Performed at St. Mark’s in Mystic, CT on Sunday, December 18, 2016
In an homage to the preferred story-telling method of one of my writing heroes, Aaron Sorkin, this new Christmas pageant takes place during a rehearsal for a traditional Christmas pageant. Over the course of the play, the traditional elements of the pageant get untangled from each other and we distill the stories as told by Matthew and Luke.
- Director (adult; funnier if one of the clergy)
- Luke (teen, male or female, playing his/herself)
- Matthew (teen, male or female, playing his/herself)
- Mary (teen or preteen, several lines)
- Joseph (teen or preteen, three lines)
- Lead Magi (teen or preteen, four lines)
- Lead Shepherd (preteen or older child, one line)
- Gabriel (preteen or older child, one line)
- Herod (preteen or older child, two lines)
- Small Shepherd (child, one line)
- Small Angel (child, one line)
- Donkey (child, two lines)
- Star, Shepherds, Angels, Magi, Animals (No dialogue, just action)
- Two Stagehands (able to lift stable frame)
The set consists of an easy to move 2-D frame of the stable. Props include a liftable manger, Magi’s three gifts, and two signs marked with “Luke” and “Matthew” on them.
The pageant opens with the whole company set up in the traditional manner, in which Christmas pageants usually close: all the participants stand in groups around the manger, with Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the center. Make sure different groups of characters are standing on the far side of the stage from where they will end up. The cast faces out, as if the audience is applauding.
Director: All right! Good job, everyone. We’ll go ahead and end the rehearsal here for today. This pageant is going to be great! Fabulous rehearsal. See you bright and early tomorrow. Don’t forget to leave your costumes…
Luke jumps up interrupting and holding a Bible open to the Gospel according to Luke.
Luke: Hey, just a second, [Name of Director]. Where’d you get the script for tomorrow’s pageant?
Director: I got it from the…the Bible. This is a Christmas pageant: where else would I get it?
Matthew approaches with an open Bible as well.
Matthew: I think I see where ______ is going with this. I’ve been trying to follow along in the Gospel of Matthew…
Luke: And I’ve been looking at the Gospel of Luke. I’ve been reading closely and parts of tomorrow’s pageant are just not in here.
Matthew: I was going to say the same thing.
Director: Hold on. Are you telling me that some of the Christmas pageant is just made up?
Luke: Some of it. Other parts just seem smooshed together.
Director: We’ve been doing the same pageant for years. How come no one ever said anything?
Matthew: Because everyone knows you don’t mess with the Christmas Pageant.
Director: You can say that again.
Matthew: I said, ‘Because everyone knows you don’t’…
Luke swats Matthew lightly.
Luke: It’s just an expression, _____. Look, [Name of Director], I think we should make some changes. We’ve got two different pageants here being combined.
Matthew: Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s uncombine them…
Luke: And see which parts belong to which account of the Gospel.
Director: Hang on, I’m still back on ‘parts of the pageant aren’t actually in the Bible…’
Matthew: Just sit down and let us take care of this.
Matthew and Luke confer for a moment with barely audible whispers. The Director throws up his/her hands and sits down to watch.
Luke: Okay, Mary and Joseph.
Mary and Joseph: Yes?
Luke: You two are in both versions, but Luke focuses on Mary…
Matthew: And Matthew focuses on Joseph. So Joe, you come stand over here.
Matthew hastily scribbles a sign that says ‘Matthew,’ and hands it to Joseph. Luke does the same, making a sign that says, ‘Luke.’
Matthew: Hold this.
Luke: Mary, you hold this.
Mary: My name is ______.
Luke: Not today, it isn’t. Here. (Hands her the sign.) Why don’t you stand over here. (Guides her to the far side away from Joseph.)
Matthew and Luke confer again.
Matthew: Okay, what’s next?
Luke: How about the shepherds and the angels? They’re only in Luke’s version. Shepherds, angels, with Mary please.
The angels and shepherds run to Mary’s side.
Matthew: Hey, Matthew has angels that come to people in dreams.
The angels all run to Joseph’s side.
Luke: Wait just a minute. Luke has the whole host of heaven!
The angels all run back to Mary’s side.
Matthew: At least let me have one. Gabriel, come over here.
Gabriel moves to stand next to Joseph.
Gabriel: Hey, wait! Luke’s version mentions me by name. Matthew just says an “angel of the Lord.” I should be back over there. Someone trade with me.
Gabriel and another angel swap places.
Luke: Who’s the lead shepherd?
The lead shepherd raises his/her hand.
Luke: Do you remember your line from the pageant?
Shepherd: Yeah. Um… ‘The angels first announced the savior’s birth to us who folks agreed had zero worth.’
Luke: That’s right. That’s the whole point of Luke’s version of the story.
Mary: The world turned upside down, right? That’s what Mary’s song – the Magnificat – is all about.
Luke: Right. You did your homework.
The Director stands back up and interjects.
Director: Well, my world is certainly turning upside down right now. Next you’re going to tell me there was no stable!
Luke: Ah, I hate to break it to you, but…
Director: No stable?
Luke: There is a manger though.
Small Shepherd: What’s a manger?
Mary picks up the manger and moves it to her side. Any barnyard animals (except the Donkey) move with it.
Mary: This box here. Farm animals feed from it. It’s where I put Jesus when he’s born because Joseph and I couldn’t find any other place to stay.
Director: There’s a manger; there must be a stable.
Luke: Not necessarily. It could have been in a cave or even in someone’s guestroom where the animals slept on cold nights.
Matthew calls to the stagehands.
Matthew: Let’s get the stable out of here.
The stagehands move the stable frame offstage while the Director says his/her next line.
Director: This is ludicrous. How can there not be a stable?! Where else is the star going come to rest?
Matthew: How do I put this delicately…
Director: No star either?
Matthew: Oh no. Matthew’s version has a star, but it just shines in the east where the magi live. Nowhere does it say the star leads them directly to Bethlehem.
Director: Sure it does. “Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy Perfect light.”
Matthew: That’s just in the song, [Name of Director]. Okay, Star, you’re with Matthew’s team.
The Star moves to stand with Joseph.
Director: Unbelievable. (Sits down heavily.)
Lead Magi: What about us? We should follow the star, right?
Matthew: You got it.
The Magi move to stand with Joseph.
Matthew: The magi only show up in Matthew’s version. And the Gospel never says there were only three magi. Do you know what it does say?
The Magi look down at the gifts in their hands, then a brainwave strikes them.
Lead Magi: That there were only three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Matthew: See what you notice when you read the Scripture closely?
Luke: What else is left? I’ve got Mary, the manger, the shepherds, and the angels.
Matthew: And I’ve got Joseph, the star, and the Magi.
Small Angel: What about baby Jesus?
Matthew: You’re right, ____. How could we forget? (Then to Luke.) I should probably let you take the baby, shouldn’t I?
Luke: He is actually born in my version.
Mary: I wrap him in swaddling clothes and place him in the manger. And I treasure everything in my heart!
Matthew: That’s right. Matthew’s version seems to be much more concerned with what happens after Jesus’ birth.
Lead Magi: We come to see him, and Herod tries to trick us.
Herod, standing off to one side pokes his head in.
Herod: Hello. Where should I stand?
Matthew: You’re in my version. Go stand behind Joe.
Lead Magi: An angel warns us in a dream about Herod.
Herod: I’m the bad guy. I do something horrible to the young children in Bethlehem.
Joseph: But Mary and I escape with the baby and hide in Egypt. A few years later we come back and settle in Nazareth.
Matthew: That’s the story Matthew tells. It parallels the story of Moses.
Director: Hey, I know that one! Pharaoh does the same horrible thing as Herod, but Moses is hidden away. Later in life, Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
Joseph: I just realized something. My name “Joseph” is the same name as the guy who was responsible for getting the Israelites to Egypt in the first place. He was a dreamer. And the angel comes to me in dreams, too!
Matthew: See what you notice when you pull the pageant apart like this, [Name of Director].
Director: Okay, that is pretty cool. Matthew’s version links Jesus to Moses and has wise people from a distant land mark his birth. Luke’s version has the baby born in humble circumstances and lowlife shepherds mark his birth. They tell two pieces of the same story.
Luke: In the end, it’s one great, big story anyway. But it can be helpful to break it up sometimes, and see where the focus is in a particular version. In any case, the world was turned upside down that night.
Mary: Or maybe it was finally turned right side up.
Director: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. Wow, we have a lot of work to do to change the pageant before tomorrow. Everybody, let’s take a ten minute break while I talk to ______ and _______ [Matthew and Luke].
Everyone starts to leave the stage.
Donkey: Hey, what about me? Where do I go?
Luke: Well, you’re not technically in the story.
Donkey: But I got in costume and everything.
Luke: I’m sorry, _____.
Mary: Hey, Mary was pregnant. You think she was just going to walk all the way to Bethlehem?
Director: You heard the lady. Over there, donkey. Okay, everyone, let’s take 10.
This pageant began life as a video I shot in 2009, which you can view here.
At the early service on the day of the pageant, I preached the content of it. If that’s more your speed, you can listen to it here.