Matthew 5:16 (NIV)
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
How did I get myself into this? Claire thought to herself as she adjusted her head cloth and shifted her position sitting on the small stool beside the improvised "manager." She knew that the teenagers at her church - her son Brian among them - were responsible for the nativity scene at the annual Christmas pageant, but she never expected they'd tap her to play Mary.
"After all," Brian had insisted, "None of the girls really feel up to playing Mary - we need someone older." So not knowing whether to be complimented or insulted, there she sat decked out in the requisite Bible-era robe and with instructions to look saintly.
Claire sighed and looked around. She knew that the nativity scene came at the end of her pageant and served as the climax of the show. After the sugar plums and snowflake dancers and all the rest of the performers had finished, the curtain would come up on the assembled manager scene as the church choir stood behind them and sang "Silent Night." The audience would join in, the curtain would drop and the pageant would be over for the year.
In her place by the box that served as the "manger", Claire had the feeling that something was missing. For despite the festive decorations, the happy anticipation in the air and of course the basic reality of what the Christmas story really meant, Claire was a bit depressed. She knew that Christmas of course celebrated the birth of Jesus, but what did it mean to her and those in the pageant and the audience? Was it just an opportunity see the children performing in cute costumes? Or for the choir director to show off her skill at the complicated numbers?
Claire sighed again. So much festivity and all because of a baby. Baby? Claire paused to remember the planned occupant of the "manger."
"Don't worry, Mom," Brian had told her as she asked. "We thought about a doll, but that would have looked pretty phony. So we improvised." He dug in his gym bag. "Here, when the curtain comes up, turn this on." "This" was a flashlight, now resting in the "manger" on the towel (representing a blanket) and on the straw and Claire was still puzzled. No baby, or even a doll. Just a flashlight. Some Christmas this would be!
So Claire sat there, with the costumed teens circled around her - with Brian playing Joseph, the three Wise Men off to one side, a donkey tethered nearby (standing on a lot of straw), and a group of shepherds on the other side. Claire bowed her head as she heard the players shuffle in their places (was that a pair of Nikes peeking out from under a shepherdly robe?) then the choir assembling behind them.
It was dark behind the curtain. The leashed lamb held by one of the shepherds let out a faint "baa!" The barnyard fragrance of donkey and straw became evident. So much preparation and so much tradition, but what did it all mean? Somehow Claire couldn't put aside the sense of sadness that amidst the soft music and depiction of the holy scene there was still something missing. If Christmas was Jesus' birthday, then where was He in all of this? So many years ago He had been born in a similar scene, an infant laid in a feed box by a peasant teenaged mother. Indeed, a child who had attracted his rough shepherds and the polished wise men, but where was His current influence. Had it really come to this - a straw filed box and a flashlight?
"Mom!" A whisper from "Joseph" nearby. "The flashlight- turn it on!"
At first confused, and then understanding, Claire reached into the box and trying to look like she was adjusting the blanket, flicked on the light just as the curtain came up and the choir began to sing.
The glow shimmered forth, partially covered by the straw and the towel, but its luminescence diffused into a faint illumination that spread out from the box and was reflected on the faces of the hunched group around it. Then Claire heard the choir's words. "Radiant beams from Thy holy face.. Redeeming grace." Claire adjusted the towel again and the light gleamed up, casting its glow. Shepherds. Wise Men. Mary, Joseph. All the characters were there and then there was the light.
Just like the light of Christ that still glowed and shone out in the dimness of an unreceiving and unbelieving world.
"Sleep in heavenly peace." sang the choir and all the teens fell to their knees on cue around the light as the curtain slowly descended.
And then Claire knew. It was a simple message. Christmas was Christ and how the Light of the world had been born into a world of darkness and how His radiance was reflected in the faces and lives of those who encountered Him. In the midst of a dark world that Light meant hope and peace and most of all God's love. That was Christmas.
Dear Lord, thanks for being the light of Christmas. As we approach Christmas day when we celebrate Your birth help us each shine with Your love to this dark world will see You though us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.