Processed with MOLDIVThis Christmas Eve our family was blessed with a wonderful nativity play, perhaps the best nativity play ever… It was performed in our church in South Germany. The church was packed with people, just as Bethlehem was at the time of the census of Caesar Augustus. It took some time to quiet down, until everyone could listen to the church bells, before the service and play was supposed to start. The play was entitled “The Rehearsal”. It actually was about the Sunday School children’s final practice of the traditional nativity play.

The choire room of our church just looked like every year – the nativity scene was prepared with stacks of hay, a self-built manger made of wood, an inn’s door created out of painted cardboard. Even the stars were shining above all, setting the stage appropriately for the holy night. The play began with the announcement of the rehearsal by the Sunday school teachers, who were acting as directors of the play, or the rehearsal. They instructed the actors – children of all ages – to give a good performance and make it really smooth for the final practice.

But what did the churchgoers or the audience actually get to hear, and to see, during the rehearsal? First of all, the ox and donkey started talking to each other… Who of them had the most favourite part to play? The donkey, carrying Mary on its back? Or the ox that was allowed to be close to baby Jesus besides the manger? Why do these animals even appear in the stable – they are not mentioned in the Gospels? But the directors soon ushered the actors to take their positions, and be still, just play and enact their parts for the rest of the rehearsal.

Then Mary and Joseph came onto the scene, with Mary jumping for joy down the church’s hallway. The directors cut the scene.
“Mary, you have to walk the alley in a way showing that you are truly tired and worn-out… Let’s try it again!”
“Yes, I will try, but I’m so joyful now, for soon my baby will be born. Jesus will be born. And we will celebrate Christmas at home in our family too. I just can’t be weary and heavy-laden…”
The other actors nodded with understanding and asked, “how far did Mary and Joseph had to travel anyway? Were they really tired?”
“No questions. Quiet. Quiet. Let’s concentrate on the play.” The directors didn’t allow any questions. “Let’s get through this really smoothly now. Come on, let’s rehearse this part again.”

And so the rehearsal of the nativity play went on. The churchgoers and audience listened and watched carefully what was going on. The children performed the traditional scenes according to the Biblical story, but every once in a while they came to a halt and pondered about the wonder happening around and being enacted by them, and they asked why things went as they went, or why they had to go as directed by the Sunday School teachers. The teachers got evermore annoyed and rushed things through.

Until the turning point, which occurred at the time of the appearance of the third innkeeper who was supposed to refuse shelter for Mary and Joseph in his guesthome. At first he didn’t quite respond to the couple in a convincing way. “I cannot offer a room for you. Go, and look somewhere else.” He said it actually half-heartedly and in a slow, depressed voice. As he was interrupted and corrected by one of the directors, he tried to act his part again. Yet this time he said, “Everything is fully booked. But If I were to decide, I would even offer you my bed and sleep on the floor myself.”

That caused a big laugh and almost an applause in the church. But things on stage got even more confused, for a little while at least, as the innkeeper didn’t want to play his part anymore. Eventually one of the Sunday School teachers stopped the rehearsal. They announced that now there would be time for questions after all. Everyone – Mary and Joseph, the angels and shepherds sat down in the church choire. Even the directors. Then the pastor, who was to arrive on time for the service, appeared on the scene.

During the next scenes of the rehearsal the children were allowed to ask what they had on their minds. Now everyone in the church got to hear that the ox and donkey were mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah, and metaphorically speak of people who refuse to understand and follow God’s truth: they hear but do not listen, nor act according to God’s revelations and decrees. The ox and donkey were then later in history introduced into nativity plays in order to make people aware of this part of the human condition, and to respond appropriately to the good news. What a strong message!

The round of questions went on. We got to know the answers to the travel distance that Mary and Jospeh had to walk to Bethlehem, that no-one really needs to fear as the shepherds did (at least for a little while), once the angels had appeared to them on the fields and proclaimed the Saviour’s birth. That Jesus came lowly into this world, to meet the poor, the needy and to lift sinners from the darkness into the light of his presence, just as some time later the magi or wise men were led by the Christmas star to meet Jesus. That Christ himself became a refugee soon after his birth due to persecution by King Herod, and that he was given refuge in Egypt. And so should we today encounter refugees, just as Jesus would do as well. Many more questions got answered, and eventually the nativity play or rehearsal was performed to its usual end.

For our family (and I reckon for many more churchgoers, or perhaps even you?) the rehearsal was a good reminder for Christmas: to have a child-like spirit when it comes to understanding Christ and our relationship with him. To not merely perform or enact our lives as human beings or Christian believers, but to get our act together and find convincing answers what Jesus really means to us and the world we are living in. (BF)


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