One of my favorite Christmas stories is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robertson. I choke up every time I read about the Herdman children, a ragtag group of troublemaking siblings, who discover the true meaning of Christmas while performing in a church pageant. As I read, my kids will hear my voice crack, look up, and shake their heads, “Mom, are you crying?” I’m touched by how Imogene Herdman’s veil is smudged and crooked, and Leroy Herdman, dressed as one of the Wise Men, carries in the ham given them by social services instead of the customary bowl of incense. They made the church’s lovely, traditional pageant into a messy, discombobulated event.
Which, truth be told, was much more how the real event happened.
The delivery of all of my children took place in a hospital with nurses and doctors caring for me. They all suited up for the delivery and scrubbed with sanitizer before they entered the delivery room. Mary, a teenager, gave birth in a lowly dirt floor manger among animals and straw. There were no nurses to hold her hand and tell her when to push. There was no doctor to gently guide baby Jesus into this world. He was born in a barn and slept in an animal’s water trough with sheep bleating and donkey’s neighing.
And then God’s guests appeared. Back in Jesus’s day, there was no indoor plumbing. There was no deodorant. People stank especially those that tended after animals like shepherds. Shepherds spent days under the hot sun and slept on the cold ground at night. After the Israelites settled in agricultural based Egypt, shepherding lost its prominent position as a trade. Sheep and goats were a threat to crops and therefore a menace to settled farmers. Shepherds were relegated to pastoring their animals only in desert areas and were shunned like tax collectors (Shepherd’s Status, Alcorn 2008). Yet, God sent an angel to invite them to be the first to meet the savior.
There is not much known about the wise men, except that they were called magi and came from the East. Historical records depict the magi as dreamers and stargazers. They sat in the presence of kings who asked their advice for interpreting astrological signs, dreams, and omens. But, they didn’t know everything as seen in the story of Daniel and in Joseph. When the magi were asked to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar and the Egyptian Pharaoh’s dreams, these wise men didn’t have the answers. They were still searching. So when a bright star appeared in the night these pagan magicians felt compelled to follow it through the desert and bow down to exalt a Hebrew baby as king (Magi, Wise Men or Kings? It’s complicated. by Chad Ashby).
When I think of Jesus’s birth, it’s as if God went out of his way to make a point: Jesus came for everyone. God chose for His one and only son to be born to a teenage girl in a dirty manger. The first visitors were stinky shepherds and pagan astrologers.
If anyone ever wonders if they are good enough to be loved by God, please remember the Christmas story. God didn’t send His son just to save the righteous. Jesus is the gift of amazing grace available to anyone willing to accept the offering. God gave His son to become the light and hope for the blue-collar shepherds, the spiritually lost intellectuals, and the Herdmans of this world.
And most of all, He came for you.
Wishing you a merry and messy, Christmas, because we all need a savior.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, here’s a snippet from the Best Christmas Pageant Ever movie (1983) where the Herdman’s are performing the Christmas Story.