Herdmans, herdsmen and me

“What do you want for Christmas, Dad?” my six-year-old asked. “Maybe some floss?”

“Some what?!?” I replied, hoping I had misheard him. Surely he thinks I have more compelling Christmas wishes than dental floss! Full disclosure: As a 15-year-old I did request a file cabinet from jolly old and organized Saint Nicholas.

To my chagrin, I had heard my son right. (At least my hearing’s not going!) He actually asked me if I wanted floss for Christmas. Woe is me. My offspring thinks I’m mind-numbingly boring or that I have really bad teeth. Or worse, both.

Later that day, our family attended a heartwarming holiday classic in the league of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. A story of hygiene-free rugrats who commandeer an annual Christmas tradition: the church Christmas pageant.

Barbara Robinson’s comedy The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has been a favorite of mine since I saw it performed in a community playhouse in the mid-1980s. It probably sparked my love of redemption stories.

By way of review if you haven’t read or seen it in a while, the Herdman kids are a ragtag, uncouth, welfare-dependent bunch of bullies. Their parents are nowhere to be found. A social worker attempts to bring order to their chaos.

When the oldest, Leroy Herdman, is tipped off that Twinkies are served at the local Sunday School, the scraggly siblings suddenly find their religion. In Sunday School they hear about auditions for the church Christmas pageant.

“That sounds interesting,” they think.

After intimidating the buttoned-up church kids into relinquishing their starring roles, the Herdmans secure lead parts. Ralph is Joseph. Imogene plays Mary. Gladys gets her wings.

Church members are appalled:

“How could such riffraff be let into God’s house to perform God’s sacred nativity?”

“Mary and Joseph will look like poor travellers looking for a place to stay!” (Heaven forbid.)

“No one will come to the pageant!”

In fact, everyone came to the pageant – to see what the Herdmans would do.

The play unfolds as a story of redemption within a story of redemption. The Herdmans get swept up into the remote possibility that an all-powerful God just might care about them.

“Magi” Leroy Herdman offers a canned ham to the newborn king out of the family’s welfare box. Angel Gladys Herdman announces Christ’s arrival with “Hey! Unto you a child is born!” The story even broke through the hardened Imogene Herdman.

After the play and the crowd disperses, Imogene returns to the stage alone to take in the events that just occurred, to treasure them up in her heart, if you will. In tears, she clings to the swaddled savior of the world.

Imogene was as unlikely a carrier of the baby Jesus as the mother of Jesus herself. And therein lies the glory of the story of stories: God, acting in the lives of ordinary people – people who get dental floss and file cabinets for Christmas.

Just like the Herdmans on stage, the story of Christmas is equally unpredictable. From virgin birth to shepherds witnessing history to a daring midnight escape…nothing is as you or I would have drawn it up.

And how relieving is that? If a saving, gracing Creator can break through to the Herdmans and the herdsmen, just maybe he can break through to me.

Merry Christmas, 2014.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Contact him at kevin@kwt.info.

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