The church in which I grew up did not do much for Christmas. We did not decorate the building with Christmas trees and all that. We did not do special Christmas Eve services. We did not do Christmas Pageants, so I was never subjected to that kind of torture. But I bet some of you were.
The problem with Christmas Pageants, as I see it, is that there are so few important parts. Obviously, there's the baby Jesus (which may or may not be played by a real, live baby -- depending on the availability of a newborn). Then there's Mary. And Joseph. The angels -- especially Gabriel. The three wise men. A multitude of shepherds (depending on how many boys your church had). And various barnyard animals.
Am I leaving anything out?
Again, the problem always seemed to be the lack of parts -- especially female parts -- especially in contrast to the fact that there were always more girls who wanted to be in the pageant than boys in the first place.
So, the organizers were often forced to make up parts to accommodate eager youngsters. How many shepherds could there be? How many angels? Maybe the Inn Keeper...and his wife...and his kids...and his extended family who were also there. Not everyone is going to get a speaking role. Some of the kids are just going to dress up and stand there. You can't all be the star of the show.
All of this brings up something I think is worth discussing. The New Testament opens by emphasizing a recurring them that runs through the Old Testament: This is God's story. He's been writing it since before the beginning. He accomplishes it through bizarre events, miraculous activity and unlikely people. It always exceeds our wildest expectations and stretches the limits of believability.
But make no mistake about this: It's his story -- not yours.
Mary and Joseph had dreams of their own -- dreams they'd been dreaming since before God started meddling in their business. They were modest dreams, to be sure, of raising nice kids and having a nice home.
And then God showed up and invited them into a larger story, a dangerous story, demanding more of their time and energy than they could have ever imagined. It promised a greater adventure than they could have found anywhere else, the kind of story worth living and dying for. Signing on to play a role in this story might be compelling, but it would be costly.
This means -- among other things -- that life is not all about you. Obviously, you're in there. You're significant. Your life has meaning and purpose and value and all that. But let's be honest about this: there's a much bigger story playing out around you.
In life, you have a couple of options. You can choose to be the star of your own story. It's a relatively small story with a miniscule budget, and you have to write, direct, produce, act and do all your own stunts.
It's exhausting just thinking about all that.
Or you can choose to play a supporting role in someone else's masterpiece. To be precise: God's story. His story has no beginning and no end; it has an unlimited budget, and the wrap party promises to be something we can't even begin to imagine.
The only problem is you don't get to be the star.
Of course, it's a much better story, and -- because there's someone else writing, producing and directing this thing -- you won't end up running yourself ragged and driving everyone around you insane.
The greater the story, the larger the narrative, the more able it is to withstand the hardships, the more likely it is to answer the foundational questions that keep us up at night. Where did we come from? Where are we going? How are we to live in the meantime?
Turns out, nothing less than this big story will really satisfy your deepest longings. What we find when we allow our stories to be absorbed into God's larger narrative is that we can imbed our time into eternity.
So, the choice is yours. Do you want to star in your own little show? Or are you willing to play a supporting role in the greatest story ever told?