Sunday, December 25, 2011

Luke 2:7

"The Goat Who Ate Christmas"
MasterPiece Church

The Blessed Virgin Mary, draped in blue and with new mother radiance, almost lost it when she turned to set the newborn into the manger. Just as she was lowering the baby onto the straw she saw the pile of dried cow poop sitting less than an inch under the surface. She wanted to scream out -- "GROSS!!!" But much to her credit she stayed in character and gently placed the wrapped doll in the manger as the narrator read, “She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger.”

It’s what happened next that will forever go down in the annals of local church history. A little background... There was a new-to-the-church pageant director -- Mr Crowly --  who was also a former high school drama teacher. And he thought that it would be good to make the annual Christmas pageant more realistic. So, he borrowed a real manger from one of the local farmers and he scoped up some real straw from the barn floor. But as he put it into the big plastic leaf bag he failed to notice the aforementioned bonus that ended up in the manger below the baby Jesus. Indeed for the first time the sanctuary smelled like a real barn that night.

Mr Crowly also decided they needed some real animals. The only problem was that the platform in the little country church building wasn’t big enough for a cow or a donkey. So he went with the small goat that one of the local farmers was willing to lend to him for the night. But not being a farmer himself he didn’t realize that goats -- even small goats -- are curious, unpredictable, and hard to control creatures.

As the 11-year-old Mary laid the Jesus doll, which was really her own favorite baby doll from back when she was a kid, onto the straw, the goat moved in for a closer look at the baby. It was an unscripted delight to the audience -- a moment of theological epiphany as even the animal acknowledged the presence of God in the flesh. At least that’s what it looked like to the audience.

But there was a collective gasp as the goat looked up from the manger and everyone could see that he had the baby Jesus in his mouth and had already chewed off his right arm. Instinctively, Joseph, being a protective father, grabbed the baby from the goat and pulled. But the goat wasn’t about to let go of what was obviously and rightly his.

A tug of war ensued with Joseph pulling on the baby’s head and the goat holding onto the torso where the arm had been.

Suddenly -- and this whole episode happened so quickly that no one could have reacted otherwise -- suddenly, in front of everyone -- parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors -- everyone -- suddenly, the head popped off, as doll heads are prone to do with even a small tug -- and Joseph fell backward holding in his 12-year-old hands the head of baby Jesus.

At the same time one of the shepherds standing off to the side of the stage, waiting for his angelic cue, jumped into the fray and used his crook prop to grab the goat by the neck. That caused the choking goat to immediately drop the remains of the blessed baby. But at the same time, as it fell backward to the floor the goat’s feet flung forward catching the edge of the wooden manger -- which went flying -- straw, cow poop, and all -- right into the second row of the startled audience.

No one is quite sure how it all ended -- which parents got control of the goat or how they got it outside.

The organist started playing Away in the Manger, which ironically was supposed to be the concluding song. The pastor asked everyone to stand and sing -- which they did -- more or less. But people were laughing so hard that they could barely remember the words to the song. Everyone thought the scene was the funniest thing they’d ever seen -- the best Christmas pageant ever.

Everyone, however, didn’t include the 11-year-old Mary -- and that was actually her name -- Mary Elizabeth to be more precise. Mary Elizabeth was humiliated and in tears. In a short two minutes she’d not only lost her favorite doll (which she never played with anymore) but also her entire acting career. I mean, no one would ever consider her for another role -- ever. Her life was ruined -- totally and irreparably ruined.

“It’s just not fair,” she sobbed to her mother, who had come onto the platform to hug her as the crowd streamed out the doors hoping to catch a glimpse of the crazed goat which had eaten Christmas.

“God owes me a new doll!” she irrationally exclaimed through her tears. “We should have done a normal Nativity with clean straw, a real manger bed, and NO animals.”

Her mother, ever the theologian, seized the teaching moment and explained, “THIS IS A REAL MANGER.” Pointing to the tipped box on the floor, she said, “Mangers aren’t supposed to be baby beds. They’re dirty feeding troughs for animals -- dumb animals -- like that goat.”

Mary Elizabeth didn’t buy it. Yes, she’d stopped crying but only because she was powering up to argue with her mother. As an 11-year-old she knew better than to believe everything -- or even much of anything -- her mother said.

“No way! If Jesus was really God there is no way that he’d end up in an animal feeder on top of poopy straw surrounded by stupid animals.”

She was half right. There is nothing in the Bible about animals showing up on that first Christmas night. And poopy straw -- that wasn’t mentioned either. But in Luke 2:7 it does say that when Jesus was born they put him in a manger because there wasn’t any space left for them in the guestroom. That implies that when Jesus arrived it wasn’t into an overly sanitized setting cleaned in anticipation of the divine. There was no newly painted baby nursery with colorful stimulating toys fit for a newborn king.

“Jesus joined a dirty and chaotic world” Mary Elizabeth’s mother explained -- not even trying to talk on a sixth grade level.

“You know how it is when we scrub the kitchen. You have to get down there on the floor with the dirt. You have to be willing to get dirty if you’re really going to clean things up.”

Mary Elizabeth didn’t like that explanation -- mostly because she hated having to get down on her knees to scrub the floor. But she understood -- perhaps better than most. After all she’d just had an encounter with a crazed baby-doll-eating Christmas goat. A sterile and predictable manger scene is unreal and has little to do with real Christmas.

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