Merrily we drove, six of us piled into our MV (ultra-cool term for minivan), ready to see The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at a theater located about an hour from our home. Our family of four plus my in-laws were high with anticipation to get to the theater for the 3pm show. Our third year in a row attending this one-hour play, this has become a favorite family tradition of ours. Our plan was to arrive thirty minutes early and we were on pace to get there by 2:15, forty-five minutes prior to the start of the show. This was great! We’d have plenty of time to park, stroll in, eat some cookies before the show and peruse through the cast names.
At 2:10, I noticed my phone was ringing from an unknown number. I answered and heard a woman’s voice on the other end, “This is so-and-so from the theater, will you still be attending the show today?” I retorted bubbly, “Yes, we are on our way! 3pm, right?” “No,” she replied dryly, “the show began at 2pm.” My heart sank. Completely deflated, I hung up the phone to share with my crew that I had messed up the time. Luke, the only one bold enough to be honest, yelled, “Oh no! We’re going to be late!” The rest of the drive was utter silence. No one spoke a word, but the air was tense. Meanwhile, I was steeped in berating myself for such a silly error.
I’ve never enjoyed being late. It’s as if the command, “You shall not be late,” was sewn into my bones as a mere babe. I remember waiting at the door as a teenager, coat on, ready to go fifteen minutes prior to being picked up by friends. As an adult, I’ve been the first to arrive at events stumbling through the initial awkward moments with a host clearly waiting for the “rest” of the people to arrive. As I’ve become a hostess in my home, I’ve been on a learning curve with those whose time is far more fluid than my own. Eezy-breezy people who have a thirty-minute give-or-take arrival time have become my teachers aiding my practice of deep breathing. Over the last few years, as being “fashionably” late has become more popular, I’ve given myself a respite from having to be the first to arrive. Now, I give myself a five to ten minute window. Even still, my heart beats wildly when I arrive at 1:10 as opposed to 1pm.
So, here we were, the last people to arrive. At a theater. My fault. We rushed into the theater in a haste. The woman at the ticket counter condemned me with her eyes, clearly annoyed with us that I had erred. She uttered, “Well, at least you are seated at the end of a row.” If only she knew how thoroughly our family enjoys this play and the honest error made. Her lack of compassion reminded me the importance of small interactions. The usher made up for her irritation. He was incredibly gracious as he took us and showed us our seats. Thankfully, the room broke into laughter as we sat, and we were able to slink in quick, being seated by 2:20.
I inhaled deep as I settled in to one of my favorite moments of the play: when the worst kids in the neighborhood, the five Herdmans, are present for the handing out of main roles in the nativity play. The mom who finds herself in the role of director after the usual director breaks her leg, naively asks for volunteers. These child hooligans, outcasts of the entire town, initially bombard into church for one sole reason: they were told snacks are served. Now, the Herdmans were volunteering for every main part, angrily eyeing the other kids not to even DARE raise their hands. As the story continues, it is quite clear the Herdmans have never heard about baby Jesus. They ask question after question, brutally honest with their assessment of the Jesus narrative. My personal favorite is when they ask, “Who will be Herod?”, not because they like him, but, rather, because they want to beat him up.
I love The Best Christmas Pageant for a myriad of reasons. First, it challenges those of us who know the story of Jesus not to take him for granted. Many people don’t know why Jesus’ birth matters and this play gives us a fresh look at the gift. It stretches those of us who have the gift of Christ to not separate ourselves thinking we are better than others but to share the message with action and love. It confronts the comfort of the institutional church to say “yes” to change and welcome the “least of these” in our midst. It also challenges the “put-together” nature of the institutional church allowing rowdy questioning (curiosity) to take center stage, something that is often lacking from most church services. Most of all, I see this play as a story of transformation. Through the play, many of the characters have a slow shift in who they are. When rough-around-the-edges Imogene, kneels down at the manger cradling an infant doll as if the doll IS Jesus, it brings me to tears every year. Isn’t this what the gift of Christ is for… To give us new eyes? To change our way of being in the world? To change our hearts toward others?
As we left the theater, I noticed many kids who performed receiving flowers, taking photos, overjoyed that they had taken part in something so special. Not surprisingly, they hadn’t noticed we were late. Or, if they did, they weren’t concerned about it. In fact, I don’t think Jesus minded either. Instead, he gave me ears to hear the message of Gladys, “Shazam! Unto YOU a child is born!” For me? Silently, I thought, “Ally, this gift of Jesus IS for you too. You don’t have to be good, perfect, on time every moment of every day. In fact, it’s impossible. So, let it go and enjoy the moment.” We left the theater in high spirits, headed to an early dinner. As we clanked wine glasses, I knew this would be a memory shared for years to come, “Remember when we were late to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever?” And we would laugh at the mistake.
If a town near you doesn’t offer this play, I highly recommend the original book by Barbara Robinson, for kids and adults. Only seven short chapters and wildly funny!
You can order yours here!