As a newspaper columnist and writer of two Christmas novellas, I, like many preachers, often have struggled to find new themes and creative ideas for a subject that has dominated December for hundreds of years. One method I use is to approach a very traditional subject in a somewhat less traditional--okay, downright weird--way. I did so in the following column I called "Manger Madness."
It was a silent, holy night.
Heavenly music encircled the darkened church sanctuary like a golden Christmas ribbon. Worshipers breathed the spicy green fragrance of pine wreaths and garland.
I saw the church children’s choir director slip into the front pew. She threw me a weary glance over her shoulder. After a month of Christmas practices, she gladly would have exchanged places with the New Testament martyrs, who faced only lions.
Later she told me about an earlier dress rehearsal. The Shepherds clobbered the Three Kings with their crooks. Having missed naps, the cranky angels refused to sing. When the director and her helpers herded the entire nativity scene into the restrooms for a last potty break, five-year-old Joseph dropped his lapel microphone into the toilet and flushed it down.
But now, lovely and fragile as a Victorian Christmas card, “Silent Night’s” melody tinkled as the children entered. The three-year-olds kneeled with hands—or paws—at their sides before the manger, adorable in furry puppy costumes. A multitude of lovable bunnies, teddies, kittens, and lambs, along with two cows (complete with udders) and a two-kid camel crowded around the manger. A curly-haired Mary and Joseph (minus microphone) hovered around the pastor’s baby girl in the manger, who followed the script, sleeping sweetly.
Lights went up on the big-eyed heavenly host, who actually stood still on boxes behind them, raising small, chubby arms in holy benediction. A supernatural tranquility pervaded the scene. The choir director bowed her head. I marveled at the miracle.
“You’re in my place.” The thin whisper from the stage pierced the gentle quiet like a broken bell.
The director froze.
“You’re in my place! Move!” One of the bunnies elbowed the large teddy bear near her. He glanced her way. Obviously, the only way to deal with an angry woman was to ignore her. He did so, to his peril.
“Move!” she yelled, and swung a right that would have put Evander Holyfield to shame. The teddy collapsed into a heap, knocking the camel flying. The entire animal group crashed down like dominoes, only to rise for a battle that resembled Gettysburg in a petting zoo. The shepherds and kings tackled each other, the angels wailed.
Baby Jesus, enraged at the disturbance, let the entire world know what she thought of the whole shebang. Obviously, she’d never learned the second verse of “Away in a Manger,” because everybody knows the Little Lord Jesus never cried. And Baby Jesus came on a Silent Night, when all was “calm and bright.” His teenaged mother never sweat during her labor. She did not scream that she didn’t want to birth the Son of God in a smelly, disgusting stable, and why hadn’t Joseph made reservations?
Baby Jesus came to clean-shaven Shepherds who used Right Guard. He arrived in picture-book Bethlehem and made His home in a world as perfect and peaceful as a Christmas nativity scene.
Maybe the little kids got it right, after all.
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