Being a pastor, I hear many stories about the fiascos that often happen when a church makes plans for their Christmas celebration. A few years ago, another pastor told me about their annual Christmas pageant, which had been directed by the same saint for forty-seven years. Perfection was her goal; nothing less. For years the church’s pageant ran like clockwork: perfect lines, perfect pacing, perfect everything. Then one year, something even better happened.
This particular year, the Children’s Ministry team noticed that many children were left out of the varied productions because their acting was less than perfect. Much to the director’s chagrin, the decision was made that any child who wished to participate would be allowed. This motion was more than the longtime director could handle. She resigned in anger and disgust.
While the pageant was not its normal stellar production, it did not fall flat without the former director; but it was different. There must have been a dozen shepherds and at least twenty angels, and probably more than two dozen wandering sheep.
The real climax of imprecision came when Mary and Joseph entered. Joseph walked solemnly beside Mary. The narrator was to read the Biblical story about Joseph going to Bethlehem “. . . to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.” One mother realized that the children didn’t really understand the Elizabethan English of the King James Version about Mary being “great with child.” At the last minute, she switched to the Good News Translation. So, as Mary and Joseph entered, the narrator read, “Joseph went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant.” As the last word echoed through the sound system, little Joseph froze in his tracks. This is not how he had heard it phrased in rehearsal. He gave Mary an incredulous look, then looked out at the congregation and screamed, “Pregnant? What do you mean, pregnant?!”
The whole church erupted in uproarious laughter. A slight grin of arrogance began to creep across the face of the former director as she mused silently to herself, “I told you so.” The remainder of the pageant continued with the same goofs and gaffs that were expected. But at the end of the performance, the children received a standing ovation that lasted a full five minutes.
Unintentionally, it was the best Christmas pageant ever. It was perfect. Yet, it not in the way all of the previous pageants were. It was not precise and without flaw. It was perfect in the way God makes things perfecto—the way God accepts our fumbling attempts at love and fairness, and covers them with grace.
This Christmas season, so many of us will try to achieve a level of perfection—buying and giving the perfect gift, cooking the perfect meal, hosting the perfect Christmas party; but most likely, we will not achieve that level of perfection. Yet, our failures and shortcomings will not negate our perfect God from once again whispering those whispers of love, accepting us for who we are and perfecting us with unimaginable grace.
May your Christmas be filled with love, laughter and unplanned moments of perfection.