Unforgettable Christmas Pageants.

CW Camel Xmas.jpg
Unforgettable Christmas Pageants.

There’s a Christmas Pageant Videocirculating on YouTube this season that shows a camel named Lulu Bell walking down the aisle of First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Fla. Lulu Bell, following the script, stops to kneel.

And that’s when mayhem ensues.

As Lulu Bell begins to rise from her knees, the trainer (with the traditional Christmas pageant bathrobe on) tries to restrain her before she rolls sideways onto two church pews, throwing one of the Magi tumbling onto the hapless attendees seated below.

The church says no one was injured when the 1,000-pound beast toppled over, but animal rights activists are up in arms. Lulu Bell was cut from the show, and people across the land are remembering mishaps in their childhood church pageants.

This is mine.

When I was a child and my father was a pastor in Fullerton, Calif., the good folks of the church decided to produce a living nativity in front of our church on Commonwealth Avenue.

For a few weeks, we all took turns playing the characters in the nativity story. Boys in bathrobes posed as shepherds and little girls with hokey homemade wings fluttering in the breeze were the angelic hosts. Rotating Josephs with fake beards and Virgin Marys with a doll in the manger filled out the cast.

But the real star of the show was a live donkey named Jack that
wandered around munching hay, braying and pooping.

As cars drove by, passengers were eager to witness the holy spectacle, but seemed most interested in the antics of the donkey. Mary Jane, the producer, was quite distraught each time Jack relieved himself, but the boys in bathrobes found it the high point of the evening. Cars slowed down each time this most natural of acts was visited upon our reenactment of the holiest of history’s most miraculous

It may be true that donkeys have worked together with humans for millennia, but Jack had a mind of his own and was a master of improvisation. This became absolutely clear one night when Jack got loose and started to trot down Commonwealth Avenue.

According to Wikipedia, donkeys pose a risk in the wild, “defending themselves with a powerful kick of their hind legs as well as by biting and striking with their front hooves.” Jack didn’t seem interested in biting or kicking; he was more of a leisurely-stroll-down-Commonwealth kind of donkey.

Donkeys have larger ears than horses, and theoretically hear sounds that are not easily discerned by humans. Either Jack’s ears were small or Jack was deaf, because he didn’t seem to hear Mary Jane’s wild screams as she chased Jack down Commonwealth Avenue, followed by wise men and shepherds in bathrobes laughing hysterically as we ran merrily behind.

They say donkeys have a lifespan of 30 to 50 years, but if Mary Jane
had had her way, Jack would have met his maker that very night.

Everybody has their memorable pageant and this was mine, but it does seem odd that almost every pageant includes mishaps and mayhem or one sort of the other. Perhaps it’s because pageants so often include children and animals _ the two types of cast members that actors are warned to avoid.

But I wonder if there is something deeper going on here.

In the original Christmas story, the newborn baby Jesus spends the night in a dirty feeding trough because there were was no room in the inn. Bethlehem was a backwater town crowded with travelers who had come to register for the census. The inn probably rocked with late-night revelry as Jesus lay in a manger, surrounded by the beasts of burden that had carried the travelers to their destination.

When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, God stepped into our mess. It was most certainly not a Silent Night. It seems fitting that our attempts to sanitize the story are regularly upset by camels rolling into pews and donkeys wandering down Commonwealth Avenue, chased by boys in bathrobes.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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