“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, NKJV).
Immanuel means God is with us.
As Christmas drew near, my Church decided to stage its first children’s pageant. We hoped to write a script and reenact a play that would vibrate with the truth about the Lord coming in human form to be “God with us.”
With limited resources, our team pieced together a simple production. We painted a cardboard donkey and added hay bales to the stage front. My assistant created sheep costumes from white shirts and batting; she used blue and brown remnants to clothe Mary and Joseph. The innkeeper and shepherds wore headpieces cut from a simple sheet. I covered large candy canes with brown paper for shepherd staffs. And a skilled dad created a manger from scrap wood.
As the story came together, I was concerned that it portrayed an all-too docile nativity story. How can the truth of God being born among us be calm and ordinary??? The Lord of heaven gave His infant Son into the care of a teenager! The first people who heard the message were shepherds! The King of kings was born in a stable beside barnyard animals! Everything about Jesus’ entrance to the world was humble and unusual.
When the morning of the play arrived, the children donned their costumes; excited families gathered for the reenactment. Baby Jesus was safely hidden onstage behind the hand-built manger. My co-lead crouched in front of the children with an extra script, intending to prompt anyone with a “deer in the headlights” look.
As the narrator read Isaiah 7:14, a sense of awe washed upon everyone. That solemn feel broke the moment Mary and Joseph stepped on stage in their cute outfits hauling a cardboard donkey. In spite of costume mishaps and children walking the wrong direction, our Church family was engaged. We relived the nativity story: Mary and Joseph heeded the angel’s words and traveled to Bethlehem; the innkeeper turned them away. The innkeeper turned them away, Baby Jesus was born, and the shepherds saw a “host” of angels. Everything was going pretty well!
The sheep and shepherds traveled to see baby Jesus from off stage. Suddenly, a precious three-year-old (one of the sheep) saw the cute doll lying in the manger. She scooped “Baby Jesus” into her little arms and trotted offstage, cuddling the doll closely. The audience responded with giggles and suppressed laughter as our unpolished production became even more so. The narrator chuckled briefly, but continued speaking.
Mary and one of the shepherds quickly realized the gravity of the situation—the doll must get into the manger! They both soundlessly disappeared in the little girl’s direction.
The final scene called for all the characters to sit around Baby Jesus—which at the moment stood empty. Offstage, the little sheep was wandering aimlessly. Mary and the shepherd walked up to the little girl and whispered in her ear and gently guided her back to the stage. The little girl, still embracing the doll, agreed to return to the stage. The little shepherd herded “lost sheep” to the center of activity. She carefully placed the doll into the manger. All the characters promptly gathered around Baby Jesus.
The narrator concluded: Jesus came in an unusual way; a simple way. Mary and Joseph agreed to be a part of God’s plan. Jesus was born in a stable. God announced the birth of His Son to simple shepherds. That Infant was Immanuel, “God with Us.” He would be the Savior who would invite all people to come into His fold.
With laughter, applause, and more than a few tears, the audience rose to its feet. Our photographer captured it all. Somehow, simple costumes, a kidnapped baby, a wayward sheep, and a good shepherd demonstrated the true Christmas message. God’s timeless truth resounded clearly to everyone present. God is with us!
“For today, in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” —Luke 2:11
Christmas Download: Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem