It’s that time of year! The time of year where churches everywhere feverishly rehearse their cantatas, dust off their gold, frankincense, and myrrh and place their order for the type of waxy advent candles which guarantee some lucky parishioner a festive third degree burn.
Considering I grew up in Buffalo, New York, a Winter Wonderland from September through April, it should come as no surprise that the large church we attended pulled out all the stops for Christmas. I mean, if we were going to have a natural backdrop of 10 feet of snow, we were going to rock the face off of this holiday. With no less than 14 concerts per season, “The Living Singing Christmas Tree” became an international tourist attraction where tour buses would cross the Canadian border planning a year in advance to come see this spectacle. I realize now it’s a distinct possibility they came through customs merely to gawk at the 50 foot bell swinging from the front of the church, dwarfing the cross (Naturally. Easter isn’t for another 4 months).
All hands on deck, 90% of the church membership participated in the production and you better believe The Griffiths family was there from August to January eager to flex our dramatic muscle, prepared to rehearse a solo, sheer a sheep or whittle a toy while dressed as an elf. Since casting was a total crap shoot once you graduated from children’s choir, I waited all year to receive my part, agonizing over whether I would be chosen as an angel in the heavenly host handpicked from the high school youth group. The drama started at home:
“Mom! What if they pass me over for toy solider and shove me in with the weird singles and old people just called “cast”? What if I’m credited as just “tired shopper #18” where only my facial expressions communicate the true meaning of Christmas?”
What if they cast me as a townsperson?
That was the Christian middle finger. It said: “You have no talent. Here’s a head-piece – make sure your face is covered. On a separate note, we’re aware that you haven’t tithed in 6 months.”
But my flare for the dramatic was such that even if my one moment of glory was as a townsperson wandering the Bethlehem countryside looking for the new Messiah, you had better believe I would don my tunic and waltz across that stage in a state of dramatic desperation: “I saw the star! Take me to the manger babe!” (not a speaking part, but you have to commit to the role.) The 30 seconds it took to wander across stage lost in the mob of the rest of the strange townspeople was just not enough for the months of practice I had put in. So we would wait 10 seconds and wander back across the stage in the same direction where we came from, looking like drunken homeless people, shaking our heads muttering something about “no room at the inn.” In our minds we were casting the illusion that the stage was one continuous moving walkway pointed toward the manger, delivering us to worship at the stable within the length of a single choir song.
With a few numbers of chirpy secular Christmas tunes prior to the Biblical account of the Immaculate Conception and the birth of the Christ child, the multiple acts were always confusing. “Wait. Didn’t we just see that girl acting parched from this incredible journey she’s taken back and forth across the stage? Didn’t she just hand me an ornament as she sang and danced in the aisle dressed as a giant snowflake?”
Yes, sir. That’s correct. I knew that my snowflake dancing would be as memorable for you as it was for me.
Honestly, my acting ability is so bad, I can’t believe that I was allowed to even participate. I think I was chosen just because I was one of the Griffiths kids, always kicking around church.
And isn’t that the truth of Christmas? God came to earth, humbled himself and took the shoddy role of townsperson – just a carpenter – so He could accomplish His work on the cross and ultimately choose us to be in this play, regardless of our ability. He invites us into His production every morning and writes us each the role of a lifetime, just because He loves us. He could have left us all on our own, in our sad, broken state. But He didn’t. He came to save us with a single word: Jesus. All we have to do is believe in Him and accept the role.
He created the set when He hung the moon and stars for you and I. He controls the lighting, awake to start our morning. In a world filled with rejection and hurt and suffering and pain, we have this to cling to this Christmas season: “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” What could prove the depth of love more than a Father sending his only son for you and I to be part of this story? How could we not be compelled to give everything we’ve got to play this part when the director has given up so much to cast us?
With all that said, the jab that a townsperson was at Christmas was a whole different story 4 months later. Easter is just around the corner and a Passion Play will test the range of your acting ability. A townsperson must be able to excitedly wave palms as well as jeer and mock.