You go for the kids. At least that’s what you tell yourself. You know the story, and though the songs may change from year to year, little else does. It’s not that it’s not enjoyable; it’s just that it’s so predictable. The story doesn’t change, and you don’t expect it to change you—not after all these years.
I’m referring, of course, to the annual children’s Christmas program. Different churches have different names for it. Some are held weeks before Christmas, others on Christmas Eve. Some are elaborate affairs with many rehearsals leading up to the big performance. Others are much simpler. In some, kids are outfitted with bathrobes and towel headdresses, others settle for a few simple props.
These programs sound different and they look different, but the story is still the same. We go for the kids. And that’s a good thing, in my mind.
Last year I had the opportunity to attend one of these programs. The pageant was unfolding as expected. A few kids needed reminders here and there as to where to stand. It was great to watch the kids I knew, and I was genuinely impressed by the quality of the singing. And then, in the midst of this scripted event, the unexpected happened. The baby doll representing the Christ child was laid in the manger, and the reader continued, “Come, come and see this amazing sight. Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, has been born this night. O come, let us adore him.”
That was the cue for the next song to begin. But a young child in the audience, hearing the invitation, scurried up to the front and knelt by the manger in a posture of reverence. She came, she knelt, she worshiped. She heard the invitation and eagerly responded. My heart was moved. I wondered, Am I that eager? Do I need to hear the invitation to worship with fresh ears?
The program continued. Jesus grew, and with his parents moved into a house where they welcomed the Magi. I’d always imagined this to be a very staid, somber affair—but not this reenactment. The toddler representing Jesus was, well, a toddler. Wiggling down from Mary’s lap, he was fascinated not with the Magi’s gifts, but with the boxes in which they came. He opened and closed the lids, turned them over, and used them as hammers for imaginary nails. As the chorus of children sang, Jesus danced with abandon; filled with joy. Though Mary and Joseph tried, they could not contain his exuberance.
Through these unscripted actions I was given a more complete picture of the incarnation: my Savior as a child, fully divine, yet fully human. A child, responding as a child, filled with curiosity and joy. The Incarnate One.
I came for the kids—I left blessed. O come, let us adore him.
In this issue of RW, expect to be challenged to take time to rest during the season of Advent; to slow down and reflect on the season, to be countercultural (see articles by Joy Koning and Stephen Hamilton Wright).
Expect to consider the astounding gift of the incarnation; heaven come down to earth. Imagine a God who loves us so much that he comes in human form, yet divine, to rescue us. The manger has become a throne (see articles by Clayton Libolt, Peter Armstrong, and the poem by Susan Palo Cherwien).
Expect to run across the usual helpful resources and sage advice of some familiar authors. This issue includes the second installment of pieces by Carl Daw and Ron Man as well as another great article from Stacie Gleddiesmith related to lament. There’s also something new: a column called “For Pastors.”
Finally, expect to be blessed by the gifts these authors are giving to the church through the resources on these pages.