Good Tidings of Great Joy
by Patrick Macy
Is your heart radiating joy? Or do you find yourself now, just days before our celebration of Christ’s Nativity, caught up in the bustle of last minute shopping and planning, too busy to give thought to what the feast is really all about, and more than anything else just hoping the kids don’t get sick? Like me, if you are a parent, you can probably relate to this experience to one degree or another. Cares and busyness can make Christmas flat and joyless. In his book For the Life of the World, Father Alexander Schmemann writes, “Of all the accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”
Where can we find joy?
Here’s a suggestion: attend a church Christmas pageant. Ours was this past Sunday afternoon, and it was a packed house. Why? Oh, we go because they are our kids, and there is a sense of obligation. After all, think of all the work that went into it! And, of course, who doesn’t enjoy seeing little children in angel costumes with sparkly halos and wings askew? So is it because of the promise of a polished performance? Ask this of Anne Schoepp, the dauntless director of our Christmas pageant each year. With a smile and a knowing chuckle, she would probably say, no. On Thursday, the kids can’t make it through the entire dress rehearsal and they are still scrambling to pull all of the costumes together. On Friday, the results aren’t much better; some kids still don’t know all their lines or cues or the verses to the songs. At Saturday afternoon’s rehearsal, which the kids have requested, there is a spark of hope, but there are still parts that are rather shaky. No, it is the promise of something else that is to be found in experiencing a Christmas pageant. On Sunday, a miracle will happen.
This year’s Christmas pageant was The Rebels’ Inn. It is the story of a group of Jewish rebels, who desire nothing more than to battle the Roman soldiers and cast them out of Israel, being introduced to the newborn Jesus by Saints Joseph and Mary. Of course, as the pageant proceeds, with every humorous line and song it becomes more and more obvious that this gang of rebels has no hope of succeeding. And that’s the point: they need a savior –– a true King who will lead them to freedom and salvation. Toward the end of the show, the rebels realize this through their interactions with Joseph and Mary. They get it.
Then it happens. As with any good Christmas pageant, the truth found in the story moves beyond the shepherds and soldiers and angels on the stage. The message being proclaimed through the performance of these beautiful, innocent children is scattering little seeds of joy throughout the room. You know when they’ve been planted and have begun to sprout by the smiles and laughter emanating from the faces of those in the audience. Like the shepherds in the field, their hearts have been struck by the only real joy that could warm the heart of an Ebenezer Scrooge, a bold joy that is the only rebuttal necessary for a Nietzsche, the message of angels proclaiming, “for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:9-11).
After the show closes and the joyous fellowship time ends, the audience begins to move down the stairs and out into the brisk air of the evening. But those little seeds of joy are borne with them in their hearts. Indeed, they are clinging to their clothing and caught in their hair like shining sparks of glitter, as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Spread them around.
This is the miracle.