Examining the Smaller Parts of the Christmas Pageant

Dec 5, 2023 9:00:00 AM / by Jessica Davis

The time has come! That blessed (and often super stressful) time of year is upon us: Christmas pageant season. As you likely well know, our Christmas pageants are very often an amalgamation of many of the aspects of the “Christmas stories” in both Matthew and Luke, with scenes and characters pulled from across the first few years of Jesus’ life, often with sprinkles of content from the other two gospels as well. If we were to limit ourselves to the content in a single gospel, our pageants would only have a handful of characters and be no more than a few minutes long. So we combine the stories, and in doing so, we end up with a cast of characters hopefully large enough to supply roles for all who want to participate. But they needn’t all be relegated to minor characters in this most important story. Many of them have intriguing backstories and/or points of contact from which congregants of all ages might see themselves.

We all have probably preached or witnessed a sermon or pageant over the years that dug deep into how it might have felt to be Mary or Joseph—what might it have been like to be a teenage girl who just found out she’s carrying God Themself in her belly? How might it have felt to find out that your betrothed was pregnant with a baby that you knew for sure wasn’t yours? These are fascinating and stimulating questions that I hope we keep asking. But there are other characters involved in the story of Jesus’ birth who might also contribute to our understanding of how we can connect to the God who comes to us on a cross and in a manger.

Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, and Herod the Great: Imagine what it would be like if, suddenly, a baby is born in a hick town in Judea that many among your most problematic followers are saying was prophesied 600 years ago to come and overthrow your rule. Or being the governor tasked with keeping the Jewish people in line when that message makes its way to the Caesar. Though most of our congregants can’t relate to the sovereign life, they may know quite a lot about what it feels like to be unseated from a position that they thought was secure, or working for a hot-headed boss who had way too much control over their lives. How does God show up in their lives when they feel attacked or defensive?

Elizabeth and Zechariah: How would it feel to be Jesus’ aunt and uncle, knowing just how special this baby was going to be, while yourselves awaiting a miracle baby whose birth had been foretold by an angel? How might Zechariah’s canticle be given voice in the lives of your congregants?

Shepherds and angels: What might it be like being either the heavenly beings or the humble humans assigned with the task of telling people that the Messiah had arrived? How might that go over today in classrooms, workplaces, or community hangout spots?

Anna and Simeon: The elders of the congregation likely have much to contribute regarding what it might be like to have lived your whole life awaiting the fulfillment of a prophecy, and then witnessing it being fulfilled on an average day. Have they ever had moments that felt like God was fulfilling a promise they had waited a very long time for? How does Simeon’s canticle speak to them now?

Magi: It is ironic that we so often refer to the magi as the “Three Wise Men,” assigning them a number where there is none, and a rigid gender designation when the role of Magus was one of the very few powerful social positions frequently held by women and nonbinary people and the story echoes the delegation to the Queen of Sheba. How might non-men in your congregation connect to the idea of being called by God to go on an epic journey that ran totally counter to the traditional understandings of the boundaries of your social station?

As you engage the pageant season this year, may each of your players feel and know that there are no bit parts in the play of God’s coming!

Topics: Children Ministry, Christmas

Jessica Davis

Written by Jessica Davis

Jessica Davis, MA is a Christian educator, pastoral counselor, church consultant, organizer, and freelance writer and speaker living in the Philadelphia area. Their ministry passions include youth ministry, church music, community visioning, and education and advocacy re: diversity, equity, and inclusion. When not doing churchy things, they can usually be found knitting, volunteering with refugees and asylum-seekers, or working as a freelance makeup artist. You can connect with their work through Jessica Davis Church Consulting on Facebook.


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