Have you been in any Christmas plays at school? If so, what part did you get to play?
I was once a shepherd, a part I remember because the headmistress lent me a valuable family heirloom - a pottery hot water bottle - which she thought would be an impressive prop that would make me look more authentic. She told me it was a special privilege to borrow such a precious thing, but she was letting me have it because I was such a good boy and could be trusted with it. Unfortunately, I was carrying it by a string fastened round the neck of the bottle. The string snapped during the dress rehearsal and - to my horror - the bottle smashed to pieces on the wooden floor. The headmistress lost her temper and shouted at me that I had been careless, so I thought it was in big trouble, but when she calmed down she said she was sorry and that it wasn’t me fault. Phew!
Another year it felt much safer to be a wiseman and read my own poem about the gift I had brought for the Baby Jesus.
The low point for me was when one of my teachers said I couldn’t sing - which wasn’t true - and therefore couldn’t be part of the group chosen to sing Good King Wenceslas. However, I was allowed to be the peasant gathering firewood in the snow. My mother dressed me up in peasant costume, complete with a woolly moustache stuck on with special glue that brought me out in a rash. ‘Oh you don’t need a costume!’ said the teacher. ‘Your ordinary clothes would have done just fine.’ She was like that with almost everyone. No wonder the class cheered when she announced she would be leaving soon!
In November there was a survey of more than 1,000 people to see what they remembered about the nativity and Christmas plays they were in at school. Girls remembered how they always wanted to be an angel, but only beautiful blonde girls were chosen for that role. Their second choice was to be Mary, but the teacher’s pet always got that part. Boys recalled how they wanted to play Joseph, or a wiseman. But someone has to be the donkey, don’t they? My sons got to be the donkey and the lamb one year because their mother was good at sewing and could make the best animal costumes! How lucky is that?
Looking back, older people think now that they would have liked to be the innkeeper or the wicked King Herod. Those are the scene stealing parts! The innkeeper has the power to change the whole story, like the boy who was asked, ‘Is there any room in the inn?’ and replied, ‘Yes, of course. Come in and make yourselves at home!’
The school Christmas play often isn’t fair, but then life often isn’t fair, either, and God understands that. The whole point of the Christmas story is that God came to live among us in Jesus to experience what life is really like from the inside, and to share it with us. Whatever we may face, he faces it with us. That is the wonder of Christmas.