Over lunch after practicing “The Holy Innocent,” one of the kids asked, “What’s a pageant, anyway?” so I said, “Well, it’s a play you do in church, about church stories…” Truth is, sacred space is where all drama started, and another truth is that no one tells a sacred story more convincingly than a serious child.
I’m a teacher and a writer, and 30 years ago, I put together a simple Christmas play based on the Gospels, medieval pageants, and local posadas traditions. That play is still performed each Advent by the kids — from a tiny toddler playing “the donkey, shaggy and brown” to the middle-schooler bravely stepping out as Joseph — of Friends Congregational Church in College Station, TX. Directing them was a rare treat and privilege, one that I miss.
Molly thought we could do something like it here, but since we already have the fun Christmas Eve Early Service tradition, maybe…Epiphany?
Epiphany-tide’s message of light and truth seems more important than ever in the present era, and the wonderful stories from the Gospel of Luke about Simeon and Anna — and the child Jesus — at the Temple are not heard often enough, it seemed to me. The Massacre of the Innocents detailed in the Gospel of Matthew, however, is not fit for children to see, let alone act!
It began to be clear that these stories were better for a mix of kids and adults, a good fit for the people of First Church.
Pairing an adult with a child for the parts of the two guards sent to carry out Herod’s wicked plan, for example, worked well, while having a child Herod is less terrifying than an adult Herod would be. Pairing a brilliant young Mary with a game adult Joseph was pretty awesome, too!
The proposed answers to questions about the day and year of Jesus’ birth appear in the play, fruit of some fun research on my part, generated new questions, equally fun to consider: If Jesus was born in the spring, as many have suggested, and the Magi arrived in January (an ancient tradition), what kept the Holy Family in Bethlehem so long? Surely they moved out of the stable ASAP, but then what? The conversations between Mary and Joseph in the play reflect some possible answers to ponder.
I do hope that those of you who saw the pageant had as many epiphanies and good new questions as I did writing it!