I attended a Christmas pageant at my local church yesterday. At first I was really impressed with the singing and dance steps the group of grade school kids performed. But then the story emerged.
In this Christmas tale, the town mayor canceled the Christmas pageant within the pageant because of traffic concerns, but the play made it clear he was worried about losing votes from parties offended by Christmas. The kids have worked hard and decide to go caroling and a’lobbying their neighbors to call the mayor to get the pageant back on in the town square.
At various houses we meet the people who celebrate Christmas, but don’t care about the reason for the season. After being turned down for help by one couple, a child remarks, “I don’t understand it. They have lights and decorations and everything. I thought they liked Christmas.” Another child responds, “They don’t have a problem with Christmas. They just have a problem with Christ.” A little more pointed than poignant, I thought.
Finally, the kids visit a house that is not decorated at all. The woman who comes out says she didn’t put up lights because she has two small children and her husband is away in the military. She loves Christmas for the right reasons and is thrilled by their visit.
Guess what, the pageant is on again. The last lady visited was the mayor’s daughter and he can’t turn her down. He is so touched by the Christmas pageant he is going to be in it next year as a wise man!
What troubled me about all this is that instead of straightforwardly celebrating the Christmas story, the local church turned Christmas into an affair of church, state, and political action. Second, instead of winsomely reaching out to those who don’t believe, this tale impugns their motives and seeks to overcome them through lobbying. Third, the words of this rather arch play are put into the mouths of young children. I felt as though they were instruments of some strange reverse Soviet propaganda.
There’s a lesson here that shouldn’t be ignored. Sure, you can lose the message of Christmas by giving in to consumerism and Santa Claus and colored lights, but you can also lose it by worrying too much about whether you’re getting your due in the public square.