From the November/December, 2010 issue of Touchstone

Nativity Players by Rebecca Sicree

Nativity Players

Rebecca Sicree on the New Adventures of the Baby Jesus

Baby Jesus has had adventures that I never imagined. I learned some of them from my son John last Christmas. “I was telling Helena about Baby Jesus,” he informed me. John was four, and his sister Helena was three.

“There were two animals with him,” John went on. An ox and an ass, I thought fondly, or perhaps a lamb and a dove.

With ten children, I should have known better.

“They were a fox and a bear. They wanted to eat Baby Jesus,” John continued, “but Superman saved him. Then Santa Claus came and gave Baby Jesus presents.” John paused. “There was a lot of other stuff, but I forgot it.”

An Action-Packed Thriller

Seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child doesn’t always show you what you expect. Adults sometimes confuse how they think of children with how children actually think. Just because we see children as sweet and innocent does not mean that children see the world that way. Even the story of sweet and innocent Baby Jesus.

My own children, for example, see the Christmas story as an action-packed thriller. This became obvious the December they had eight parts in three pageants at our parish. This was no mean feat, I assure you, especially since we only had seven children at the time. But my children were not exhausted at all. Instead they were inspired.

Apparently three pageants were not enough.

Large families, of course, can put on Christmas pageants without any outside help. I myself did not realize this until I noticed the Blessed Virgin Mary, swathed in baby blankets, riding a donkey through my living room. (I assume it was a donkey; it may possibly have been a camel. I do not know which because the gentle beast, played by a four-foot-high stuffed Brontosaurus, had no speaking part.)

The pageant then skipped to the action, the Flight into Egypt, which quickly became a high-speed chase.

“Not in my kitchen,” I said, barring the path.

Saint Joseph veered aside. “Look out for Herod’s wife!” he cried.

“Who does that make me?” my husband asked. He sighed. “They are in no danger,” he told me. “There are no Holy Innocents in this house anyway.”

The Flight into Egypt

In true Hollywood fashion, my children’s next pageant skipped the Nativity altogether and began with the Flight into Egypt. It also showed more artistic license. For example, Joseph, far from being the Man of Silence of the Gospels, appeared as a military strategist in the spirit of his forefather, David:

JOSEPH : Let’s see the pyramids while we’re in Egypt, Mary.

MARY : Oh, no, Joseph! We have to run from these soldiers after us!

(Enter a SHEEP, dressed in a stocking cap and diaper.)

JOSEPH (reassuringly): Farm animals are protecting Baby Jesus from the soldiers.

(BABY JESUS , played realistically, if not voluntarily, by seven-month-old Baby James, is now produced and dragged about the house as MARY and JOSEPH elude an invisible pursuit. A CONCERNED MEMBER OF THE AUDIENCE, anticipating that the action would speed up, replaces James with a plastic stunt double.)

(Enter a ROMAN CHARIOTEER, driving two HORSE.)

ROMAN CHARIOTEER (aside to the audience): I’m the Roman messenger. AARGH!

(JOSEPH and MARY ambush the ROMAN CHARIOTEER and hog-tie him. Both leap into the chariot, along with the SHEEP and BABY JESUS .)

JOSEPH: Hang on, Mary! (They gallop away.)

To summarize the rest: Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the sheep, and the horses make for the nearest seaport, where they take the first cruise to Egypt. (Well, we really don’t know how they got to Egypt, do we?) The pursuit is then taken up by pirates. While Mary, Baby Jesus, and the animals cower below decks, Joseph, who has obviously had a classical education, saves the day by aiming a giant mirror at the pirate ships and setting them ablaze, just as Archimedes did to the Roman galleys at Syracuse two hundred years before. And so all arrive safely at the Nile. The End.

The Hidden Hero

It’s easy to laugh at how children rewrite the Christmas story, but their versions can remind us of truths we adults tend to forget. We remember the angels singing about peace on earth at the first Christmas, but we forget that the Christ Child was in mortal danger from the moment of his birth. Superman didn’t swoop down into the stable to save him—but angels did. Joseph didn’t ambush Roman soldiers or battle pirates—but he did save the Holy Family from a bloodthirsty tyrant. For the Christmas story is not just a story of joy to the world, but of a battle between good and evil, where the good barely escaped and the innocent were slaughtered.

When you see the world in black and white, as children do, you may miss the subtleties of a story, but you never miss the drama. And you see the hidden hero of the Christmas story—the man who saved Mary and Jesus from death again and again, whether by stoning, or the sword, or starvation in exile. The old and feeble Joseph of Renaissance paintings, leaning on his lily-sprouting staff, is less realistic in many ways than the action hero my children imagined.

The real Joseph wasn’t Superman, or even Archimedes, but he was exactly the kind of hero that the real Baby Jesus needed: a good father.

Maybe that’s something it takes a child’s eyes to see.

Rebecca Sicree writes from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. She attends Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in State College, Pennsylvania, with her husband Andrew and their ten children, who take up an entire pew.

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