Misbehaving moustaches, inventive costumes and props, imaginative sound effects and a very supportive audience. All successful children’s nativity plays have a team of hard-working and dedicated adults behind them. Our own Christmas celebration at the Quaker Meeting House yesterday was no exception.
Our Meetings for worship are usually largely silent, but once a year, just before Christmas, we break with tradition. Each year a theme is chosen. This year it was the turn of the lowly shepherds. Interspersed by periods of reflective silence we gustily sang shepherd-related carols, (in both English and Welsh), listened to beautiful music composed by Schubert and played by one of our members and heard a poem by Welsh writer R.S.Thomas about welsh hill shepherds read aloud.
However, the highlight of the whole proceedings was surely the children’s dramatic contribution! Based on a mediaeval mystery play entitled ‘The Hairy Baby’, the story was of shepherds guarding their sheep and the daring – and very desperate man – who comes and steals one of the lambs with which to feed his starving family.
The enterprising thief had disguised himself in a voluminous black cloak and recalcitrant paper moustache which persistently floated to the ground, only to be pounced upon by one or other member of the cast and unceremoniously slapped back into place on the hapless young actor’s face. Gales and winter storms were conjured by use of a long plastic tube which was periodically flailed around the head of the pianist causing the Master of Ceremonies to cringe and duck for fear of getting a clout around his head.
The action took place across the whole of the Meeting Room and we, the audience, sat bemusedly in the round as irate shepherds with a varied assortment of ‘sheep’ – including a large woolly seal and a little lamb which had been sewn to his shepherd’s sock – dashed off amongst us in hot pursuit of their stolen lamb. I am not quite sure how even weary and simple-minded men were supposed to mistake one of their own animals for a remarkably hirsute human child! Eventually the true identity of the baby is revealed and the luckless family left empty-handed as the thief is discovered, only to be saved in the nick of time by the appearance of an angel, come to announce the birth of a much more important baby in a stable nearby. Drama was added to the action by the syncopated and regular sniffs of some of the cast who were recently recovering from heavy colds.
The enthusiasm and flamboyance with which our young members delivered this simple story was highly entertaining but also thought provoking. It was pointed out that here was the nub of the whole message of Christian Christmas. That the inspiration for kindness, humility and love had been presented in a way that everyone – even the lowliest and most humble shepherds – had instant and unquestioned access to. That this humble birth of a carpenter’s son represented a universal hope and entitlement that is as fresh and valued today as it was two thousand years ago.
So I give great thanks to the children of my Meeting for reminding me of this fact… and to their dedicated parents who made it possible. We all had a good chuckle and I am sure that we all were well entertained, but more than anything, I hope that we were touched by this blessed message – that of universal equality, hope and love.