We promote them in my parish as “Advent Pageants,” but the idea I have in mind is really more aligned with mystery plays for the modern day. One of our parishioners and I spent some of Sunday afternoon last week giving some focus to our December 15th event. Last week’s print bulletin primed the pump a bit, courtesy of a question fielded by one of my staff colleagues:
Why (don’t we) have a traditional Christmas pageant like other churches?
We’ve made a conscious choice to honor the separate natures of the Advent season (Nov 28th this year until Christmas Eve) and the Christmas season (Christmas Eve through January 9th this year). In Advent we anticipate with joy the coming of Christ our savior. Christmas is the full flowering of that joy, celebrating not only the Nativity, but also the other stories of the infancy narratives: the visit of the Magi, the dedication of Jesus in the temple, Jesus’ adventure in the Temple at age 12.
While the business world markets Christmas as a commodity, and does so with vigor by Halloween, we’ve chosen differently. We do have a “traditional” event with younger children and their families on Epiphany. But for our older children, we’ve chosen to highlight the themes of Advent: waiting, hopefulness, and preparation. Last year’s effort focused on the Israelite experience of longing for the Messiah, and was based mainly on the Old Testament. Two years ago, we looked at the theme of “Ne Timeas.” Don’t be afraid: how many times God reassured people not to fear, that their deliverance was at hand.
This year’s theme is “Saints Point To Christ,” and will explore a few saints who are celebrated in December, and why their lives and faith witness align well with the notion of Advent as a time of joyful expectation for the coming of the Lord. Our Advent pageants look less to what modern schools and churches do, and more to the medieval tradition of the Mystery Play, in which some theme of the Bible or Christian history is acted out in word and in song.
Saint Francis’ legendary innovation, the Christmas creche, is the springboard for this year’s effort. Through his dreams, he recalls the Blessed Mother, the archangel Gabriel, Elizabeth, Lucy, Nicholas, and their role in demonstrating the example of virtue and faith to others. We even jump ahead five centuries from Francis to the story of the Virgin of Suyapa to connect with our sister parish in Honduras. (I still have to figure out some logic to that inclusion.)
What tremendous fun to link Scriptures with each of these saints, and align them more clearly to point to Christ. Now, it’s off to the parish to finish the script and finalize some music today.