Monday, December 14, 2009

Prepare ye the Way

The giant stage production at the mega church sold out this year....yep, really. A sold out Christmas program. Granted, its not just any program; there are three stages, a lovely Bethlehem, a full orchestra, flying angels and large live animals. Its more over the top than most television specials, but better as far as kids are concerned. The "special effects", from the dry ice to the "snow" to the camels, are right up there close enough to touch. Do the kids get the story? I don't know, but they are enthralled, they are in church, and they are with family. And I'm sure the performers are better for their ministry and sacrifice in time and effort.
On the other hand, as Randy Travis might say, was our kid's program at church Sunday. We were still debating the scenery as we headed to practice on Saturday. So far, we had a brown leaf tarp in a package. That was the stable. Before long, the manger came out of the nursery, as did baby Jesus, (a baby doll the same vintage as one of the young mommys leading the group), a poster star, cow and two sheep joined the vignette under the tarp covered wedding candelabra.
The kids were pretty excited; they were in Grandma Millie's costumes for practice and took quite seriously the proper accessorizing of their outfits. The kings had jeweled crowns; the angels wings and headbands for haloes. But what shoes for kings? Angels? Shepherds? That Saturday everyone wore snow boots in honor of the ten inches of snow in the churchyard. The shepherds needed crooks! Sheep! Fortunately there were only two shepherds and responsible ones at that, so there were no dueling crooks. We dug in the closet for the kings' gifts, remembering at the last minute that one glass jar had succumbed to the Live Nativity last year. A candlestick was pressed into service.
As you may have surmised, this was a very traditional Christmas program. The narration was simple and kid level but read very nicely by two of the older girls. Mary and Joseph did not want to read a line, but acted out their journey and weariness before Mary cuddled her baby. Nearly all the other kids were dutiful in their memorization and spoke their parts with clarity and volume. Any parent or grandparent who didn't hear their kid's part could only chalk that up to the crowd, not shyness on the part of the performer.
The kids didn't know every verse to every song, so we encouraged the congregation to help on 'We Three Kings' and 'Angels We Have Heard'. On the refrain they pitched in with a hearty Ohhhhh-oh! and swayed along with 'star of wonder'. And they compensated for any shortcomings with glorious volume and enthusiasm on 'Go Tell It'. So much enthusiasm that a cappella was called for.
We'd debated the inclusion of 'Angels we have Heard on High', wondering if all that Latin would become gobblety-gook in the mouths of elementary kids. Instead, the Glorias were as clear as any bell choir, and never flagged in energy, racing along ahead of the cd.
I know we are all fallen and I've spent time with all these little people when angelic was off the radar. But watching their seriousness and effort touched me. I loved the way Herod conveyed insincerity; the bare feet of the angels; the teamwork of the shepherds; the way the older kids helped the younger ones with lines and places and props.
I loved the little King who stood during practice, tears coursing down his face. Was he nervous? I asked one of the other helpers. No, he was sad because he didn't know the words of the songs.

But during the service, during the chorus, I watched him sing "glo-o-o-o-ria" with everyone else and I almost cried.
God with us.

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