The final dress rehearsal for the children's Christmas program reveals a crush of last-minute fixes that remain before the church's young folks will be safely transformed into angels and stars, wise men and donkeys, Mary and Joseph.
Two of the three kings are swallowed up by their robes, necessitating some hurried tailoring with basting tape and safety pins.
In response to a question about the wisdom of ironing the costumes —"Wouldn't the wrinkled look be more authentic?" —the director is adamant.
"Last year the kids were so rumpled and messy," the harried director mumbles around the pins sticking from between her lips. "I told myself then that no matter what else happened this year, those kids would look neat!"
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It is run-through time, and the program is rough. Missing performers and missed cues lead to frustration and a controlled panic on the part of the grown-ups.
The real deal is a day away. Please, my dears, pay attention to the people who go on before you. Yes, we know you're hungry and bored. We promise — one more time, and then crafts and pizza.
"Shouldn't we be putting our gifts in front of the Baby Jesus?" asks one of the wise men, whose grasp of the Bible at that moment is stronger than that of the adult volunteers who are focused on song cues and character lineups.
Why, yes — yes, you should. Excellent suggestion, young man.
Mary, you're in first, followed by the angel Gabriel. And Gabriel, don't forget to turn your body toward the sanctuary so the people can hear you tell Mary not to be afraid.
Donkey, start down the aisle while the youth choir sings "Little Gray Donkey Tonight." And not too fast, please. Time it so you reach Mary and the manger when the song ends.
Joseph, you're next, and remember not to tug too hard on Donkey's rope as you lead him and Mary out.
Innkeeper, make sure you are at the altar by the time Joseph says his line. And, yes, Innkeeper, we know "I see woolly sheep, soft and cuddly," isn't exactly a macho line for a guy in high school, but look at it this way: You're not the donkey.
Woolly sheep — could anything be cuter than preschoolers baa-baaing their way to the front of a church? Can't think of it at the moment.
Angels, remember you're God's messengers. Try to keep your dignity even when those halos start slipping.
Will the congregation be able to hear the littlest angel's solo as the four stars circle the sanctuary?
Bless her heart — she holds her head up so high when she sings that even the body microphone doesn't pick up her sweet voice. Honey, you're going to have to hold the mike to your mouth when you sing.
And to our other angel, sweetheart, when it's time for your line, lean over and talk into your fellow angel's microphone so everyone can hear the Baby Jesus speak to God's children.
Oops, light problems with one of the stars. Does anyone have a couple of C batteries?
"No worries," says one of the dads. "I'll run to the store while you get the kids in their costumes."
And then, as has happened so many times in so many churches during so many Christmas pageants, everything comes together.
The musicians, the singers, the Scripture readers and the actors flawlessly present the story of the miracle birth of the baby who is Son of God and Son of Man.
The tears in the adults' eyes aren't just because they see the promise of tomorrow in their children and grandchildren, but because they hear the promise of life eternal in the age-old message.