Invariably, something goes wrong like the Baby Jesus fusses or a cow forgets his line (even though it’s just “Moo!”) or a little angel toddles around the sanctuary instead of staying in her place. Regardless of these mishaps, the congregation laughs and sings and bursts with enthusiasm. Everyone loves a Christmas pageant!

Perhaps that’s because we remember when we were the children in the pageant - even if that was a very long time ago. I was always an angel in my church’s pageant. How about you? If your kids are grown, what are your memories of their pageant performances? The tradition has been going on for generations and so it connects us to our history.

Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with popularizing the tradition of dramatizing the Christmas story. He arranged a reenactment of Jesus’ birth complete with live animals (in the church!) back in 1223. Yet the history goes even further back than that. Ever since Christ was born, people have been fascinated with the birth narrative. It was depicted in religious icons in the early days of Christendom. Then, in medieval times, the Nativity story was enacted on traveling wagons by religious dramatists.

When it became a child-centered tradition is a bit unclear. It makes sense, though, that the celebration of the Christ child’s coming would be most poignant when portrayed by children. The real miracle is that God chose to enter the human stage - to be with us as a vulnerable human baby. Children are naturally able to respond to this with the appropriate level of awe and wonder. They help us open our hearts to the true meaning of Christmas.

Last year, for COVID-19 safety, our congregation made a Christmas pageant film instead of a live production. It was such a success that we’re doing a film again this year, with the addition of an in-person screening in worship on December 19 at 9 a.m. The pageant is called “Tick Tock, TikTok, Christmas is going to Rock!” Congregational President Susan Cantine-Maxson, who often writes the pageant scripts, helped me develop this idea connecting the tick tock of time passing with TikTok, the modern video-sharing app. We’re endeavoring to honor and remember the past while updating the storytelling to keep

it relevant for modern audiences.The birth of Jesus is a story for the ages - all ages!

The kids have had so much fun acting and dancing their parts in and around the church. For example, I filmed the magi - decked out in their camel-rider costumes - galloping down Main Street to illustrate the long journey they made to Jesus. In this way, young people enter the story and it helps develop their faith in a God who loves them unconditionally.

Whether you’re in a pageant yourself or watching one, I pray that, like the magi, you are “overwhelmed with joy” as the children teach us how to come and truly adore the newborn King. God bless us, everyone. Merry Christmas!”

Rev. Laura Gentry
Out Savior’s Lutheran Church, Lansing