Will You Play Your Part?

Sermon Preached Christmas 2013
St. Mark's Episcopal Church

This year’s Children’s Christmas Pageant was called, “I Will Play My Part.” Written by Roddy Hamilton, it tells the story of a congregation wanting to tell the story of Christmas but not having any of the things such a story might require – no stable, no straw, no well-dressed magi or cuddly sheep.  No starlit sky, no shepherds, no angels, no foreign travelers.  And, yet, despite this congregation’s lack of all the right things, they manage to tell the story anyhow by using the ordinary folks around them.   And, in fact, they do more than just tell the story – they become the story – as each of the players realizes that all they have to do is to play their part, the part God has given them to play in bringing the Good News of Jesus to the world.
At the end of November when we began telling the children about the pageant, our pageant director, Patty, went with me to each of the Sunday School classrooms.  She talked to the 8-year old girl we had picked to play Mary.  Leela was reluctant, too shy she thought for such an important role – perhaps a bit afraid of being in the limelight on Christmas Eve. But Patty explained to her that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was probably pretty shy too.  When that angel visited her to tell her she was going to deliver the son of God into the world, Mary was likely terrified.  Patty told Leela that if she was a little bit afraid to play such an important role, it would make her more believable.  And, you know what happened? Leela agreed to play her part and was Mary in our Christmas pageant.
Patty also talked to Patrick, an 11-year old boy in the next classroom.  She told him she had a special part for him, that we wanted him to be the Christmas Star that would guide the wise men to Bethlehem to see the newborn baby Jesus.  Patrick, did not want a speaking part; but, when he heard that the Christmas Star had no lines to learn, he said, “I will do my part.” 
When we got to the classroom of 3 – 5 year olds, we explained to them that they would be animals in the pageant. That we would need sheep and donkeys and cows to take part in the Christmas Pageant.  But no sooner had Patty explained this to them, then one of the children spoke up to say, “I’ll be a baby elephant” and another, “I’m going to be a dinosaur” – and so they were.  Because, you know what?  If on that first Christmas night, dinosaurs had still been around, I bet they would have been there to see the baby Jesus! And, if Jesus had been born in sub-Saharan Africa, then there might well have been a baby elephant there as well.  And, more important still, if the part that these children felt called to play was an elephant or a dinosaur, then who were we to tell them we had a different part in mind for them?
Why am I telling you all about the pageant?  Because I think that when it comes right down to it, God coming into the world to be with us – the incarnation, the birth of Jesus  – is, at its heart, about God’s invitation to each of us to play the part we have been given in the ongoing story of salvation.  
Perhaps you are called to play a part like Joseph.  Joseph, a bit reluctant to be involved in something so scandalous as a virgin birth (when he first learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he planned to dismiss her quietly and were it not for a visit from an angel of the Lord in a dream, he likely would have followed through with that plan).  No, Josephs are not keen on scandal.  Josephs are law-abiding folk. When the Emperor says to register in your own city, Josephs are the first to get on the road and head for home to be registered.    But, for all their caution, the Josephs of the world have an important part to play.  In the life of Jesus, Joseph raised this son of Mary, this son of God, as his own son.  Being a step-father.  Not an insignificant part to play. A part that calls for steadfastness and courage in the face of unexpected twists and turns.
Or, perhaps you are called to play a part like those first shepherds.  Those first shepherds heard the good news of Jesus’ birth and couldn’t help but tell everyone around them. The news was SO good, filled with such hope and promise that they couldn’t keep it to themselves.  Shepherds inspire and amaze others with the good news they share.  Being a story-telling shepherd.  Not an insignificant part to play.  A part that calls for eyes to see the wonder of God in the most unusual of places – in the night sky, in a stable, or even on the streets of Evanston.
Or, perhaps you are called like some of our youngest children, called to play a part that hasn’t even been written into the story yet.  A part that God is writing just for you.  Not an insignificant part to play.  Because, my brothers and sisters in Christ, there are no insignificant parts to play.  This is the story of Christmas.  God coming into the world to be with us – with each of us – the incarnation, the birth of Jesus  – God’s invitation to each of us to play the part we have been given in the ongoing story of salvation.   Will you play your part?