(Brooke’s generosity Blog)
December 8, 2019
Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 in Italy. Staged in a cave near Greccio, Saint Francis’ nativity scene was a living one with humans and animals cast in the Biblical roles. The characters came from the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
The nativity scenes became hugely popular and started craftspeople and artists to make beautiful scenes about the nativity.
This came about to inspire people with the story of Jesus Birth. At a time when most people were illiterate and the worship service was in Latin, the nativity scene was an educational tool to bring the bible stories to the people. Besides they were a lot of fun.
Eventually the rich and powerful became involved and nativity scenes were commissioned as works of art. These were beautiful but were perceived as elitist.
People longed to have connections with the story of Jesus. So, the Nativity scene evolved into a Tableau of biblical scenes using live people representing biblical characters. Often there was musical accompaniment.
The traditional ‘Christmas Pageant’ grew out of the tableau by making the characters move, and then speak.
The “Best Christmas Pageant Ever!” was a book written by Barbara Robinson. It became a stage play and then a made-for-TV movie in 1983.
The goal of a Christmas pageant is to communicate the incredible story of Christ’s birth.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” -Isaiah 9:6
I am not alone in my love of Christmas Pageants as retelling our sacred story for new generations. Parents and grandparents watch misty-eyed as their children participate. Older youth, already regarding childhood with a sense of nostalgia, remember their preferred roles with a passionate joy.
Every year there is anticipation about the assignment of roles for the actors. Will I be a sheep, donkey, tiger, mouse, camel, angel, dog (surely there was a dog, perhaps a sheep dog, at the manger!), wise person, innkeeper, Roman soldiers, or a tax collector?
There is endless creativity in making this story come alive for today. (There is no truth to the rumour that parents plan their children’s birth with a view to competing for the coveted role of ‘Baby Jesus.’)
My favourite aspect of our annual pageant is that there is role for everyone. The message of the manger, the lowly birth in a stable, the gathering of misfit shepherds, is that all are called to Christ… who they are, as they are.
Our Pageant always captures the holy chaos, the miracle, the surprise, the mystery, and the joy of the Saviour’s birth. We capture the complications of the trip to Bethlehem. They found a place to sleep that was uncomfortable, yet it was fit for the Prince of Peace.
This is all about Jesus. It is not a time for theological purity. It is a time for expressing the Joy that we have in Jesus birth.
May this year’s pageant touch your heart anew with the magic and glorious mystery of the birth of our Saviour.