One of my family’s favorite traditions is to watch Christmas movies, especially “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Even though Eliza and Jane are grown women, the four of us still snuggle up on the sofa and watch this show every year. You gotta love Pigpen as the Innkeeper with his “dust” falling everywhere; or Snoopy’s imitation of the manger animals; Charlie Brown’s sad little Christmas tree that blossoms into a giant, sparkling fir at the end; Lucy who casts herself as the “Christmas Queen;” and my favorite — Linus, using his trademark blanket as a headdress and playing the role of shepherd. It is his character who reads the Christmas story and it is Linus who reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. It’s the Peanuts version of the Christmas Pageant.
Foxcroft just had our own Pageant, and we, too, have our cast of characters and animals that bring the story of Christmas to life and which bring so much joy to members of the Middleburg community. I sat next to a woman who had been coming to the Pageant since she was a little girl, and she brought her niece this year to be part of the holiday spirit.
Whether you see the Pageant as part of your faith tradition or as a work of literature, I’d like us to pause and consider who these characters are who gather at the manger, and what theme we can take from this story to enlighten our lives this season and throughout the year to come.
First, there are Mary and Joseph. Sometimes I think we forget how scared Mary must have been. She’s a teenage mom who is engaged when she gets pregnant. What would her parents and her neighbors say? How alone must she feel? Then, there is Joseph, really a stepdad-to-be, with a woman who is pregnant with a baby that is not his. Mary is far along “with child,” and they are travelers, refugees compelled by powerful forces to journey from far away, and their method of transportation is a donkey, a humble and sometimes stubborn beast. They are from a good family “. . . the stump of Jessie,” but not wealthy enough to get a room in the inn.
Then, there are the Shepherds, among the lowest rung of society. They are common laborers, uneducated, poor, marginalized in their society. They stand side by side with the Magi, wise men, who are wealthy and educated and powerful.
And then there are the “Heavenly Hosts,” angels or spirits, heralds of “good news of great joy,” from those who have gone before us connecting the physical and the mystical.
All these figures come together in the tableaux at the manger. Why? To see a baby: for some a great leader who will change history, for others, a savior who will redeem the world. And he appears, not in a glittering court, decked in gold and silver, or as a fierce warrior ready for battle, but as a newborn in a humble manger. What is at the center of the pageant scene is a leader who comes in the most innocent and powerless, and vulnerable form, but also in the purest form of an infant, not corrupted by the world around him, a symbol of the essence of goodness. As the prophet says, “And a little child will lead them,” forever changing the definition of leadership and power. If you study Jesus’s leadership, it becomes about service and outreach, about healing and uniting, and about humility. “Power over” others becomes “power to” others.
Above the manger is the Star, a promise of light and of a new way where peace and love reign and where divisions among people cease: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” Surely the divisions of age, family background, circumstance, education, wealth, nationality, ethnicity, and power are all represented at the manger. I think there could be no better metaphor for us today in our own lives if we remember that everyone is included at the manger; everyone, no matter where they come from, is united around what is good and pure and peaceful.
Could we solve some of our most pressing problems — violence, abuse, harassment, hunger, poverty, the environment — and could we find healing in this broken world and in our own lives, no matter where we are on our own personal journeys, if we welcomed EVERYONE into our hearts?
As Linus says at the end of his scene, “And that’s what Christmas is all about.” And then the entire cast of the Peanuts pageant takes the little scrappy, needle-less Charlie Brown Christmas tree out into the cold night under the stars, and it blossoms into a full and shining evergreen, nourished by the love all around it.
My wish for us this holiday and throughout the year is that we may be nourished by the love that is within us and all around us, and watch it grow.
Another part of our tradition is for the Head of School and the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors to serenade the seniors at our Holiday Banquet. Here’s what I sang to them!