Summary: William Shakespeare penned these words in his play, As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances…”
The Cast of Christmas
William Shakespeare penned these words in his play, As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances…”
Most of us have seen a wide variety of Christmas plays and pageants in our lifetimes and perhaps have even been in one or more of them ourselves. We enjoy seeing the tiny tots program—Mary in her blue dress and white veil; Joseph in a too-large bathrobe; both kneeling beside a manger with the “Baby Jesus”; and the little angel choir with crooked tinsel halos heartily singing “Away in the Manger” behind them. We perhaps, too, have seen or participated in elaborate Christmas pageants with huge casts and conceivably thousands of dollars spent on costumes, backdrops, live animals, and professional sound and lighting. Both of these, in its own way, characterize that first great “Casting Call of Christmas.”
For His cast, however, God the Father signed on and coordinated the innocent and the majestic, the humble and the proud, the unlearned and the scholarly, the good and the evil in widely diverse characters for roles in that first great Christmas drama. God’s choice of players includes:
MARY: A young woman, pledged to be married to Joseph, finds herself visited by the archangel Gabriel one night. Gabriel announces to her that she will become pregnant. To overcome her confusion since she is a virgin, the angel explains to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” Though under Jewish law Mary knows she can be stoned to death for being pregnant outside of marriage and knowing that her husband-to-be will probably not understand, she bravely responds, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Traveling to Bethlehem while heavy with child, she ends up giving birth there in a stable. Since they could find no room in any boarding houses, Mary ends up laying her precious firstborn child in a feeding box for animals.
JOSEPH: A righteous man pledged to be married to Mary. When he finds Mary to be with child, he decides to divorce her quietly and not embarrass her publicly. The shock of this revelation must have been tremendous to Joseph who thought his beloved Mary was a pure and godly woman. (Under Jewish law, engagement was as binding as marriage. To break it, a legal divorce was required.) Before he could do this, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, explains the situation, tells him to take Mary as his wife, and when the child is born “…to give him the name, Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph does as he is commanded, takes Mary as his wife but has no sexual union with her until after Jesus is born. This fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son and will call him Immanuel.”
CAESAR AUGUSTUS: A Roman emperor (a small but very important part in the “Play”), who issues a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Everyone must go to his own town to register. This requires Joseph to go up to Bethlehem, taking the very pregnant Mary with him, since he is of the house and line of David. This fulfills the words of the prophet Micah written over 700 years before, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, …from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2, NASB)
THE SHEPHERDS: Generally poor, uneducated men doing what they do every night. Nothing extra-ordinary happens to them with the exception of an occasional predator coming along to scare away or kill to protect their sheep. But the Author of the “Play” has something special planned for this night. They are about to be astonished by the brilliant shekinah glory of the Lord ripping open the quiet night skies, the angelic proclamation of a newly-born Savior and a great multitude of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests." After recovering their senses, they hurry off to find the Savior. After seeing Mary, Joseph and the Babe in the manger “just as they had been told,” they return to their work. As they go, they glorify and praise God and testify to everyone who will listen of what they have seen and heard. These men, whom the world would deem unworthy, have been among the first to see God in the flesh!