Disastrous Christmas

November 21st, 2013

Forty years ago I was the youth minister at a church in a county seat town. There was a strong tradition in this church of providing a live nativity scene every year, and it was the responsibility of the youth minister to somehow pull this off. I later figured out why no truly sane person would accept this assignment for more than a few years in a row, so it was a natural match for the youth minister, who rarely lasts more than a few years at best.

When I say this was a live nativity scene, I am talking about every part. We had live people, a live donkey, some live sheep, everything but a camel. And, of course, it was the animals that caused all the problems. Well, the animals and the occasional adult who would show up to play Joseph in a state that could be described as less than stone sober.

During the three years I oversaw this production, everything that could happen did. The donkey jumped out of the trailer on the way to the church one night and had to be roped on its romp down Main Street. One of the sheep got loose and ran over the baby Jesus, prompting Joseph to utter a word not found in the original text. The Wise Men accidentally knelt in a spot that had been thoroughly fertilized by the creatures, giving rise to quite vocal speculation among the onlookers about how wise men could be that dumb.

Looking back on my years as the director of this fiasco, my fondest memories are of all the things that went wrong. Frankly, we knew each year that something would go horribly awry, and it was that knowledge that caused us to enter into the annual venture with such high morale and anticipation. It would have been no fun whatsoever had the animals cooperated, or had the actors acted professionally. It was the unknown but inevitable and looming disaster that lent real color to this event, and once it was over each year we all began the ritual of saying “never again” while secretly pondering whether next year’s catastrophe could possibly outdo this one.

If you are aware of my fondness for analogy and think I am describing your Christmas experience, you are only half right. When you read the actual text, you discover that the original Christmas was a strange mixture of disaster and joy, of plans laid and plans disrupted, of people at their best and people at their worst. That’s the way Christmas has been happening for two thousand years now. I think it must be God’s way of blessing the messiness of our ordinary lives.

excerpt from: The Long View: Reflections on Life, God, and Nature by Don Underwood Copyright©2013 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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