In an Episcopal Mission Church in the mountains, Father Joe staunchly said: not one bit of Christmas until the Christ Child is placed in the manger. Thus no amount of tinsel or trim was to adorn the church until the 25th of December. Father Joe was all about all things Advent, not all things Christmas. So much so, that the carved and painted figures of the three Magi sat at the back of the church near the Lady Altar. The three would be moved ever so slowly and be positioned each week closer to the front, waiting for the Feast of the Epiphany to come in January. But not before!
Involved in the children’s ministry at the time, I was in a bit of quandary as to what to do about the upcoming Christmas program. The only available time to schedule the program was the Sunday evening prior to Christmas, as in the Fourth Sunday of Advent. “How will we pull off a program without the baby Jesus?” I said to Loretta, a dedicated grandparent of the parish. Advent is about the Coming of Christ. On December 25th, the baby was to be placed in the manger, but not before! At first, I couldn’t see a way to have a play without Jesus, but I wasn’t going to give up too easily.
I pondered and pondered.
We had more girls in Sunday school than boys that year. So looking at what takes place in the gospels prior to that evening in Bethlehem, I found the story of the two cousins. The theme of the Advent program was to be Mary and Elizabeth. I set to work on a script.
The Sunday evening came, and the church was packed full of parents, grandparents, friends, and supportive parishioners. Cookies, punch, and apple cider were positioned on the table in Fellowship Hall. The carols were sung and the actresses took their place in the center aisle. The readers read the gospel accounting of what Elizabeth said to Mary. Mary was adorned in a long light blue scarf and dress, Elizabeth, in her humble attire, waved to her parents in the audience. The sweetness of the evening would always thereafter be remembered in an unexpected way.
Several days after the program, a baby girl was born to a parish family whose eldest daughter had played Elizabeth. When the mother asked her eldest daughter, “What shall we name your new baby sister?” The second grader replied, “Mary Elizabeth.” And so, the baby was named and baptized Mary Elizabeth.
To this day, when I think of Advent, I think about Father Joe of the mountains and his requests for All Things Advent and the baby that was named as a result of his insistence!
[Editor’s note: this post originally appeared in the author’s church newsletter, “For the Love of Mike.”]