Summary: The Wise Men break into our little world and show us how awesome God’s breaking into our world truly is. We have sanitized the story and need to hear it once again as for the first time.
Epiphany A Matthew 2:1-12 6January 2002
Each Christmas in our home Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever comes out and quietly makes its way around. It is the story of a church, which is faced, with the drudgery of putting on the Christmas pageant for yet another year. The woman in charge breaks her leg and no one wants to do take it over. It falls to one particular woman who would rather do anything else, but she agrees.
A family named the Herdmans has found their way to Sunday School because they heard there was food there, much to the chagrin of all the other children because that was the best thing about Sunday School – no Herdmans. Imogene smoked cigars and they were always fighting with someone.
At the first rehearsal no one wants to volunteer for the part of Mary, Joseph, the Wise men, or the angel of the Lord. It was always the same people who needed to be coerced and they were waiting to be begged. But before that could happen the Herdmans all volunteered. Imogene was to be Mary, Ralph was Joseph, Gladys was the angel of the Lord, and the other brothers the wise men.
This was scandalous. Who ever heard of a cigar smoking Mary an unwashed Joseph? The congregation was in an uproar – all waiting for the pageant to collapse in a fist fight. It was truly scandalous. As the rehearsals unfolded it was necessary to explain the story because the Herdmans knew none of it. How dare the inn keeper refuse them room, didn’t he know it was Jesus. Herod should be taken out. The shiny veneer of the Christmas story dissolved, much to the offense of the congregation. You didn’t say Mary was pregnant in church!
Well the pageant unfolds, and I would like to read you parts of the ending. (p.72 ff selected passages)
Ralph and Imogene were there all right, only for once they didn’t come through the door pushing each other out of the way. They just stood there for a minute as if they weren’t sure they were in the right place – because of the candles, I guess, and the church being full of people. They looked like the people you see on the six o’clock news – refugees, sent to wait in some strange ugly place, with all their boxes and sacks around them.
It suddenly occurred to me that this was just the way it must have been for the real Holy Family, stuck away in a barn by people who didn’t much care what happened to them. They couldn’t have been very neat and tidy either, but more like this Mary and Joseph (Imogene’s veil was cockeyed as usual, and Ralph’s hair stuck out all around his ears). . ..
Next came Gladys, from behind the angel choir, pushing people out of the way and stepping on everyone’s feet. Since Gladys was the only one in the pageant who had anything to say she made the most of it: “Hey, unto you a child is born!” she hollered, as if it was, for sure, the best news in the world. And all the shepherds trembled, sore afraid – of Gladys, mainly, but it looked good anyway. . . . .
As for ruining the whole thing, it seemed to me that the Herdmans had improved the pageant a lot, just by doing what came naturally – like burping the baby for instance, or thinking a ham would make a better present than a lot of perfumed oil. Usually by the time we got to “Silent Night”, which was always the last carol, I was fed up with the whole thing and couldn’t wait for it to be over. But I didn’t feel that way this time. I almost wished for the pageant to go on, with the Herdmans in charge, to see what else they would do that was different.
Maybe the Wise Men would tell Mary about the problem with Herod, and she would tell them to go back and lie their heads off. Or Joseph might go with them and get rid of Herod once and for all. . . .
I was so busy planning new ways to save the baby Jesus that I missed the beginning of “Silent Night”, but it was all right because everyone sang “Silent Night”, including the audience. We sang all the verses too, and when we got to “Son of God, Love’s pure light” I happened to look at Imogene and I almost dropped my hymn book on a baby angel.
Everyone had been waiting all this time for the Herdmans to do something absolutely unexpected. And sure enough, that was what was happening.
Imogene Herdman was crying.
In the candlelight her face was all shiny with tears and she didn’t even bother to wipe them away. She just sat there – awful old Imogene – in her crooked veil, crying and crying and crying.