Read-aloud at the Rogers house the last few nights has been The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson. It's a hilarious story about a family of juvenile delinquents named Herdman who hijack a church's Christmas pageant to the shock and horror of all the nice people who have always run the show. The girl who plays the part of Mary smokes cigars in the church bathroom. Half the shepherds want to quit out of sheer terror of the Angel of the Lord. Never having been to church, the Herdmans know nothing about the story they're acting out. But as they act it out, a couple of things happen. First, they strip away all the sentimentality that clouds the significance of the Nativity. The rag-tagginess of the original Christmas comes to life in the Herdmans' off-the-mark interpretation. And second, as the Herdmans experience the Christmas story for the first time, they are moved in ways that the church kids never have been. They get it wrong in a dozen different ways, but they are deeply affected by a story story that is just water off a duck's back for their self-righteous peers. I have the occasional quibble with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever; but I love the fact that it shocks the reader. The Christmas story is supposed to be a shocking. To sentimentalize the story, to make it sweet and palatable, is to strip it of much of its power. By the way, this is why I love Andrew Peterson's song "Labor of Love," sung like an angel by Jill Phillips on Behold the Lamb of God, my favorite Christmas album ever. Here's the first stanza and chorus:
It was not a silent night There was blood on the ground You could hear a woman cry In the alleyways that night On the streets of David's town
And the stable was not clean And the cobblestones were cold And little Mary full of grace With the tears upon her face Had no mother's hand to hold
It was a labor of pain It was a cold sky above But for the girl on the ground in the dark With every beat of her beautiful heart It was a labor of love.
Anyway, that brings us to the audience participation portion of our program. What are some of your favorite Christmas stories (besides THE Christmas Story), and why?