Sometimes a familiar sight can be seen with new eyes. Hope comes when you realize that Jesus, the baby in the manger, was truly God the Son, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.
Fr. Richards stepped back from the microphone and looked over the sea of faces. The actors were all seated in their costumes in the front rows of folding chairs in the parish hall. The turbans and ancient robes they wore looked very much out of place in the new building that still smelled of fresh paint.
Joey elbowed Samantha, who was seated next to him in the front row. “How come Fr. Richards called us ladies and gentlemen? I’m seven!”
“SHHHHH!” Samantha looked at Joey sternly. “He always calls us that, Joey. Remember, he is the pastor here; he has to act extra nice!”
Samantha’s hushed tones trailed off as Mrs. Williams, the children’s choir director, stepped in front of the young choir of shepherds, angels, and wise men.
“Thank you, Fr. Richards. Your support means so much to each of us.
Joey elbowed Sam once again, who responded with a fiery glance.
Mrs. Williams continued. “Tonight is the dress rehearsal. This is our last chance to be sure everything is ready for tomorrow evening’s presentation. I want to be sure we all know our lines well.”
Samantha adjusted the halo perched on her head and fidgeted with the buttons on her long white gown. As the tallest girl in her class, she was picked to play the lead angel, the best and biggest part in the whole play. Over the years she had played a variety of roles in the annual Christmas pageant, including a shepherd, a young mother carrying a baby, and, a few times, even one of the barnyard animals. Now, at 12, she was glad to have a better role.
“Stop fidgeting, Sam!” Joey said to his sister. Five years younger than his sister Samantha, he had been promoted this year from a lamb to a shepherd on the hillside. While he didn’t have to say anything, Joey was glad to be standing and holding a shepherd’s crook. Last year, he just crawled around the stage, saying “baaaah!”
This year’s pageant was going to be something special. Mrs. Williams had surprised her youthful cast by announcing that Mr. Stringfellow was going to bring some of the sheep from his farm to use in the play. Fr. Richards was not happy about it at all, but Mrs. Williams seems to get her way whenever she gets something firmly planted in her mind. “She could convince wallpaper to fall off a wall,” he heard his own dad mutter more than once after hanging up from one of Mrs. William’s phone calls. Joey thought he would really like to see that.
A shrill blast from the whistle that Mrs. Williams always wore around her neck ended Joey’s daydream. As she called out names from her command post at the microphone, the children hustled obediently to their positions so the drama could begin.
Joey shuffled over to the left side of the stage in front of the cardboard hillside and aluminum foil stars. He stood next to a small pen made of scrap lumber that would hold the sheep. High above him, Samantha hung like a prize fish from a cable that Mr. Oswald, the janitor, had rigged up to raise and lower the herald angel. The rest of the angels were kneeling on a scaffold set up behind the mountain scenery and which was borrowed from Smith’s Paint and Supply Company. Mrs. Williams was going “all-out” this year!
Joey looked up and waved at his sister. “Don’t get sick up there!” He whispered loud enough for her to glare back in a wordless response.
“Brothers!” she muttered to herself.
Once in place, Mrs. Williams waved her clipboard to the man standing in the back of the hall. He opened the door and waved. Suddenly the parish hall was filled with all kinds of unusual noises. One by one, Mr. Stringfellow and his three sons gently guided fives lambs through the maze of folding chairs and into the sheep pen he had built on the stage.
“Give ‘em a few minutes and they’ll settle down, Henrietta,” Mr. Stringfellow shouted above the bleating, “they’re a little nervous, but it’ll wear off… then you can start your rehearsing.” He and his boys went and sat down in the front row in case one of the sheep decided to make a run for it.
Joey’s eyes got as big as saucers. He had grown up in the town and had never seen sheep this close before. He was only a few feet away from them and one of the sheep started pressing his head through the wood railing and trying to sniff Joey’s robe. Joey moved a few inches away but the sheep kept trying to push his head through the rail.
Bill Wesley, who had just turned thirteen and was Joey’s hero because he played soccer and the trumpet, walked to the microphone and began his work as narrator.
“Now, in those days, a decree ...
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