Do you know the Herdmans? Six unruly, unsupervised children who steal, smoke cigars, and set fire to small buildings? If you’ve read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, then you’ll know that these mischievous kids are the unlikely messengers for the good news of the Christmas story.
This year, for various reasons, I decided I needed to read the book, so each night this week I have settled my kids down from their holiday hyperactivity by gathering them together to listen to a chapter from Robinson’s comical yet touching novel for children.
When the Herdmans show up at church looking for free cake and kool-aide, they learn about the annual Christmas pageant and decide to bully their way into all of the main parts. But once rehearsals begin, it’s obvious that the children have never heard the Christmas story, and that’s when the magic starts.
As these brazen youngsters express profound compassion for Mary’s plight and outrage at King Herod’s deceit, they give pause to those of us who have heard the story multiple times and have perhaps grown complacent about its implications. They make us wonder, what would have happened if the Wise Men had returned to Herod, as instructed?
And so, unexpectedly, by the end of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the wild Herdman children make us see, in a new light, the beauty and miracle of the Christmas story as they discover its wonder for the first time. As so often in the Bible, it’s the people who make us the most uncomfortable who have the most important message for us.
At the beginning of Advent, my pastor encouraged the members of our parish to look generously for the good in others, as it would increase the good in each of us. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever illustrates, with simplicity and humor, how we can find beauty and goodness in the most unlikely places. I hope you will find it, and share it, this holiday season.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!