In middle class America, it is always challenging to focus on the real meaning of the first Christmas. We have trouble imagining a young pregnant woman riding a donkey on a long, bumpy journey. It is also hard to express to our children the challenge of giving birth in a stable, or to capture the astonishment of poor shepherds who met the King of Kings.
Perhaps it is even more challenging for our children to imagine the radical transformation of a person who comes to understand the meaning of Christ’s birth and sacrifice. As Christian parents, we want not just to teach them the facts of the story, but to help them to truly understand how Jesus’ birth changes individuals. Like the shepherds in the nativity story, we too should be changed by a personal encounter with the King of Kings.
Many stories from classic literature focus on these truths. When we share stories with our children, we exercise their imaginations. The growing and stretching faculty of imagination then allows them to experience the life of another person and thus gain new understanding. Literature places them outside of their own narrow range of experience in order to broaden their understanding of important truths. This Christmas, consider reading aloud some Christmas stories which share the transformative power of Christ’s birth.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson is a quick read aloud book that will entertain your family while turning your thoughts to the true meaning of the Nativity. The story charmingly recreates an era of church Christmas pageants in which the standard shepherd costume was father’s bathrobe and angel halos were made from Christmas tree tinsel. Robinson clearly and humorously describes the characters found in most church congregations, including the harried dads and the bustling, efficient, energetic woman who chairs every church committee.
This short novella narrates the story of the Christmas pageant that is supposed to be the same every year, from the youngest children singing in the baby angel choir to the selection of the most well behaved girl in school for the part of the angel. This year, however, the play has been hijacked by the Herdman children, a ragtag group of six siblings who basically raise themselves while their single mom struggles to make ends meet by working two jobs.
Initially, the Herdmans come to church because of the promise of free food. They stay because they like the prospect of acting in a play. By threatening to beat up the children who normally play the lead roles, the Herdmans claim the prize parts for themselves. The church members, especially the perennial director of the play, are appalled by this new version of the old story. The meanest Herdman, Gladys, selects the part of the archangel and shocks the church by running up the aisle shouting “Shazaam! Unto you a child is born.”
The Herdmans have never heard the Christmas Story, and so they truly bring a fresh perspective to the tale. By the end of the performance, the Herdmans themselves and the entire congregation have been transformed by new revelations about an old story. The Herdmans even substitute the frankincense and myrrh with their own prized possession. Perhaps some of us will be inspired view our Savior’s birth with awe and wonder as if for the first time. Maybe some of us will be moved to bring him our deepest worship and our finest gifts.
Other Christmas Read Alouds:
“The Gift of the Magi” (short story), by O’Henry — featured in Words Aptly Spoken: Short Stories
This short story relates the first Christmas of a poor, newly married couple who sacrifice greatly to give each other precious gifts.
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Dickens’ Christmas novella tells of the transformation of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge into a generous and loving benefactor.