A pageant is neither play nor parade. In a pageant, amateurs take on the role of beloved characters to enact sacred drama. Christian “players” throughout history have consisted of everyone from the butcher to the parish priest, taking on “roles” from Christ himself to the lofty Kings of the East visiting the Christ child. Pageantry means creative participation, using one’s whole heart and imagination to enter into the Story of God rather than simply reflecting on it or analyzing it theoretically from afar. While we have relegated the idea of pageantry mostly to children, likely because we are afraid of damaging our dignity, pageantry affords us the opportunity to engage the sacred with our imaginations, which encompasses both our hearts and our minds in a unique way. Pageantry does not mean perfect, polished performances, but instead sincerity and a diligent effort to participate to the utmost of our ability in the narrative God has taught us to value. Each person receives a “role” and does their best to play the part.
As proven by the astounding beauty of stained glass and flying buttresses, medieval Christians understood that imagination and beauty play an essential role in our worship. While analysis and obedience have their important place, God even meets us most richly in story and symbol, where we “fill in the blanks”, so to speak, with our knowledge of God’s character and our understanding of our own emotional response. In modern times, pageantry is an indignity only embraced by children in their home-made, cumbersome costumes and with their stuttering lines. But medieval Christians understood that to play a part, to pretend, is not only an act of humility but a way to heighten our understanding of Scripture and our empathy and admiration for those who have proceeded us in this Redemption History.
This year, we propose the process of embracing our amateur “actor” (resisting the impulse to have our intellects applauded) and awakening our imagination, to bring new personal meaning and insight to the Christmas story. By focusing on the “voices” of the people involved in the Christmas story and pretending the experience is our own, we will see our own responses to Christ revealed to us.
Plunge in. Get creative. Write, sing, draw or create a script. Sign up for a role and contact firstname.lastname@example.org, the “pageant director” with further questions about content. E-mail your finished piece to email@example.com for posting.
Sign up for one of the following, or e-mail with your own alternative idea. Write a piece for the person (or thing!). Attempt to use first person or at the very least focus quite closely on their “part” of the Christmas Drama. Don’t be afraid; this is imaginative, not theological discourse and not high art. Do some research, ponder and reflect from an unusual angle as an exercise. You’re human too – so you can guess what many of these characters would have to say. Imagine yourself in their position of the story and how you might respond and the ways in which that reflects upon us as well as our Savior.
Friends of Zachariah/Elizabeth
the infant John? If you're feeling bold. : )
Friend(s) of Mary or Joseph
Wise Man 1 (traditionally Gaspar)
Wise Man 2 (traditionally Melchior)
Wise Man 3 (traditionally Balthazar)
the Christ-child (if you're feeling bold)
"Moments" of Advent rather than roles
Journey to Bethlehem
Flight to Egypt
Announcements to the Shepherds
Visitation of the Magi
These are by no means perfect examples nor the expected, but they give an idea of what it is like to assume a “voice” and use imagination to heighten meaning.
Examples of the Pageant Idea:
Annunciation by Denise Levertov
T.S. Eliot's Journey of the Magi
The playful approach - (notice the dialect)
U.A. Fanthorpe's "Sheep Dog"
Herod's fears manifest (with plenty of sophistry), in W.H. Auden's play For the Time Being
Frankly, there is not enough of this out there that is quality. Any sort of first person, artfully crafted reflection would be very welcome to drown out the swarms of mediocre and cliche "monologues" available for churches to download.
Amy Grant's "Breath of Heaven" (It's STILL awesome, okay?!)
"We Three Kings"
"The Friendly Beasts"