When I was in college I interned at a large church in Minnesota. I was the only female intern at that time and I felt the pressure of doing a good job. My supervisor was a seasoned pastor and I wanted to please him and the congregation. I started out working with the toddlers and they were so much fun. Around Christmas time I was testing out the waters to see if we could do a Christmas play with this age group, so I read the story and we were going to “act” it out. Everyone had their roles and we did the scenes one at a time. Then it got overwhelming for the children and one kid started flying around the room making jet noises. Zoom, zoom, zoom… He was promptly instructed to “sit down” as there were no jets in the manger scene. One girl came to his defense – “yes there were– they were big angels flying around keeping things safe.” Ugh. “Did these kids not get the message I had something to prove? ” “Who can lead a Christmas play with a little boy flying around?”
The week before another little boy kept yelling Jews! I said , “yes they were Jewish” and planned on telling him the theological implications of their interaction in the new land when my patient helper said “no, he wants more jew-sss (Juice).” Hours in the library had made me a little too focused. Now this same kid wanted to ask about the religion of the three wise men. ” No,” I fussed, “we are not going to discuss the wise men and their personal lives” – where did that even come from? Before I could turn around another little girl came in “oinking” and her brother was in tow, also oinking. She oinked her way right through the shepherds and snuggled her and her brother right by the donkey. This delighted the little jet plane pilot who proceeded to fly around the room – again. The representative Mary and Joseph started to interact with the donkey and shepherds and they all promptly made room for the little pigs right by the manger – right by plastic baby Jesus wrapped in a raggedy blue cloth.
The room was hot, my Christmas sweater was itchy, and time was winding down as the next service was soon to begin. My helper had gone to help another class and my future in ministry looked very bleak. I could not pull this off – these small people had no sense of order, personal boundaries or decorum. They were very short sighted when it came to the theological message of Christmas. It was hopeless.
I must have requested order more loudly than I realized because they all abruptly sat down. In apologetic tones I let them know in a concise well informed, educated and trained manner – there were “no pigs at the manger scene”. “No, no pigs. “ “Have you ever seen one on a card, in a play, on television?” The little curly haired blond girl replied, “There were no parts for my little brother and he wants to be in the play.” The children, as if on cue responded –” we want everyone to be in the play”. These sweet children knew the message this little baby brought – the message that God loved the whole world and came for ALL, not just the rich, pretty or talented. Maybe there was a little pig nearby on that day? My mind raced as I rehearsed previous plays, ancient regulations, dietary laws, bacon…
Exasperated, I just didn’t know anymore, but the message this sister had for her little brother touched my heart –“don’t leave him out, we’re together”. It would serve as a barometer test when I viewed all other ministers and ministries – do they include or exclude? In a brief Sunday school hour I had learned more from these small little people with jelly on their faces (and Bible and clothes) than I had from my professors all week. (Yes, snack time was also a fiasco that day). God had sent his message in a very small package – a group of toddlers. He’s done that before – a surprise baby for Sarah, a baby in a basket in the Reeds and – a miracle baby in a manger, so this looks like a pattern with Him.
1 Corinthians 1:27-30 (ESV)
27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of Him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…
Who were the “others” included in that original Christmas story? You know the “them” that aren’t the “us”. Unbelieved, smelly, rough shepherds. A young woman who messed up her engagement and family system. A betrayed, older father wondering why his dreams at night were stranger than the reality of his days. Angels that some still believe today don’t exist. A donkey who slowly, methodically and faithfully carried the Message God sent to the world while everyone else was fighting about the temple, taxes and treasures. The little girl may not have had all the pieces of the story correct but she recognized that everyone should play a part and somehow this baby made that important.
That frazzled morning we gathered around the plastic baby Jesus (if I remember correctly it was missing a limb), we danced a little jig singing happy birthday and everyone got to rejoice in their parts –“What’s that light?” “Glory to God in the highest, moo, hee-haw — OINK!” Angels and jets were flying around the room together, children were giggling and it was the best Christmas play I’ve probably ever seen. Did we get to do it on the big platform? No, for several reasons, but I know for sure it was seen.
After the commotion, we sat on the carpet and I thought I would “pull the story together” for them. “Children, you know the story of the baby in the manger well, but what is Jesus doing now, since He is all grown up?” Yes, I confess I planned on putting off my embarrassed persona and put on my “ I’m a wise minister” hat. That may be why Paul said he had to die daily! There’s just so much flesh in us on any given day. The same little blonde girl raised her hand, “I know what Jesus is doing right now”. My mind flashed to more pig theology, more extrabiblical nonsense, more fears of “why is this woman teaching you these things, this will be the thing that gets me in trouble in my internship … no, no, stop! Before I could call on a different student she blurted out, “He’s wallpapering.” (Silence, then giggles).
Fearing missing her point again , I paused. I’m a first year Bible college student, surely I can fix this? Adults all know He is opening scrolls, doing holy stuff. What do I say? Where does she get this stuff? “No, no… the Lord of Lords is planning on coming back in glory.” Then a couple more kids chimed in, “yes that is what he is doing. He’s wallpapering. We learned that in Sunday School. “There were only a few minutes left and I was hard pressed to explain things. This precious little girl noted my confused face and gently explained, “see, He is wallpapering my room right now – He knows I’m coming. He is preparing a place for me, for you, for us and He wants it to be very beautiful because He has been waiting for us for a very long time.” The children started describing what they thought He was working on for them and I was very grateful some previous teacher had invested in those kids because this weary, tired, broke college student needed to know that there was more to life than what she felt and saw on that day. See I had been preparing for Jesus, I had been giving Him my best and on that day I was spent. I had been working to please my parents, my pastor, my church.
Then, God broke through. “I’m preparing a place for YOU.” “I’m looking for YOU”. “I’m excited to have you come to my house and share in my joy.” He loved me MUCH more than I could ever love Him. I had lost sight of that in the midst of pressures, ministry and even joy.
The manger scene became real to me that Christmas. It wasn’t just about the actors or scenes in a play – it was about a baby who came to rescue ME. This same child who had no place ready or prepared for Him would prepare a place for those who accepted His invitation to come to His home (see the REST for you page). This story was about being loved and about that love reaching everyone. The most excellent and impressive work to be done in that church was not in my skill or wisdom but represented in that makeshift manger by that baby would could only receive ONE thing from me – love. That’s all babies know but that’s all they need to know.
Theology is complicated for those who choose to make it so but the sent baby – came to love. The resurrected baby – wants our love. Those nearest that baby – show that love to others.
This Christmas, don’t be a heaven hog – share the incredible Joy that whosoever comes to Him, He will not cast out. Don’t exclude people from a Christ who came, died and rose so they could hear about His love.
Do become like these little Christmas pigs – hungry and desperately wanting to draw near this One who is preparing a place for all those who love Him. Bring someone with you. He wants you! He wants to refresh, delight and love on You! You are precious to Him and those many rooms aren’t just a story – right now they are being beautifully designed and arranged for your arrival. There is room for you inn God’s heart and home.
Come, they told me, ba rumpa babum. A newborn King to see ……
Renae Roche 2017