Monday, December 12, 2016

Best Christmas Pageant Ever!

This may have been the first book I ever read.  I didn't like reading until I was pretty old, 12+.  For some reason this book stuck with me as a Christmas classic and nobody in my current sphere has read it.  Reading it as an adult is really different, as it usually is.  I fall in love with the mother in the story. 

Who knows how the Herdmans turned out.  But this story is a classic case of churched people judging unchurched people by their standard.  And the unchurched people have so much to teach us about being true disciples.

"Well it was the best Christmas pageant we ever had. 
Everybody said so, but nobody seemed to know why.  When it was over people stood around the lobby of the church talking about what was different this year.  There was something special, everyone said-- they couldn't put their finger on what.
Mrs. Wendleken said, "Well, Mary the mother of Jesus had a black eye; that was something special.  But only what you might expect," she added.
She meant that it was the most natural thing in the world for a Herdman to have a black eye.  But actually nobody hit Imogene and she didn't hit anyone else.  Her eye wasn't really black either, just all puffy and swollen.  She had walked into the corner of the choir-robe cabinet, in a kind of daze--as if she had just caught onto the idea of God, and the wonder of Christmas.
And this was the funny thing about it all.  For years, I'd thought about the wonder of Christmas, and the mystery of Jesus' birth, and never really understood it.  But now, because of the Herdmans, it didn't seem so mysterious after all.
When Imogene had asked me what the pageant was about, I told her it was about Jesus, but that was just part of it.  It was about a new baby, and his mother and father who were in a lot of trouble--no money, no place to go, no doctor, nobody they knew.  And then, arriving from the East (like my uncle from New Jersey) some rich friends.
But Imogene, I guess, didn't see it that way.  Christmas just came over her all at once, like a case of chills and fever.  And so she was crying, and walking into furniture.
Afterward there were candy canes and little tiny Testaments for everyone, and a poinsettia plant for my mother from the whole Sunday school.  We put the costumes away and folded up the collapsible manger, and just before we left, my father snuffed out the last of the tall white candles.
"I guess that's everything," he said as we stood at the back of the church.  "All over now.  It was quite a pageant."  Then he looked at my mother.  "What's that you've got?"
"It's the ham," she said.  "They wouldn't take it back.  They wouldn't take any candy either, or any of the little Bibles.  But Imogene did ask me for a set of the Bible-story pictures, and she took out the Mary picture and said it was exactly right, whatever that means."
I think it meant that no matter how she herself was, Imogene liked the idea of the Mary in the picture--all pink and white and pure-looking, as if she never washed the dishes or cooked supper or did anything at all except have Jesus on Christmas Eve.
But as far as I'm concerned, Mary is always going to look a lot like Imogene Herdman--sort of nervous and bewildered, but ready to clobber anyone who laid a hand on her baby.  And the Wise Men are always going to be Leroy and his brothers, bearing ham. 
When we came out of the church that night it was cold and clear, with crunchy snow underfoot and bright, bright stars overhead.  And I thought about the Angel of the Lord--Gladys, with her skinny legs and her dirty sneakers sticking out from under her robe, yelling at all of us, everywhere:
"Hey!  Unto you a child is born!”

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