The audience quieted as the knock came on the large, rolling barn door. Joseph was standing in the darkness. The innkeeper appeared in the large doorway, and Joseph, motioning to a pregnant Mary sitting on a donkey close behind him, began to explain their plight: “Please, sir, can you give us a room for the night? My wife is about to deliver, and we have nowhere to stay.”
“Can’t you see,” shouted the surly innkeeper as he turned and waved with a sweeping arm across the audience, “we are full tonight.”
Ah, we were finally on track. What was to be an experience of remembrance and worship was beginning to take place.
As Mary and Joseph left to find the stable, the audience was invited to join in singing, “O Come O Come, Emmanuel” in the dimly lit barn.
It was time for the audience to move to the next scene. As together we trudged up the hillside, the beautiful voice of an “angel” caroled us singing, “I Wonder as I Wander.” The words to the song echoed through the calm, winter air:
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
Why Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor lonely people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.
We joined the shepherds on the hill around the large bonfire. The sheep were held tightly in hand. Suddenly, Gabriel came forward out of the darkness. “Behold!!!” Shepherds fell to the earth in “fear.”
After Gabriel gave his startling announcement, the truck lights beamed upon the angels standing on the hillside. “Glory to God in the highest,” they declared and began singing the first part of the Hallelujah chorus. Wonderful!!! We, along with the shepherds were amazed.
The truck lights went out, the angels disappeared, and the crowd was invited to follow the shepherds to find this promised baby “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
We began our trek across the field coming to the spot where, from the pasture, we could look down on the tiny village of Keats. Stopping to watch the village lights twinkling in the blackness of the night, we stood in reverence.
“Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see they lie.” We sang softly and reverently, imagining we were there in that holy land the very night the tiny King was born. Continuing the trek down to Bethlehem, we again started to follow the shepherds and their sheep.
Following shepherds should have been fine, except in the dark the shepherds, our would-be leaders, got lost, and the crowd began wandering like the Israelites in the desert.
Never before had my sheep had a strange crowd of people following them around in the middle of the darkness, nor did they know the voices of these newly acquired shepherds.
Finally, not liking the disorientation of the shepherds, the sheep high-tailed it down a ravine to the safety of their pen. One lone sheep survived in the pasture on a lead rope. On the other end was a very determined and somewhat successful shepherd.
The lone sheep, Charlie, my gentle giant as I fondly called him, was none too happy about losing the rest of the flock. The shepherd who was leading Charlie was frustrated. “Mrs. Swihart,” he whispered hoarsely to me when I finally got to the front of the crowd, “I can’t get this sheep to do anything.” Grabbing the lead rope, I nudged and pulled Charlie in the right direction until he finally headed down the proper trail. Recognizing me, he became compliant and grudgingly allowed the crowd to follow him and his flock of shepherds down the hill to the manger.
Everything seemed to be in place at the manger. Mary and Joseph had found the stable; Mary had birthed the tiny baby. A peaceful, blessed scene. We had planted some angels beside the manger who ”signed” in American sign language words to “Away in the Manger,” as the audience reverently joined them. It was all quite beautiful.
Then it was time for Mary’s monologue, a touching monologue:
O infant-God. Heaven’s fairest child. Conceived by the union of divine grace with our disgrace. Sleep well. .Sleep well. Bask in the coolness of this night bright with diamonds. . . .”
As you might remember, the tech guys had been working on installing a mic that was hidden in Mary’s shawl. As she began her monologue, it was apparent that there was no amplification installed. All the crowd could see was Mary mumbling into her shawl.
An apparent failure. No great thoughts transmitted to the crowd that night. In retrospect, perhaps the great Director Himself had over-ruled my inept plans. Scripture itself testifies only that Mary “pondered these things in her heart.”
Finishing this scene, the shepherds who were bowing at the manger, left to spread the good news, and it was time (according to the script) for the three kings to arrive.
Poised in their beautiful costumes, ready to enter the scene with their horses (no camels available) the wisemen stood in the shadows. However, a confused narrator deleted the wisemen from the script and jumped to the next scene.
Following the narrator’s lead, Mary and Joseph arose and slowly made their way to the temple where Simeon and Anna would bless the Child.
Oh, but we could not forget the wisemen in their beautiful costumes with their nervous horses! So, while Simeon was giving his blessing, I tried to quietly, but quickly, get around the crowd to the wisemen. A wooden gate back by the water tank was in my way. Gingerly climbing over the old, locked gate, I stepped on a rotting slat and the entire gate came crashing down along with me. Surely, nobody heard, I hoped. Picking myself up, I continued to the confused wisemen. “Go!” I whispered loudly, “Go!!”
As the crowd sang the closing carol, “Joy to the World,” the wisemen rushed in and bowed low to the ground for the final chorus. Not the way I had planned it, but it worked, and probably the Director Himself, was once more overruling my own dramatic and inaccurate interpretation.
Later, that evening after the crowds had left, all of the luminaries were out, and the animals had eaten and were back in their pens, my heart entered into the stillness of the evening. Quietness surrounded me. The brilliant stars illumined the evening sky. In the backdrop of God’s world, nothing had changed. Ah, peace, beauty, wonder even in the midst of all of the background chaos.
Work and worship are not exclusive of each other. To work to make it possible for others to worship is sometimes difficult. In my working to achieve the worship opportunity for others, I had missed some of that peace, yet it had been there all along: in the scenes, through the scenes, above the scenes.
“Oh, God,” I breathed, “ let the meaning of this story have seeped into the cracks and crannies of people’s hearts so that they might have just a glimpse of the profound message of this Peace Child, who came to bring His peace to the earth.”