"A Love Born Off-Script"
Christmas in Selma and across the nation had a different “feel” to it than most. In fact, most of Alabama felt air temperatures rise into the low 80s! On Christmas Eve, parishioners at St. Paul’s had to dodge several severe downpours just to make it to the service. We were the lucky ones though as others around the southeast saw tornadoes and flooding and some even tragically lost their lives because of the weather.
Meanwhile, as a thunderstorm raged on outside St. Paul’s, the children and youth were poised to offer the annual Christmas Pageant. The weather didn’t dampen the Christmas spirit though as over 200 gathered at St. Paul’s to celebrate the birth of our Savior. The children, especially the younger ones, were showing off their angel and shepherd costumes and giggled with excitement.
When the organist keyed the first few notes of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” the youth and children flooded down the center aisle that was paved with a red runner. Some strutted as if there were celebrities. Others walked timidly trying to deflect the eyes of the entire congregation. And a few walked as if to say, “I can’t believe I am humiliating myself like this.” In procession, they all carried a piece of the Nativity scene to place at the front of the Nave for all to behold.
Before the pageant officially began, one angel got distracted during the procession and ran to her grandma. Another angel, who reluctantly put her lamb by the baby Jesus, kept going back to get it. Another angel (who shall not be named) became hysterical after one of the shepherds accidentally bumped into her. This angel could not recover and was taken to the nursery. And we even had a “runaway” shepherd as proclaimed by one of the older shepherds.
Eventually the chaos dissipated and the show went on. And through it all, the gospel was proclaimed by the voices of youth and children in word and song. The good news of the birth of a Savior was heard and seen despite the many distractions and like Mary the congregation "treasured all these words and pondered them in their hearts."
As the rector and the person in charge of worship, my anxiety level increased with every little mishap during the service. I couldn’t help it. I wanted everything to go smoothly and be “perfect.” But a part of me, the voice of God most likely, kept reminding me that the story doesn’t have to be perfect in order for the love of God to be made known.
If we remember the story from scripture, we also know that Christ’s nativity didn’t go off without a hitch either. First of all, Mary had to give birth while traveling to a different city and she was well into her third trimester! And because the city of Bethlehem was packed with those who went to be registered, they couldn’t even find a place to have the baby because there was no place for them at the inn. Despite all obstacles, Mary and Joseph found to way to safely bring the Savior into our chaotic world.
After Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord and a host of others appeared to the shepherds and proclaimed the birth of a Savior singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” The shepherds heard and believed the news and went to Bethlehem and found Jesus lying in the manger. At once, the shepherds proclaimed the good news of a Savior and all who heard it were amazed.
After the pageant, God lifted our voices and we sang the praises of the new born King. The St. Paul’s Choir sang the Vivaldi Gloria in stunning fashion and gave us a glimpse of that heavenly throne room where a chorus of angels stand around the Lamb of God singing his praises night and day. The St. Paul’s Youth and Children’s Choir sang of the wonders of Christ’s love and reminded us of what it means to have faith like that of a child.
Veigh Kay Spencer left the congregation in awe and wonder with her vocal and violin solo of What Child is This?. Veigh Kay was accompanied by her brother Mac on the guitar. “This, this Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste bring Him laud; The babe, the son of Mary.”
Still, over 2,000 years later, God has given us the greatest story ever told. Like a well-aged wine, the story of Christ’s birth only grows better with time. The story that started with an angel’s announcement to the Blessed Mary that she would bear a son is a story that is still pregnant with possibilities. This is a story that still has much love to give to people everywhere. Even when the story goes off script, the love of God in Christ is still proclaimed.
And upon further reflection, maybe the story is supposed to go off script. In twenty years, we will still be talking about the runaway shepherd. We will still be talking about the angel who threw a temper tantrum. When we remember the parts that went off script, we will ultimately be reminded that through it all love was born.
At the end of the day, this is the story of how the love of God is born in all of our hearts. This is a story that reminds us that God’s love is made known most clearly when everything else in our lives seems to be going wrong. Even more, this is a story that tells us that God love’s is with us no matter what—nothing can prevent God’s love from breaking into our lives.
May the love of God that was born in a manger in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago be born again in your heart today. May the love of our Savior carry you through the changes and chances of this life and lead you home to the dwelling place of God in heaven.