Have you noticed how children’s Christmas plays almost always bring laughter, whether intentionally or not?
Bill Muehl was a professor at Yale Divinity School for 20 years. I once heard him tell the story of a Christmas pageant that was put on at his church. The play included two Virgin Marys, three Josephs, five wise men, a cluster of little angels, and a pack of little shepherds. Bill’s six-year-old son was one of the shepherds.
Everything went smoothly in rehearsals. At the performance, the two Virgin Marys took their places and were as beautiful as two little girls could be. The three Josephs held their positions like statues. The five wise men approached regally. The radiant angels took their places.
Then came the shepherds, and chaos broke out.
The shepherds treated the angels in ways no one ever treated angels before. Little girls were being tossed around the stage. Bill Muehl recognized the six-year-old voice that rose above it all.
“All these stupid angels have hidden my cross!”
The flowery gowns of the angels, which had not been worn in rehearsal, had draped over the marks where the shepherds were supposed to stand.
Something like that always happens during the holidays. You plan for perfection, and you get, well, humanity.
The truth is that we are humans, and we often need to be (gently) reminded that the stress of life and the intricacies of our tumultuous relationships are quite small in the grand scheme of things.
The good news is that the Christmas story itself is packed full of those lessons.
1. We learn that the angels worshiped.
Most of the accounts in the Bible of angels appearing describe just one angel bringing a message. Luke 2 also begins with one angel, but soon a “multitude of heavenly host” appeared. They were a congregation, a community whose job was to worship God. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those he favors!” We sing these words in countless forms during the Christmas season. Notice that they connect God’s glory to the quality of life God wants us to experience—peace.
2. We learn that the shepherds worshiped.
The angels left and the shepherds shot off to Bethlehem, where they found Jesus with Mary and Joseph. They could not keep from flapping their lips with the good news! Luke tells us they went back to their sheep “glorifying and praising God.” The shepherds had a new purpose now. It’s a great picture of how an encounter with God’s glory infuses new energy into our lives.
3. We learn that the wise men worshiped.
Jesus was a little older by the time the wise men finished their long journey from the east and found Jesus with his mother in a house in Bethlehem. Matthew tells us they “knelt down and paid him homage.” Then they gave their famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The wise men were people of action, not just words. They went to great lengths to find out what that rising star meant. Their homage, or worship, called them out of their ordinary routines and into deeper meaning in a life with God.
All of these lessons point to one thing: that worship is good for our health. It draws us into community with others and reminds us that God’s story is bigger than our story. Research links attending religious services with better mental and physical health and suggests that personal spiritual practices may reduce stress—and thus all the physical manifestations of stress.
Now it’s our turn to worship and discover a picture of what God wants for the world. It’s our turn to worship and find renewed energy. It’s our turn to worship and journey into lives of deeper significance.
May God meet you in your Christmas journey this year.