This is going to be a vague summary because I read this with my class this past month and forgot to bring it with me to Richmond. (Oh hey, I’ve got a “real job” now! I’m an instructional assistant, but hey, regular paycheck!) I love this story but I will butcher it– primarily with the names. My sincerest apologies.
The Herdman clan is the worst bunch of kids you’ll ever meet. They barely know how to read, but the teachers keep passing them because another Herdman is coming right after, and no one is crazy enough to have two Herdmans at the same time. The only place of refuge the community kids get is at church, where no Herdman has ever set foot… until Charlie (the little brother of the narrator), tells Leroy that he gets sweets from the preacher. When it seems true (Thanksgiving baskets being given out that particular Sunday), the Herdmans come back for pageant practice.
Mrs. Armstrong is USUALLY in charge of the pageant, but she broke her leg and Mother is stuck with the job. When she begins the pageant with casting, she is surprised that the Herdmans take over the pageant. Imogene Herdman is Mary, Ralph is Joseph, Ollie, Claude, and Leroy are wisemen, and Gladys is the Angel of the Lord. Imogene threatened the usual “Mary,” Alice Wendlekin, with a pussywillow down her ear if she volunteered for Mary. When everyone else claims it’s a disaster, Mother decides to prove everyone wrong and she’ll have the best pageant ever.
The problem is… the Herdmans have never heard the Christmas story. When Mother reads the story, they have a lot of questions and comments. “It’s disgraceful that they stuck a pregnant woman in the stable!” “Why didn’t someone kill Herod?” “I would’ve named him Bill.” (My personal favorite? When Alice showed off by saying, “The Angel said, ‘He should be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.” Imogene responds, “My God! He’d never leave the first grade!”)
The night of the pageant, they anticipate disaster. But it turns out…. wonderful.
Although Alice keeps a running commentary, Imogene takes care of a baby like a real baby– burping, rocking, etc. Ralph and Imogene look like refugees. As the wisemen don’t really understand giving myrrh and frankincense, they brought their ham that they got in their Christmas charity box. The wisemen also stick around for a bit instead of leaving immediately. (Alice has a response for all of these actions). The narrator, however, sees the beauty (and reality) in the roughness of the Herdmans. Seeing the Christmas story through new eyes made it the best Christmas pageant ever.
Faith-based commentary ahead. It kind of comes with the territory when I read this book.
SOMETIMES… those of us that are used to the Christmas story and traditions forget its beauty. I often forget.
I have been trying to observe Advent more than I have in the past. For those of you who are not church nerds (what I mean by “church nerd” is knowing more about the church calendar/liturgy than the average Protestant), Advent season is a time of anticipation for the coming Lord. It is the beginning of the Christian calendar. It’s a time of reflection.
I’ve had a lot to reflect on this Advent season. From the national tragedy Newtown to my own personal heartache, I feel overwhelmed. (I’ve had one former student die in a horrific car accident over Thanksgiving weekend. Last weekend, two more former students were stabbed– one died, one is now in stable condition.) There’s no other way to put it: my heart aches for my kids.
My church has morning prayer during Advent. I wish I had gone regularly; I only made it once. When I had silent prayer, I thought of my kids and Newtown, and because many people claim Jesus is nowhere to be found in schools, etc., I asked for God to come into our lives. And almost immediately, (this may sound hokey, but it’s true) I got the response, “You’re it.”
Jesus came to change the world. Because he changed me, I can be a light.
I can’t stop shootings and stabbings and car wrecks. Oh, how I wish I could.
But I can love my kids.
There will always be Herdmans. There will always be naysayers claiming that these kids won’t change, there’s so much evil out there, and it’s a downward spiral. We lament that our hands are supposedly tied, that we can’t make the world any better than what we’ve been given.
YET… as we wait for Jesus’s arrival, we light the Advent wreath with the candle of hope. We light the candle of love. We light the candle of joy. We light the candle of peace. We wait for him to light up the world.
While we wait… let us be lights. Let us share the hope we have in that baby. Let the soul feel its worth again. Amen.
Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!