I remember one Christmas Eve years ago, when I was a Sunday School teacher trying to wrangle small children dressed as shepherds, and herd animals dressed as small children, and to deal with both kings and wise guys, trying not to show any favouritism to the little angels …
There was a ten-year-old girl who was not at all happy to be there at the pageant rehearsal. Ten going on eleven is a difficult age: everyone tells you that you’re growing up, but they still treat you like a child. There are secrets whispered around the house behind closed doors, and you are awake late enough into the evening to hear both them and the raised voices that might follow. Your body keeps growing and changing – you can’t rely on it from one day to the next to be in the same condition as you left it in the night before. Everything is in flux, there is little security to be found, and it is frightening and frustrating. This young girl was understandably angry at the world, at the pageant, and at her mother. “Go away,” and, “I don’t want to,” were the refrains to her Christmas caroling.
And this, this was the child they had chosen to be Mary.
The pageant director showed her, in no uncertain terms, her place. The child sat scowling, kicking her foot in front of her.
Then the mother of the baby playing Jesus brought her son, her firstborn, her heart, and placed him in the girl’s arms. And at once, she was changed.
Her foot stopped swinging. Her face stopped scowling. Her breathing grew quiet and calm, as though she were breathing the sleeping child a lullaby. A kind of peace – the kind of peace which passes all understanding, came, not as if out of nowhere, but as if out of the core of her being, called out of her by the baby boy in her arms. She sat, suddenly serene, and all of the little shepherds and the wise guys and the animals and the angels tiptoed around her in reverence and awe for as long as the spell lasted, which was for as long as the baby was in her arms. And even later, as they trailed away for the journey home, you could still find traces of calmness in the air where they had sat and moved and had their being.
You might call it a Christmas miracle. You might call it human nature: the very nature that God chose to take upon Godself, that matched God’s image nicely.
It is the transformation that haunts me: the relaxation of the face and the feet, while the arms fiercely and firmly bore the weight of the sleeping child; the wholly irresistible response to a call to love that changed everything.
The Revd Rosalind C Hughes has participated in Nativity Pageants on three continents, and is now the Rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Euclid, Ohio