Truth be known, I don’t much like Christmas.
I remember when it happened.
I remember when I got disillusioned with Christmas.
It was 1969.
But it wasn’t that I was a jaded and cynical sixteen year old.
Rather, it was that I was an enlivened and enthusiastic convert.
Jesus wrecked Christmas for me.
Embracing the story of Jesus resulted in alienation from Christmas.
So Christmas carols in stores,
churches with a “Living Christmas Tree,”
heck, even Christmas trees themselves …
none of this appeals to me.
Christmas dripping in sentimentality,
kind of misses the point.
But there are exceptions.
While the image of carolers going door to door,
sets off my sentimentality barometer pretty quickly,
there are times when total strangers singing on your lawn
brings a little hope and joy into a family’s life,
and that needs to be taken seriously.
And if there is a fine line between sentimentality and cuteness,
then I’ve got to admit that I’m a sucker for cute little kids.
Take the annual Christmas pageant.
My daughters have been doing the Christmas pageant thing from day one.
Madeleine was Jesus at Church of the Redeemer the year of her birth.
Totally cute, even if that year’s Mary almost dropped the baby.
Lydia was Mary in Fenelon Falls years ago.
Totally cute, even if she did start feeding the baby with
a tin foil covered beer bottle meant to symbolize the gift of myrrh.
Beer or myrrh for a new born – neither a very good idea.
So the shepherds in their bathrobes and tea towel head coverings,
the angels with their white linens and wings,
Mary with a pillow under her dress,
Joseph, a little boy with a pregnant wife …
it all gets me and I’m in.
One year we decided to mix up the roles a little.
What if we don’t give the shepherds part
to the mostly male 12 and 13 year olds,
but made the little ones into the shepherds|
and asked the older kids to take on the angels part?
Well try to sell that to a group of pubescent boys!
The organizers figured that this was just the job for Walsh.
Try to convince these kids
who probably weren’t that cool with being in the pageant at all anymore,
that not only did they need to be in the show,
they needed to be the angels.
Kids at this age are no longer cute.
Let’s just admit that from the outset.
They may be charming,
they may even be good actors,
and they certainly can be funny,
but the cute factor has started to seriously wane.
And, truth be known, most of these rural kids
were more into being tough than cute,
and in this class ‘tough’ was no respecter of gender.
Heck, even when they were trying to be funny
it was often a tough kind of talk-back-to-the-Sunday-School-teacher funny.
The pageant director sent me into that Sunday School class to sell them on angels.
I figured that I had to play to the tough side of things.
These kids had only ever seen me in the pulpit.
I never taught Sunday School.
So they didn’t know what to expect
and they got into the smart-ass-talk-back-to-the-Sunday-School-teacher
thing right off the bat.
Let’s push this guy and see if we can disrupt the class as soon as possible.
I responded with the tough-no-bullshit-Sunday-School-teacher
so quickly that their heads were spinning.
I think I even used the word ‘bullshit,’
as in “don’t give me that smart-ass-talk-back-to-the-Sunday-School-teacher bullshit.”
But the point wasn’t just to show them that I was tougher than they were.
No there was an ulterior motive in my tough stance.
I wanted to maybe scare them just a little.
And I wanted to use that to get them to be angels.
I started by asking if any of them had seen an angel.
So I asked them what they think they would do if they did see an angel.
Answer. I dunno.
Then I asked them if they thought that angels were cute like the little kids at the Christmas pageant.
Answer. Awkward silence. Some furrowed brows. Someone says, ‘probably not.’
Then I asked them if they thought that the shepherds thought that the angel and that whole heavenly host thing was cute.
Answer. Because they were afraid.
Answer. Doesn’t it say that they were terrified?
Let’s look it up.
I put out some Bibles. Different translations.
Look up Luke chapter two, verse nine.
These kids are evangelicals so they actually can find the book of Luke and the chapter and verse.
I ask the kid with the NIV to read:
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”
Then the kid with the RSV:
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.”
Then the NASB:
“And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.”
Then I asked the kid with the KJV:
“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”
Terrified, fear, very terrified, sore afraid.
You ever been that afraid?
You ever been totally shaking in terror?
You ever been scared shitless?
That was the second time that I had used the word shit in my Sunday School class.
So scared that you shit your pants.
You ever been that scared?
Not even the most smart ass (bad pun) kid had a thing to say.
These guys are shepherds.
Their job is to protect sheep from predators and robbers.
You think these guys are easily scared?
But the angel and then that heavenly host,
scare the shit out of these tough and weathered shepherds.
Nothing cute about this at all.
No, something pretty serious and scary is going down.
But the angel then tells them to change their underwear and fear not.
What’s going down is fearful, but not for you.
What’s going down is nothing less than a revolution.
Nothing less than regime change.
You see, just down the hills over there,
in the midst of that refugee camp that Bethlehem has become,
in the midst of this forced migration of people
so they can be counted by the empire,
in that city of David,
that city that bears the hopes of a new kingdom,
a Savior is born, who is the Messiah and Lord.
By the way, you’ll find him in a manger, if you can believe it.
I got the kids to be the angels.
I think the seriousness of it all,
the non-cuteness of it all,
is what convinced them.
PS This story is mostly true.