Christmas Pageant Ever”
Rev. Greg Ward
Adapted from the book
|Overview: This is a story which demonstrates that
all of us, even the most hard hearted, with many mistakes in our past, can be
affected and find renewal in the message of Christmas.
CALL TO WORSHIP:
(Spoken by narrator from the front while everyone else is
ready to process in from the back):
Bring the candles!
PROCESSIONAL CAROL #231 Angels We Have Heard on High
(The family choir and the Herdmans process in to the carol,
with the Herdmans making trouble all the way)
Narrator: The Herdmans were absolutely
the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars
and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and set fire to
Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down tool house.
(The Herdmans make an elaborate affair out of lighting the
chalice, looking mischievously delighted while the family choir seated on the
risers on stage look aghast and alarmed)
STORY PART I
Narrator: It was a terrific fire—two
engines and two police cars and all the volunteer firemen and five dozen doughnuts
sent up from the Tasti-Lunch Diner. The doughnuts were supposed to be for the
firemen, but by the time they got the fire out the doughnuts were all gone. The
Herdmans got them—what they couldn’t eat they stuffed in their pockets and
down the front of their shirts.
(The Herdmans stuff the goods in their pockets and down their
shirts. The family choir pantomimes village chatter.)
Narrator: The Fire Chief gave all of
us kids a lecture about playing with matches. Turns out, though, the neighbors had
been pestering Mr. Shoemaker to do something about the old tool house because it
was about to fall down anyway; so they said the fire was a blessing in disguise.
My father said that it was the only good thing the Herdmans ever did, and if
they’d known it was a good thing they wouldn’t have done it at all.
(Imogene smokes a cigar and Mother comes over to bother
Narrator: I was always in the same
grade with Imogene Herdman, and what I did was stay out of her way. You couldn’t
do it if you were very pretty or very ugly or very smart or very dumb or had
anything unusual about you, like red hair or double-jointed thumbs. But if you
were a medium kid like me, and you kept your mouth shut, you did okay.
As far as anyone could tell, Imogene
was just like the rest of the Herdmans. She never learned anything either, except
dirty words and secrets about everybody.
It was no good trying to get secrets
on the Herdmans. Everybody already knew about the awful things they did. You
couldn’t even tease them about their parents, or holler "your father’s in
jail!" because they didn’t care. Actually, they didn’t know what their
father was or where he was or anything about him, because when the youngest
Herdman, Gladys, was two years old, he climbed on a railroad train and
disappeared. Nobody blamed him. Mrs. Herdman worked double shifts at the shoe
factory, and wasn’t home much. So the Herdmans pretty much looked after
themselves. The big ones taught the little ones everything they knew... and the
proof of that was that the meanest Herdman of all was Gladys, the youngest.
We figured they were headed straight
for hell, by way of the State Penitentiary ... until they got themselves mixed up
with the church, and my mother, and our Christmas pageant.
(narrator joins family choir)
CHRISTMAS HYMN #256 Winter Night
Lighting of the First Candle
Light from the Festival of Midwinter
(Mother and one family choir member):
In this time when days grow short,
# 244 It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
(The stage crew brings in old, dusty props)
STORY PART II
Narrator: When Mrs. Helen Armstrong
fell and broke her leg my mother was put in charge of the Christmas pageant. Our
Christmas pageant isn’t what you’d call four-star entertainment. Mrs.
Armstrong breaking her leg was the only exciting thing that ever happened to it.
The script is standard - the inn, the stable, the shepherds, the star - and so are
the costumes, and so is the casting. Primary kids are angels; intermediate kids
are shepherds; big boys are Wise men; Elmer Hopkins, the minister’s son, has
been Joseph for as long as I can remember; and my friend Alice Wendleken is Mary
because she’s so smart, so neat and clean, and most of all, so holy-looking. All
the rest of us are the angel choir—lined up according to height because nobody
can sing parts.
(Family choir arranges itself by height)
Narrator: But this year was different.
My brother, Charlie, had told the Herdmans that there would be cake at the
rehearsal and suddenly they all wanted to be in the Christmas pageant.
(Herdmans march in pushing and shoving)
Narrator: At the first meeting my mother started by asking for
Mother: I know that many of you would
like to be Mary in our pageant, but of course we can only have one Mary. So I’ll
ask for volunteers, and then we’ll all decide together which girl should get the
Narrator: That was pretty safe to say,
since the only person who ever raised her hand was Alice Wendleken. But Alice just
sat there, chewing on a piece of her hair and looking down at the floor... and the
only person who raised her hand this time was Imogene Herdman.
Mother: Did you have a question Imogene?
Imogene: No, I want to be Mary and Ralph wants to be Joseph.
Narrator: Mother just stared at them.
She couldn’t believe this. What she didn’t know was that Imogene had bullied
Alice into letting her be Mary, and Elmer Hopkins was relieved he didn’t have to
be Joseph again. Last year he had tried to pay Grady Baker fifty cents to be
Joseph and he wouldn’t do it. Nobody volunteered to be wise men either, except
Leroy, Claude, and Ollie Herdman. So there was my mother, stuck with a Christmas
pageant full of Herdmans in the main roles.
CHRISTMAS HYMN # 241 In the Bleak Midwinter
(Everyone files off stage. Mother’s home is near the
chalice on the floor. She and husband stand and think seriously. Shake their
heads. He pats her on the back)
STORY PART III
Narrator: Some people said it wasn’t
fair for a whole family who didn’t even go to our church to barge in and take
over the pageant. My father said somebody better lock up the Women’s Society
silver service. My mother just said she would rather be in the hospital with Mrs.
But then the flower committee took a
potted geranium to Mrs. Armstrong and told her what was going on and she nearly
fell out of bed, traction bars and all. She said that if she had been up and
around the whole thing would have never happened. And that made my mother so mad
she couldn’t see straight.
(She walks briskly and angrily around with increasing
Mother: If she’d been up and around
it wouldn’t have happened. That woman! She must be surprised that the sun is
still coming up every morning without her to supervise. Helen Armstrong is not the
only woman alive who can run a Christmas pageant. I’d made up my mind to do the
best I could under the circumstances but now---I’m going to make this the very
best Christmas pageant ever, and I’m going to do it with the Herdmans, too.
After all, they raised their hands and nobody else did. And that’s that.
(Mother walks into sanctuary calling a rehearsal, gathering
the family choir and the Herdmans. Family choir runs in and sits in their seats.
Alice walks up to stand with narrator in the pulpit.)
Narrator: So mother called the first
rehearsal. (pause) Everybody shut up right away for fear of missing
something awful the Herdmans might do. Leroy had already knuckled Charlie behind
the ear, and one little girl yelled as Gladys went by . But Mother said she was
going to ignore everything except blood, and since the little girl wasn’t
bleeding and neither was Charlie, nothing happened. Even so, right away Mother ran
Leroy: Who were the shepherds? Where did they come from?
Claude: What was the inn? What’s an inn?
Mother: It’s like a motel where people go to spend the night.
Claude: What people? Jesus?
Alice: Oh, honestly! Jesus wasn’t even born yet! Mary and
Joseph went there.
Ralph: (looks at Alice) Why?
Imogene: (looks at Mother) What happened first? Begin at
Narrator: The thing was, the Herdmans
didn’t know anything about the Christmas story. They knew that Christmas was
Jesus’ birthday, but everything else was news to them—the shepherds, the Wise
Men, the star, the stable, the crowded inn. So Mother said she had better begin by
reading the story from the Bible. This was a pain in the neck for most of us
because we knew the whole thing backward and forward.
Mother: Joseph and Mary, his espoused wife, being great with
(The big kids giggle and the little kids want to know
what’s going on; Mother pounds the floor with her foot to get everyone’s
Alice (to narrator): I don’t
think it’s very nice to say Mary was pregnant Narrator: but she was Alice: I’m
not supposed to talk about people being pregnant. I’d better tell my mother.
Narrator: Tell her what?
Alice: That your mother is talking about things like that in
Narrator: I was pretty sure she would
too, because she still wanted to be Mary. But there wasn’t much I could do about
it but pinch Alice which I did and she yelped.
Narrator: As Mother told the story,
one of the Herdmans would yell, "What’s that?" whenever they didn’t
Imogene: You mean there wasn’t any room in the inn. Not even
Mother: Well, now, after all nobody knew the baby was going to
turn out to be Jesus.
Ralph: You said Mary knew. Why didn’t she tell them?
Imogene: I would have told them! Boy
would I have told them? What was the matter with Joseph that he didn’t tell
them? Her pregnant and everything.
Leroy: What was that they laid the
baby in? The manger... is that like a bed? Why would they have a bed in the barn?
Mother: That’s just the point. They
didn’t have a bed in the barn, so Mary and Joseph had to use whatever there was.
What would you do if you had a new baby and no bed to put the baby in?
Imogene: We put Gladys in a dresser drawer.
Mother (blinking a little):
Well there you are. You didn’t have a bed for Gladys so you had to use something
else. Mary and Joseph used the manger. A manger is a large wooden feeding trough
Claude: What were the wadded up clothes?
Mother: The what?
Claude: You read about it—She wrapped him in wadded up
Mother: Swaddling clothes. Long ago,
people used to wrap their babies very tightly in big pieces of material, so they
couldn’t move around. It made the babies feel cozy and comfortable.
Imogene: Why didn’t Mary get to name the baby?
Ralph (whacks Imogene on the back): I named him.
Mother: Joseph didn’t name the baby
either. God sent an angel to tell Mary what his name should be.
Imogene: I would have named him Bill.
What did the angel do, just walk up and say "Name him Jesus?"
Narrator: Mother was in a hurry to finish so she said
Narrator: But then Alice Wendleken had to open her big mouth.
Alice: I know what the angel said. She
said "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting
Father, the Prince of Peace."
Narrator: I could have hit her
Imogene: My God! He’d never get out of first grade if he had
to write all that!
Narrator: And so it went, Mother
telling the story and explaining it to the Herdmans. They were really interested
in Herod. When mother said that Herod planned to put the baby Jesus to death,
Imogene: My God? He just got born and already they’re out to
Narrator: I figured they were
interested in Herod because they liked him. He was so mean he could have been
their ancestor—Herod Herdman. But I was wrong. They wanted somebody to be Herod
so they could beat up on him. I couldn’t understand the Herdmans. You would have
thought the Christmas story came right out of the RCMP files, they got so involved
in it—wanted a bloody end to Herod, worried about Mary having her baby in a
barn, and called the Wise Men a bunch of dirty spies. After she finished the story
we got through the first rehearsal.
(Everyone leaves. Imogene parades around in front with a
Narrator: During the second rehearsal,
Mrs. McCarthy called the fire department because she smelled smoke in the
women’s washroom. It just turned out to be Imogene smoking cigars during a break
in the rehearsal. But while everyone was milling about on the street, the
applesauce cake that the ladies on the potluck committee had been making burned
up. When Reverend Hopkins heard about the fire he asked mother if we should call
the whole thing off. He said the whole church was in an uproar and he didn’t
think anyone would come to see the pageant. But he was wrong. Everybody came... to
see what the Herdmans would do.
CHRISTMAS HYMN # 249 On This Day Everywhere
Lighting of the Second Candle
The Christmas Light of Hope
(Ralph and Imogene):
Christmas has come once more.
And you better remember that the
parents of Jesus were neither rich, nor powerful, nor famous; that from the most
h-humble (Mother helps her) beginnings any kid can come who carries within the
seeds of greatness, and a great light.
Help us to remember that in each one
of us burns a flame which brightens the world.
CHRISTMAS HYMN # 257 'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime
STORY PART IV
Narrator: The night of the pageant
there was the usual big mess all over the place—baby angels getting poked in the
eye by other baby angels’ wings and grumpy shepherds tripping over their
costumes. But everything settled down, and at 7:30, the pageant began.
(Lights dim in congregation. Family choir sings O Little Town
Narrator: When we were finished
singing "O, Little Town of Bethlehem" Ralph and Imogene were there, (they
come in side door and up to center stage squinting into the darkness and
candlelight) only for once they didn’t come through the door pushing each
other out of the way. They just stood there for a minute as if they weren’t sure
they were in the right place—because of the spotlights I guess and the church
being full of people. They looked like the people you see on the six o’clock
news—refuges in some strange ugly place, with all their boxes and sacks around
them. It suddenly occurred to me that this was just the way it must have been for
the real Holy Family, stuck away in a barn by people who didn’t much care what
happened to them. They couldn’t have been very neat and tidy either, but more
like this Mary and Joseph.
(Imogene burps the baby Jesus roughly)
Alice (to narrator): I don’t think it’s very nice to
burp the baby Jesus as if he had colic. Do you suppose he could have had colic?
Narrator: I didn’t know why not.
Anyway, next came Gladys from behind the angel choir pushing people out to the way
and stepping on everyone’s feet. (Gladys is sitting in the middle of the
family choir and stands up with a jolt) . Since Gladys was the only one in the
pageant who had anything to say she made the most of it.
Gladys: (shouting) Hey! Unto you a child is born!
Narrator: Then the Wise Men came in
Alice (to narrator): What have they got?
Narrator: I don’t know, but whatever it was it was heavy.
Leroy almost dropped it.
Alice (to narrator): I knew this would happen. I bet
it’s something awful. Like a burnt offering.
Narrator: Well, they did burn things,
but they hadn’t burnt this yet. It was a ham—and right away I knew where it
came from. My father was on the church charitable works committee—they gave away
food baskets at Christmas, and this was the Herdmans food-basket ham.
Alice (to narrator): I bet they stole that!
Narrator: The Herdmans had never
before in their lives given anything away except lumps on the head. So you had to
be impressed. When it was time for the Wise Men to leave, the Herdmans forgot or
didn’t want to or something, because they didn’t leave. They just sat there
and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it.
Alice (to narrator): They’re ruining the whole thing!
Narrator: As a matter of fact, it made
perfect sense for the Wise Men to sit down and rest. They had come a long way. As
for ruining the whole thing it seemed to me that the Herdmans had improved it a
lot just by doing what came naturally—like burping the baby, for instance, or
thinking a ham would make a better present than a lot of perfumed oil.
Lighting of the Third Candle
The Christmas Light of Love
(3 Wise Men):
At this time of giving gifts, lovingly
made and carefully chosen, at this time of sharing with one another that which is
deepest and dearest. Light in our hearts, the light of love (light the third
candle) Heal in our hearts the wounds of misunderstanding, mistakes and
regrets; help us to reach out with joy for the gifts which life and love offer us.
Sustain our hopes as we work together toward bringing everyone into the circle of
one human family.
Grant us, each one, a wise and
(After the third candle is lit, the wise men begin lighting
for the whole congregation, and Alice goes to help. Pianist plays while the
candlelight is passed. All lights now dimmed and people on platform light candles)
STORY PART V
Narrator: I almost wished for the
pageant to go on with the Herdmans in charge to see what else they would do that
was different. Maybe the Wise Men would tell Mary about their problems with Herod,
and she would tell them to go back and lie their heads off. Or Joseph might go
with them and get rid of Herod once and for all. I was so busy planning new ways
to save the baby Jesus that I didn’t notice Imogene at first. When I did I
almost dropped my hymn book on a baby angel. Imogene Herdman was crying. In the
candlelight her face was all shiny with tears and she didn’t even bother to wipe
them away. She just sat there—awful old Imogene—in her crookedy veil, crying
and crying and crying. I guess Christmas just came over her all at once, like a
case of chills and fever. And so she was crying.
CHRISTMAS HYMN # 251 Silent Night
Narrator: Well. It was the best
Christmas Pageant we ever had. Everybody said so, but nobody seemed to know why.
When it was over, people stood around the lobby of the church talking about it.
There was something special—they couldn’t put their finger on what.
Now, whenever I think of the Christmas
story, Mary is always going to look a lot like Imogene Herdman—sort of nervous
and bewildered, but ready to clobber anyone who lays a hand on her baby. And the
Wise Men are always going to be Leroy and his brothers, bearing ham.
When we came out of the church that
night it was cold and clear, with crunchy snow underfoot and bright, bright stars
overhead. And I thought about the Angel of the Lord—Gladys with her skinny legs
and her dirty sneakers sticking out from under her robe, yelling at all of us,
Gladys: Hey! Unto you a child is born!
RECESSIONAL HYMN(standing - lights come back up) # 245 Joy to the World