This year’s Christmas elementary program at our Christian school entertained and touched me. For me, watching children perform is more fun than watching a favorite TV show or taking in a movie. You never know what’s going to happen.
Digital cameras clicked as parents and grandparents captured for all time:
The sweetness of children singing about angels and baby Jesus;
The shepherds scratching their itchy spots;
The black-nosed, floppy-eared lambs baaed and giggled;
The white fuzzy feathers from the angel wings floated in the air and were chased by one lamb which he tasted and spit out;
“Glory to God in the highest” the angels shouted and no one minded when the word “angles” came up on the power point screen.
The crash of the microphone hitting the floor sounded like thunder.
Fortunately, tiny Mary took good care of baby Jesus and rocked him gently in her arms all evening.
Overshadowing the pageant in the center of the stage was a large wooden cross. I don’t know about you, but I seldom connect the cross that Jesus died on with Christmas time.
Baby Jesus, a king, born to a virgin named Mary, was placed in a manger in a smelly stable instead of a palace. Angels told the frightened shepherds the good news. I would have loved to have been there to hear their shouts of joy as they searched Bethlehem for the baby. Wise men came from the east following a star, another strange sight, all to give gifts to a baby and his parents. No cross is mentioned in the biblical story of Christ’s birth. Why have a painful reminder of how Jesus died when the lovely story of his birth is a Christmas theme?
Perhaps I need to rethink how Christmas is celebrated. So many suffer through the season because they have lost loved ones. My neighbor’s only child, a son, struggled with drug addiction for years, entered a fine rehab program and seemed to be doing well. A few days before Christmas he died of an overdose and lay in a morgue for three days until they identified him and found his family. Imagine the pain and heartbreak for his mother every Christmas…and all who have suffered loss.
Another friend, just last week, lost a beloved sister to heart disease. She was married 47 years to her high school sweetheart. I struggle to find words of comfort but have given up and replaced words with loving hugs.
Perhaps the cross reminds us that Jesus also suffered. He was born to die for us. Can we all find comfort in God’s plan? As messy and pain-filled our lives become, can we find hope and comfort in the manger…and the cross?
Yes, I now believe the cross belongs in the Christmas program. I also remembered my high school performance of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian-Carlo Menotti. Our director hung a huge star in center stage and at the end of the musical the star turned into a cross. My dad remarked, “That’s the finest part of the program, to see a star become a cross.”
Christmas is not about the presents or the beautifully decorated tree or the best-dressed, lighted house on the block. Isn’t it about the birth of the most treasured baby of all time who God sent to die on a cruel cross? Jesus so loved the world that he came as a helpless baby to experience our humanity and show us God’s love.
This season, I’m going to remember the manger in the shadow of a cross. There all of us can find hope.