I’m a bit anxious about the Christmas Eve crib service. It seems to have got a bit complicated. Last year was busy, but simple, with a different child reading each part of the story and all the kids ending up at the front to create a kind of tableau. This year we have lights and visuals and a proper (sort of) cast plus the usual thousands of children who will be getting up out of their seats and going on a journey to find Jesus. It has the potential to be fabulous. It also has more potential to go wrong!
My Churchwarden said to me, “As long as all the children get to go up to the front and be part of it – that’s the most important thing”.
And then she reminded me about the penguin.
Most children come dressed as nativity characters to our crib service. They know that at some point in the service, their group of characters will be called up to be part of the scene at the front. But last year we had a penguin too. He was quite a small penguin, of the sort of age that doesn’t really like to sit doing nothing for 40 minutes, so he was quite a focal point as he occasionally wandered up and down the aisle. In the last carol, any children who wanted to join the group, who hadn’t already become part of the tableau, were invited to do so. So many of our photos of that service have a penguin right at the front.
And do you know, more people commented on how nice it was that the penguin was allowed to be part of it than almost anything else about that service.
Because people do not expect the Church to be inclusive.
That was the good news that year – that someone unexpected was invited to be part of the celebrations. And it’s ironic that that was a surprise to people – because that’s a concept that is of major significance in the nativity story. The people invited are not the usual suspects – not the established religious, but the shepherds living on the bread line and the foreigners who practice a different religion from the other side of the world.
My churchwarden is right. Christmas is not just for the Marys and Josephs and Angels. It is for the penguins and the Spidermen and the Wonder Women and the Disney Princesses. It is for the people who forgot to dress up and for the people who wouldn’t agree to dress up in a million years.
All are invited. All are welcome. All are called to gaze in wonder at the miracle of life itself, and the promise that God is with us.