There’s a tradition at Christmastime that seems as though it’s been around forever, and it actually does go back centuries (I don’t know how many). It’s the tradition of telling the story of Christmas through actors. It’s called the Christmas play! This year, that tradition won’t be as wide-spread as normal. If it does happen, it will not be in a normal sense. Regardless of the changes happening this year, a Christmas play is a tradition that nearly all Christians have come to know.
In pre-Shakespearean England, an occasional “mystery play” made up of people and wagons would travel from town to town. The topic of these plays would normally be the passion of Christ, the resurrection, and the judgement day for the world. Other stories would also be told including the story of Christmas. Today, of course, the Christmas play is normally populated with children as actors (whether they want to be part of the Christmas play or not).
I recall the old plays of my youth. If you were a pre-confirmation child and regularly attended Sunday School, you were given a part in the Christmas play. It wasn’t always the same play year after year, but there were almost always some standard groups of characters that needed to be filled. This was typically done by age. First and second graders would normally be either a chorus of angels and/or a flock of sheep. Third graders might be barnyard animals; these were the least desired part in the play. Fourth graders were shepherds or townsfolk (to keep the younger actors in line). The parts assigned to fifth graders and sixth graders were where things got fun. Children of this age were the wisemen, narrators, Joseph and Mary. I recall not wanting to be a sheep or another animal; I wanted an important part in the story.
In the Christmas play, everyone is handed a role, but it’s not always a great one. Some years you have to be just one of the nameless sheep or angels. However, some years you get to play something important, something with lines and an actual character name! It’s a different situation in life. Our roles here are given through Jesus Christ.
The role that we as Christians have been given is that of the servant. The role that we have been given is that of helper for the poor, the hurting, and the weak. The role that we have been given is to be compassionate for the people who are on the margins of society. This might not seem like a great role, but if you follow Jesus’s example, that’s the same role that he played. With Christ as the absolute, unquestioned star of the play of life, our role becomes something important.
Being a follower of Christ is an important role, even if we are actually only one of the flock of sheep. However, like a loving parent watching their little “sheep” in the play, God still greatly loves us. Even as a sheep in the flock, we are still known by name to our creator. By following the example of Jesus as a servant and friend to those in need, or in other words, by copying the role of Christ, we show God’s love in the world. As a child, we cannot always have the starring role in the Christmas play. With Christ in the starring role of life, we become an important character in the world.
Vicar Matt Milbrodt