By Michael E. Brooks
|Card from the Printery House
St. Nicholas Center Collection
The best Christmas pageant I've ever seen was at a church in North Carolina over a decade ago. The pageant consisted of the familiar, tried-and-true, predictable Nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men and animals—all played by three- four- and five-year-old children. All of whom were gathered reverently around Baby Doll Jesus, who lay in Mary's arms as an adult read the familiar Nativity passages from Matthew and Luke.
Just as the reader intoned, "Peace on earth, good will toward men," the door at the back of the church burst open and in strode the pastor dressed as Santa Claus in full regalia, dragging a huge bag of toys and presents behind him and filling the sanctuary with his powerful "HO-HO-HOs." Well, not only were the people in the congregation shocked and surprised, but so were the children in the Nativity scene. It turns out that they had also been kept in the dark about this "version" of the Nativity story, and "Mary" and "Joseph" immediately dropped Baby Doll Jesus into the manger as the entire menagerie of youngsters dressed in bathrobes and animal costumes, along with a number of kids in the congregation, forgot themselves and ran and swarmed over "Santa," whom they did not recognize as the pastor, as he approached.
More than a few adults were visibly annoyed by this "sacrilege" in their sanctuary as the children laughed and danced around "Father Christmas," who hugged them and said, "Have you all been good children? . . . Oh, I've got some wonderful gifts to bring you on Christmas Eve. . . . I'm so happy to see you all. . . ." This unexpected display continued for several moments, amidst palpably growing confusion and anger among the other adults.
Suddenly "Santa" looked toward the abandoned manger scene where Baby Doll Jesus lay askew over the edge of the manger. "Santa" quietly hushed the excited children, slowly stood up, dropped his bag and began walking toward the cardboard stable scene, the children following him. He walked around behind the manger, removed his fur-lined cap and knelt on one knee, facing the congregation and the still-excited children, as he gently took Baby Doll Jesus into his arms, wrapped the doll in the little blankets that had fallen away from it, and held it as one would a newborn.
He again hushed the still-giggling children and said to them and the congregation in a voice cracked with emotion, "Don't you see? This is why I do what I do, why I bring you all gifts and presents at Christmas. This," he said, looking down at Baby Doll Jesus, "is God's Christmas gift to us all. We didn't deserve it, and we still don't. But God loves us and gave us His Son to show us how much He loves us. This is why I bring you Christmas gifts, and why you also give Christmas gifts, to honor God's great gift to us—His Son, Jesus."
There wasn't a dry eye in the church.
Michael Brooks was present when this happened in a little church near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Christmas 1983 or 1984. He was then a student at the University of North Carolina and visited many churches in the area. Used by permission.