The children are doing the Gospel reading tomorrow, and we’ve taken Luke’s telling of the Nativity and broken it into narration and dialogue.
We practiced today, and before we began, I told them they were the perfect ones to tell this upside-down story of an upside-down King ushering in his upside-down kingdom.
Kings generally want power and riches and comfort, I said.
But Jesus, King of the universe, kept saying things like, “I came to serve” and “I offer my life,” and his first bed was a feeding trough for animals and his first sight as a human was a poor girl’s face and maybe, if any of the nativity scenes are correct, the giant nose of a cow. The fancy presents didn’t appear till later and they came just in time to fund a run-for-your-literal-life escape to Egypt.
I finished my pretty speech, and one child raised his hand.
“Yes?” I told him, and he asked, “Can I have a big part?”
And I grinned at this unabashed display of human nature, so straight-up contrary to all the words I’d just spoken—because it was oh, so honest! And oh, so real!
Then we began, and though the rehearsal was chock-full of loud boys and stumbled lines, and missed cues,
And there was no strong sense that tomorrow would go off without a hitch or three,
There were some moments of deep beauty,
And when it was over, I could tell a child, with genuine sincerity,
“You are supposed to be Elizabeth, because when you held that baby doll oh, so gently, it did something to my heart.”
I could shrug and laugh when asked, “Well, how do you think they will do tomorrow?”
Because the upside-down-ness of the Kingdom must be embraced, despite all our tendencies to do otherwise.
If we’d planned the Nativity, it certainly wouldn’t have taken place in a stable, with rough-and-tumble shepherds as its witnesses (and if God had insisted they play a large part, at least they would have bathed). We would have had the wise men come that first night to provide some glitz and sparkle—wait, we do that!—some importance and sophistication to the occasion…
It’s a challenge to stay upside-down, to say, like Mary, “Let it be … just as the Lord has said,” to be emboldened, like the shepherds with their uncultured ways and uneducated language, to share the crazy story even when it doesn’t seem like we’re the best, most polished messengers.
So read tomorrow, children.
As upside-down messengers
Of the King laid in the manger,
the King nailed to the cross.
Our right-side-up God.