The rain descended in torrents as we drove to church this dark morning, the Sunday before Christmas, a wonderful Sunday for it was the day of the annual Christmas Pageant. Saint Peter’s welcomed us like an ark in stormy seas, and we headed toward the front door held open by Father Hauge, standing like a white-robed angel, greeting us. We collapsed our umbrellas, grateful for the dry refuge of the narthex.
I headed to the Sunday School, following the sounds of the children’s high excited voices as they fitted into their costumes, and joined the joyful confusion of pins and ties and wings and head veils, adjusting here, shortening there. Soon, soon, these young actors would process up the red carpet and take their places in the chancel. Soon, they would tell the story of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God.
And they did. Each child, solemnly in turn, stepped up the long aisle, small figures in a large high-pitched nave, moving steadily with folded hands (pointing toward heaven, our director explained), toward the steps leading to the chancel and the purple-tented tabernacle. There, before the altar, the children told the story of Mary and Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem, the birth of the Savior of mankind. One of the young adults sang solo, her haunting soprano dancing into the sacred space, coloring it. The choir sang from the loft at the western end of the nave, beneath the fiery glass of the Pentecost window, festooning the organ’s rich notes with their voices, weaving a tapestry of story and song.
We told the story Jesus’ birth. We told of Adam’s disobedience, of Isaiah’s prophecies, of Archangel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, the maid of Nazareth. We told how Mary said yes, let it be unto me according to thy word, of her journey with Joseph to Bethlehem. We told about the stable, and the shepherds keeping watch and the heavenly host appearing in the night sky, and how they came to Bethlehem to see this great thing which had come to pass. We told the story, a miraculous, stupendous story that still, after two thousand years, is sung throughout the world, in every continent, nation, town. It is a story that is danced and prayed and celebrated. We tell the story in hushed voices at bedtime to our children with pictures in large books with shiny pages. The story is told in a jumble of ringing steeple bells, in concert halls with trumpets and choirs and orchestras. We tell the story as we gather around a twinkling tree and give one another gifts, parts of ourselves, recalling God’s gift to us, his own Son, born in a manger.
We are a people who journey through the rainy world in our warm and dry ark of the Church. We gather and tell our story of God’s great love. Soon, soon, we will tell the second half of that story, why he came in such great humility, why Jesus came among us, his great sacrifice. We will leave this warm place in front of the burning hearth and the starry tree to learn love’s truth, true love, as we journey through Lent to Easter.
Today at St. Peter’s we moved easily from the glory of Bethlehem into the liturgy of the Eucharist, and, as the Body of Christ, we prayed this great prayer of the Church. We offered the story to God, and ourselves in that story, and he offered himself back to us. We left a richer, fuller, more glorious people, ready to return to the rainy world.
But before heading outside, we gathered together in the parish hall for champagne and cider, sandwiches and an amazing cupcake cake, thankful for this time of celebration, this time of glorious telling, this time of Christmas.