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A Traditionally Untraditional Christmas Pageant

written by Katherine Hawker, November 2005

This pageant is written for the congregation that wants to enjoy the "traditional" Christmas story while embracing a nuanced understanding of the role of midrash.

Two Readers and one Stage Manager need to read the script and rehearse.

Children can be gathered in the Narthex and choose a costume:

One each of: Mary, Joseph, Innkeeper

Multiples of: Angels, shepherds, animals, wisemen [at least one angel needs to be old enough to understand instructions, likewise with the shepherds]

Play opens with Reader 1 approaching lectern (where pulpit bible is), Reader 2 sitting in the congregation (near the front, with portable mic), and the children in the Narthex with the Stage Manager.

Action Instruction

[Reader 1 approaches lectern, opens Bible dramatically (where script is placed unseen), and begins reading.]

Reader 1

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

Action Instruction

[Mary and Joseph enter and begin slowly walking up the aisle.]

Reader 1

6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Action Instruction

[Mary and Joseph sit behind manger.]

Reader 1

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Action Instruction

[Shepherds enter and walk halfway down aisle and stop.]

Reader 1

9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Action Instruction

[One angel enters and joins the shepherds at the halfway point.]

Reader 1

10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’

Action Instruction

[ALL remaining angels enter and join the shepherds at halfway point.]

Reader 1

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’ 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’

Action Instruction

[Shepherds - not angels! - walk to the manger and stand behind Mary and Joseph. The angels remain in the center of the sanctuary.]

Reader 1

16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Action Instruction

[Shepherds leave, returning to Narthex. Reader 1 closes Bible (dramatically) and sits down. Silence. Reader 2 walks up toward Reader 1 and "whispers" (loudly).]

Reader 2

Is that it? You're not done are you?

Reader 1

Well, I could keep reading if you want me to.

Reader 2

Yes. We want the whole story.

Action Instruction

[Reader 1 moves back to lectern and Reader 2 sits down.]

Reader 1

Ok.

Action Instruction

[Reader 1 reopens the Book and continues reading.]

Reader 1

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’

Action Instruction

[Reader 2 again stands and interrupts.]

Reader 2

Wait a minute - where are you going with this? Circumcision? Sacrificing turtledoves? Who wrote this?

Reader 1

Luke. It's the Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 2. People keep telling me that they want the "traditional" story so this year we're taking it directly from the bible. Straight up, no editing. What could be more traditional than Luke Chapter 2 on Christmas Eve? Luke 2 is even what they read on Christmas Eve in the Little House in the Big Woods.

Reader 2

Fine. We all like Luke, Chapter 2. But we also want the rest of the story. We want the innkeeper, the three Wisemen, and the camels.

Reader 1

There are no animals cooing at the manger in the bible. And there is no mention of an innkeeper, kind or otherwise.

Reader 2

But there are wisemen in the bible! Three of them! In Matthew.

Reader 1

Matthew mentions the wiseguys in his story, but they come later. They come when Jesus is toddler age and they come without camels. Matthew's version is pretty, well, spartan. There isn't even a stable scene. Would you rather have wiseguys and no manger?

Reader 2

But we asked for "tradition" not biblical literalism. Tradition is the story as it has been told and retold, molded and shaped. Maybe it's not strictly "biblical", but it has important meaning for us.

Reader 1

Meaning or nostalgia?

Reader 2

Fair question. I think it goes beyond nostalgia, though nostalgia is it's own gift. Each character in our amalgamated story has a particular purpose. Take the role of the Innkeeper for instance, he has an important role. The innkeeper is where we are invited into the story. He is faced with an important question; does he have room for Jesus? We love to boo and hiss the innkeeper, but really, would we do it any differently? In his shoes, how would we respond?

Action Instruction

[Innkeeper enters and stands beside stable]

Reader 1

Ok, I get the Innkeeper. That's kind of implicit in the story. But the wiseguys just don't belong. They're from another story in a completely different time of Jesus' life. They've only been co- opted to introduce the gift thing, fueling our consumeristic fervor.

Reader 2

I have to admit that the Wisemen, as we've come to know them, have little semblance to Matthew's story. But as we've come to know them they represent human diversity, men (and women too - that's why we say "wiseguys" instead of "wisemen") come from different continents and different ethnicity’s. And all are drawn to the light, welcomed in Jesus' presence.

Action Instruction

[Wiseguys enter and join the manger scene.]

Reader 1

Are you going to suggest now that the animals are important too? Some St. Francis blessing of the animals kind of thing?

Reader 2

Maybe. Or maybe the animals in the Christmas pageant are just fun. Some of our kids like to pretend to be donkeys, or sheep or cows. And don't you think Jesus would have welcomed them too? Given that Jesus was known for welcoming children, even inviting us to be like children, I can't help but think that the children playing as animals, just for the fun of it, would be enough. But there is also an element of realism that the animals bring, of humility even.

Reader 1

Ok. Bring in the animals. Clearly I'm losing control of this pageant thing.

Action Instruction

[Animals enter and come to the manger.]

Reader 1

They're cute. A definite Kodak moment, but we are quickly losing the point of the pageant.

Reader 2

Now we need angels.

Reader 1

We've got angels. Luke gave us angels. There right there in the aisle. And they are, as always, darling.

Reader 2

Right. Ok, but in the traditional story -

Action Instruction

[Reader 1 interrupts.]

Reader 1

Who's tradition? If there's nothing else I've learned from tonight's debacle I've learned the importance of defining "tradition".

Reader 2

In the story I remember from my childhood, my tradition I guess, the angels were at the manger too. And that seems important because angels, fleeting glimpses of the divine, are everywhere; angels are not bound by time or space. Angels represent the mysterious omnipresence of the divine.

Reader 1

What are you talking about? This is a children's play not a doctoral thesis.

Reader 2

Point taken. The angels are beautiful. The children dressed up like angels on Christmas eve are such a precious sight that many of us cry with joy.

Action Instruction

[Angels come down the aisle and surround the manger.]

Reader 2

Can the shepherds come back too? I know that they didn’t hang around in Luke’s story, but we haven’t even had their picture taken yet.

Reader 1

Clearly I've lost control. I'm feeling like a pathetic Jonathon Toomey held hostage by a precocious child's memory. Why not? Bring on the shepherds!

Action Instructions

[Shepherds come down aisle and join at the manger.]

Reader 2

Mock if you will, but there is still one more piece. The star.

Action Instruction

[Stage Manager carries star on a pole up the aisle and stands behind the scene.]

Reader 1

The star? From Matthew's story?

Reader 2

Yes, the star is a timeless symbol of the light that shines in the darkness. The light that the darkness could neither comprehend nor control. A light that shines enabling us to follow.

Action Instruction

[silence. Reader 1 looks at Reader 2 and waits for next comment]

Reader 2

I'm done. Really. [pause] Of course, we could use a Santa Claus -

Action Instruction

[Musicians begin playing "Away in a Manger". After first verse the children are invited to return to sit with family.]