December 2 – The Hopes and Fears of All the Years: I never got to be one of the wise men

Do the rest of you do small group sharing?  The church became an important part of my life during my college years and I have been employed in one form or another by the church since 1975. I long ago lost count of the conferences I have attended and the presbytery committee meetings I have been a part of.  Conferences and committees; “small group sharing” has been a feature of way too many of them. I wonder if the rest of you do small group sharing.

Thursday’s meeting was no exception to the small group sharing rule. It happens to have been a gathering of one of the standing committees of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.  It is a very large committee and Thursday’s agenda was long and the items on the agenda important. I was there as a member of a panel invited to present some information on a particular topic. Not my committee. But since our panel presentation was first up on the docket, we were there for the opening of the meeting.

It being the church, the meeting started with small group sharing and we panel presenters were expected to participate. So we shouted out our numbers like everyone else as we went around the circle receiving our group assignments. I was in group three. Do you corporate types break into small groups to share some personal feeling or insight before you look at quarterly performance reports?

We began with an Advent poem which was quite good I thought. The poem was about the tension of the season – light and dark, joy and sorrow, manger and cross. And then we were asked to share an Advent or Christmas memory. The committee members seemed to know each other well enough and the sharing was animated and took on a life of its own

I think someone said something about a Christmas pageant. It must have been that comment that opened some long ago memories for me, but the flow of conversation was rapid and the moment was far downstream by the time I had collected my memories well enough to say anything about them. So I mostly listened, but later added some thought about a Christmas feeling or Advent insight so as to avoid the awkwardness of the guest who says nothing.

But what I was really thinking about is the fact that I never got to be one of the wise men.  You know how the system works.  The pre-schoolers and kindergarteners are always angels. They wear little white robes, tinsel halos and gold foil wings. First, second and third graders are usually shepherds in plain robes with rope belts and simple head scarves. It’s not until you hit the fourth grade that the real parts are handed out. There has to be a Joseph and a Mary. Someone else gets to play the innkeeper. I suppose the girls are dreaming about being Mary. I remember the year my older sister was chosen to be Mary. But I always wanted to be one of the wise men. The wise men get the best robes, jeweled crowns and carry ornate boxes filled with frankincense, gold or myrrh.  I never got the part.

We were literalists back then.  There were to be only three wise men. But it was the Baby Boom and there were lots of fourth, fifth and sixth grade boys in the Sunday School. I was never chosen to be a wise man. Six long years from first to sixth grade, and I was a shepherd every one of those years.

I am mostly over it, the not being chosen to be a wise man. At LPC Holly Waterson is wonderful. She always asks me to be one of the narrators for the Christmas cantata, sort of the adult version of getting to be one of the wise men.

Not being one of the wise men is about as serious as my Christmas disappointments go. I am fortunate that is the deepest of my disappointments. Among those who we will meet this year at Christmas parties and who may be next to us in the pew as the Sunday School angels, shepherds and wise men fill the chancel, will be those for whom this season is more dark than light, more sorrow than joy. Memories of Christmases past are painful. There will be some who cannot begin to imagine that the manger and the cross are about God’s love for them; maybe for someone else, but not for them.

One of the great joys of this season is that you and I have the privilege, the obligation, to tell those we know and love that through the amazing events at Bethlehem’s manger and Calvary’s cross God has chosen them to play the part – no, not play the part, simply to be – his beloved children.

Who will you tell?

Oh, and by the way, which part did you get to play in Christmas pageant?