by Paul Gilbert
Ever heard the name Imogene Herdman? If you have, you're smiling. She's the oldest of six fictional siblings in the children's book, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” Barbara Park, the author, describes Imogene and her siblings in this way:
"They were the worst kids in the history of the world. They were just so all-around awful you could hardly believe they were real: Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys—six skinny, stringy-haired kids all alike except for being different sizes and having different black-and-blue places where they had clonked each other. We all just figured they were headed straight for hell, by way of the state penitentiary . . . until they got themselves mixed up with the church, and my mother, and our Christmas pageant."
Park tells the hilarious and grace-filled story of these six delinquent siblings, the Herdman’s, who go to church for the first time because they are told they will be served free snacks in Sunday School. While visiting, however, Imogene becomes enamored with her first hearing of the Christmas story and insists on starring roles for all her family in the traditional church pageant.
Church goers are very concerned about this hoodlum bunch mucking up the play, concerns that seem to be almost immediately born out. The Herdman kids start depicting the Nativity roles (angels, Joseph, Mary, shepherds, baby Jesus) not in the way that they are written into the play, but how the Herdman kids envisioned the characters actually behaving. In real life. In an ironic twist, the unconventional telling of the Christmas story “shocks” the church-goers back into the reality of what really happened 2,000 years ago. The Herdmans bring fresh sight and hearts to the narrative, and in turn, to the rest of the church.
I sometimes think we could use the same sort of shock treatment at Christmas time. The stories and circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ can be so familiar, so commonplace, so ordinary to us, that we can just sort of take them for granted. The Nativity Story is merely the backdrop to what we do every Christmas, like a decoration on a Christmas Parade float. Our familiarity can then breed a certain laziness, and the end result is that we can miss the very Wonder that makes these events live-giving and life-transforming.
Here’s what happens, though, when we take for granted the supernatural: we miss the foundational things that Matthew and Luke used to establish the very uniqueness of Jesus Christ. After all, if this was just a normal birth – what claims could we make that this baby was different from any other? If there really wasn’t anything particularly supernatural or miraculous about the birth of Christ, wouldn’t this just make Jesus just another prophet? Leader? Teacher?
The answer to these questions are, of course, “yes,” which is why I am asking God to help us here at Four Oaks to see these supernatural stories with fresh eyes this season. I want us to Recapture the Wonder. As part of the Advent season here at Four Oaks, we are hitting “pause” on our series in II Corinthians. This will give us the opportunity to spend three weeks talking about, “Wonder: Seeing the Supernatural in the Christmas Season” during our Sunday mornings together in December.
Scotty Smith, pastor/author/speaker, embodies perfectly in this prayer my heart for your heart:
“Gracious Father, Advent is upon us—the cherished season when we remember and celebrate the coming of Jesus, the promised Messiah, your beloved Son, our gracious Savior. Grant that it will prove to be much more than Advent-as-usual.
Surprise us, Father. Let us engage with the story of Jesus’ birth as though for the very first time. Rescue us from the sentimental and the predictable. Bring familiar Scriptures alive in fresh ways. Reshape how we do Christmas this year by the power of the gospel.” (Excerpt from “Everyday Prayers.”)
As your pastor, I anticipate sharing this awe-filled season of Advent with you. I look forward to seeing how God will speak to us in this sermon series together. I look forward to our fellowship at our Four Oaks Family Christmas party this Sunday night, 6 PM, at the Killearn Campus.
And by the way, if you think about it, invite a Herdman to join us too—It's the most wonderful time of the year to be introduced to the best story ever told.
"Hey! Unto you a Child is born!!"
Yes, Gladys Herdman, you are right.