It was the miracle of miracles. Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Unfortunately, at the time, Mary and Joseph weren't there for the blessed event. They were still riding on a donkey looking for a room.
Church Christmas pageants are always full of surprises, but usually they come from the kids onstage, not from the director. There I was, directing the Bethany Lutheran Church Christmas pageant and I got caught up in the spirit of Christmas.
Joseph had just brought Mary into the gym on their donkey, a kitchen cart covered with a safety-pinned replica of the friendly beast. The drapes on the stage opened, and there were all the kids dressed as angels, shepherds, townspeople and wise women (no boys wanted to take on the three kings). As their voices lifted in the sweet sounds of "Away in a Manger" I said, "Bring in the baby Jesus."
With all eyes on 5-month-old Maya McQuillan, I thought to myself, "This is what Christmas is all about."
Then I looked down at my script and noticed that Mary and Joseph next went to the inn looking for a room. The baby was supposed to arrive on the reprise of "Away in the Manger."
Christmas pageants are stressful, but they are full of rewards. Miraculously, kids who didn't know their lines on Saturday, knew them on Sunday. Kids who sang quietly before, sang out in performance. Others who had fidgeted during the rehearsals seemed transfixed during the final nativity.
Before the pageant everyone was in a frenzy.
Questions flew at record speed.
"Mrs. King, have you had breakfast? Do you need some of my jelly beans?"
"Mrs. King, where is my halo?"
"Mrs. King, when do I bring in the donkey?"
"Mrs. King, can I give you a hug?"
"Mrs. King, do you know that your breath smells like watermelon?"
At that point sound man, Ryan Pieratt chimed in.
"You only have to worry if your breath smells like almonds," he said.
I might have consumed a watermelon-flavored jelly bean, but I was pretty sure that none of them were laced with cyanide.
Owen Schuster played the part of Joseph and had to hear the words, "No room at the inn."
Had he been the innkeeper, he says, he would not have turned them away; if it happened today he would help them.
"I'd give (Mary and Joseph) a tent and sleeping bags and build a fire so they can roast marshmallows," said the creative sixth-grader.
It seemed like that didn't differ much from a stable.
"We could invite them in," said his sister, Molly, tentatively -- a fourth-grader who knew they weren't supposed to invite strangers into their home.
"We could put them in the basement," said Owen, "It's finished now and everything and we could still have marshmallows."
The pageant wasn't lost on the three wise women, Kersten McQuillan, Joslyn Klitzke and Sarah Gillerlain, who agreed to take on the roles when no boys would.
"I really don't see why girls couldn't have been the wise men," said Kersten, a second grader.
"Girls are just as smart as boys," said Joslyn, a fourth-grader.
When I asked what gifts they would bring to the baby Jesus, all three girls thought long and hard about treasures that they would share. None offered iPods, American Girl dolls or younger siblings.
"I have some family pictures that are special and I could give my Bible, for stories for him," said Kersten. "It's a Sparks (kids) Bible."
Joslyn was equally as giving.
"I would give him my special blanket to keep him warm," she said. "I've had it for a long time. I can't sleep without it."
Without knowing what Joslyn had said, Sarah, a fifth-grader, made a similar offering.
"I would give my pink blanket, it's very special."
I am reminded of the line from the children's song,"What Can I Give Him Poor As I Am?" All three girls had heartfelt answers about what to give the Christ child and offered things that they would miss.
In the song the reference to the wise men (or women) is:
"If I were a wise man,
I would do my part,
What can I give Him,
I'd give my heart.
Have a Merry Christmas!