I can’t see the cross because of all the stupid angels!

It was the night of the ‘never to be named Primary School’ concert. The hall, as is its wont from time to time in December, was exceedingly hot and stuffy and, as usual, each grade was responsible for an item. There were many, many, many grades…

The supposed highlight of the night was a nativity play, to be performed by the Prep classes. After the last grade item, the curtain was closed as there was need for some stage preparation for the nativity play. The audience waited… in hot, frustrated anticipation.

The play began inauspiciously. The curtain was wrenched open to reveal the back of the caretaker putting straw in the manger box as a purple spotlight jerked drunkenly around the stage. After he had trotted off, the nightmare began…

There were two virgin Mary's and two Joseph's, all of whom waved vigorously and often to their adoring parents. The doubling up of these roles was the result of two strong-willed mothers in the school, both of whom harboured theatrical ambitions for their daughters and the fact that over the years the school had acquired two ‘Mary’ costumes. At the time it just seemed like good stewardship… These four leading actors were pursued on stage by lots of little angels, followed closely by a mass of tiny shepherds, replete with sticks!

A word of explanation regarding what happened next… At rehearsals, the staff had done a very sensible thing. They had drawn little groups of ‘X’s and ‘O’s on the stage. Angels were to stand on an ‘O’ and shepherds were to stand on an ‘X’. What could be simpler? It seemed a foolproof system. Sadly, the rehearsal was not a dress rehearsal. On came the angels to take their place on an ‘O’, robes flowing down around their feet – and completely obscuring most of the’X’s! Out surged the shepherds, who doggedly began the search for the ‘X’s they were commanded to stand upon.

Stick-wielding shepherds, determined to follow instructions, sought those ‘X’s as though their lives depended on it. General mayhem ensued. Finally, one totally frustrated Prep shepherd yelled out to his mother, “I can’t see the cross because of all the stupid angels!” (Used with permission).

I am rather amused and challenged by that complaint! The important things of Christianity are so often swamped by religious paraphernalia, by dogma, by legalism, by trivial difference, even, by off-putting piety. The central message of good news, of forgiveness, of salvation, of a new beginning, is obscured or discredited. We have to admit that far too often people haven’t been able to see the cross because of all the stupid angels…

A feature of Jesus’ ministry was his ability not to be diverted by trivia but to concentrate on the central themes that are woven right through the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation.

In the varied and often stressful situations in which we find ourselves we need to ask some basic questions: 

When we answer those questions honestly and humbly, and take steps to change, we allow the message of the cross to work in other people’s, and our own lives.

As we finish this year and have time to reflect and celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ may we be united in the things that matter, put aside the things that don’t and make clear the path to the Cross for ourselves and others!

Have a safe and blessed Christmas.