Saturday, January 03, 2009

Christmas Vignettes III: The Christmas Play

I think I wrote my first Christmas play when I was in seventh grade. It was a modern retelling of the Christmas story, in which Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem in a beat-up Ford Pinto and rapping angels appeared to some professional dog-walkers to announce the holy birth. It was probably a little stronger on entertainment than inspiration, but our little church didn't see to mind.

My next attempts followed in ninth and tenth grades. For those two plays, I was the writer, casting director, music coordinator, choreographer and director. The other kids in our church graciously went along with my demands on their time and talents. In those days, I was the boss--or so I thought.

Well, fast forward twelve years and ferry across the river from Virginia to Maryland to arrive at...

Covenant Life's 2008 Christmas production. It was a little different from my adolescent experiences, I am grateful to report.

For one thing, we started in March. Or was it February? A small team of "creative" people, led by one of our pastors, began meeting before the arrival of spring to plan for the coming winter. We talked, prayed, brainstormed, listened to Christmas music... and started scribbling. I had two co-writers, both extremely gifted people with experience and wisdom that far surpass my own.

The writing process was long and somewhat arduous. If you're familiar with play or screenwriting, you'll be able to imagine the volume of stuff that got written and then trashed, the ideas that we began to develop and then discarded. And once we finally had something that resembled a full script, there was the editing. Oh, my, I honestly thought that the editing for this play would never be over.

But then, at last, it was. And we had a play, entitled "What Child Is This?". Largely made up of scenes from the gospel of John, it was an attempt to help people make a connection. We wanted to remind folks that the baby Jesus in the manger was also the man Jesus on the Cross. It's easy to get caught up in the sentimental, the picturesque at Christmastime. That's what I used to do. Back when I wrote those first Christmas plays, for example. A little baby sleeping on a bed of hay. Awwww, warm fuzziness. It's easy to forget that the reason Jesus came was to die for sinners. We wanted to help people remember that Christmas is about the gospel. I do hope we succeeded.

Cathy Mays, whom I have mentioned before, oversaw the whole creative process and directed the show. She's an outstanding director who, for the past few years, has mostly done our high school productions. But this year, I finally had the chance to work under her as an actor. Yep, I got to be in the cast, as well as writing. It was soooo much fun to have a director to challenge me, forcing me to think and stretch and grow as an actor! I don't think that has happened since college.

It was also fun to do a production with my husband again. It's not like we had a lot of interaction during rehearsals, since I was on stage and he was usually sitting behind the sound booth, but at least we were in the same room! It was special for both of us to be serving together at Christmastime.

(I also got to stand next to my Daddy for one song and sing with him! That was super too.)

And none of it would have been possible without my mother, who should have been listed in the program as "Grandchild Sitter Extraordinaire." With very few exceptions, Mom kept our kids for every meeting and every rehearsal and every performance I attended, from March right through Christmas Eve. That play wouldn't have been the same if not for her sacrificial service to our family and our church. Thanks, Momma!

Mom brought Meg to the first service/performance on December 23rd. She held our girl on her lap in the second row as Meg provided a running commentary through the entire evening. (I'm sure this was a blessing to our senior pastor and his family, who were seated immediately in front of Meg.) But it was the first dramatic presentation Meg ever sat through, so if that was as bad as it got, she did amazingly well. (I understand that she did get upset when Lazarus came out of the grave, but only for a moment.)

On Christmas Eve, during the final moments of the final show, I was backstage watching the video monitor. On stage, one of my favorite moments was happening. The audience understands that Jesus has just been crucified. Mary, the mother of Jesus, Jesus' disciple John, and a few other witnesses to the crucifixion are on stage. Then a group of men carries Jesus' lifeless body on stage and lays him so that his head rests in his mother's lap. As Mary rocks her son's limp form gently in her arms, another, younger Mary appears above her, standing beside a manger, rocking her firstborn son. She sings:

Sleep, Son of God
We'll watch in awe
You'll fulfill the Father's plan
Reconciling God and man
Now your promises to keep
Must sleep

Sovereign One, born as Mary's Son
Prince of Peace
One day, you'll deliver me
Deliver me
But now sleep...

I watched the scene unfold from backstage. I watched the younger Mary marveling over the child in her arms, wondering at his future. I watched the older Mary experiencing the terrible reality of her Son's death, an event that she never would have imagined. I had watched that moment many times before in rehearsals. I had pictured it even more times during the writing process. I was there in the meeting when the idea for that moment began to take shape. Despite all that, I was moved to tears, watching it happen that night as if it was the very first time. Because it wasn't just a scene in a play. And it wasn't something that Cathy or Drew or I dreamed up. It--the crucifixion of Jesus Christ--was something that really happened. It was an idea conceived by God in eternity past, an astonishing, scandalous plan to save a cursed race. (It is the reason that there are any churches in existence to do Christmas plays!)

It is the reason for Christmas.

1 comment:

Will and Sena said...

Yes, yes, yes!!!! I was so grateful to be able to watch with the rest of the audience all the hard work you and so many others put into this show. Thank you for using your gifts to further the Gospel! It was simply amazing!!!

(And that Nicodemus guy was pretty spectacular if I do say so myself...)