‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . there was complete and utter chaos.
My two eldest cousins had decided that we would put on a nativity play. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but think about the logistics: 21 people, including 11 cousins ranging from ages two to 12, crammed into a tiny house in the south of Chile. Add in the fact that it had already been a long day, it was almost bedtime and you’ve got yourself a winning combination for disaster.
My eldest cousin appointed herself the narrator, reading from the gospels of Luke and Matthew. The other set about as the “stage manager”, organising the remaining cousins into parts and costumes.
I was given the grand task of playing the angel Gabriel. At five years old, all I knew was that angels were beautiful and majestic, and that Gabriel had to be the most important person in the story because he was the first one to announce that Jesus had been born. Even at five, I loved being the first to break any sort of news so I was over the moon about my casting.
The feeling didn’t last long.
After all the parts had been doled out, we had several cousins left over, so the cousin closest in age to me was also given the part of the angel Gabriel. “You can share it,” said my eldest cousin. I was horrified. There was only one angel Gabriel! To make matters worse we were informed that we weren’t required to speak because our eldest cousin would read directly from the Bible. All we needed to do was flap our “wings” and look angelic. Our costumes consisted of a large sheet draped around our shoulders and fastened securely with a clothes peg. Majestic indeed.
Things only went downhill from there. My 10-year-old male cousins both thought they were too cool for the parts of Joseph and lead shepherd. The cousin playing Mary was in an uproar that the doll we’d chosen to play Baby Jesus was a girl doll. My brother, three at the time, was appointed a magi, but when the time came to give gifts to Baby Jesus, he didn’t want to surrender his treasures. And when my turn came to enter as the angel Gabriel, I moved my arms gracefully for about 20 seconds before tiring out.
We concluded the whole fiasco with a hearty rendition of Silent Night—ironic, considering the whole evening had been anything but. My eldest girl cousins were singing off-key at the top of their lungs. I didn’t know the words to this particular song in Spanish so was happily screeching out the English words, joined by my cousin from the US. The elder boys were bored. My brother had finally surrendered his magi gifts, only to become fascinated with the clothes peg holding his makeshift turban together. And in the pièce de résistance, our four-year-old troublemaker cousin—whom my brother had been in a fierce war with since the moment we landed on Chilean soil—stomped up and snatched my brother’s clothes peg out of his hand.
As the adults struggled to contain their laughter, and my cousins belted out the last few lines of the song, my brother’s wails as he dramatically crumpled to the floor shredded any bit of dignity we had left.
Re-watching the home video of this performance almost 20 years later usually brings tears of laughter from the whole family. But as I reflect on it this December, I can’t help but think about the fact that I’d completely missed the point of the story we were acting out. We’d all missed it. Sure, we were just kids. But how many of us—even today—still miss the point?
Quite some time ago, there was a scene that was very similar to our family night. A small space was also noisy and crowded and chaotic as Mary prepared to give birth. Animals clucked and brayed and bleated as Joseph stood watch nearby. And finally, Baby Jesus made His entrance into the world. His parents stood in awe as shepherds and magi came to worship. All heaven rejoiced with a glorious host of angels proclaiming the good news. They understood the significance of what had just happened.
But not too far away, there was one guy who had completely missed the point. King Herod was more focused on keeping his crown rather than celebrating the birth of the Saviour of the world. As a result, he missed the fact that Jesus hadn’t come to take, but rather, to give. He overlooked the whole point of the story: God loved us so much that He gave us His only child—Jesus—to give eternal life to anyone who simply believes.
"Often we’re like King Herod. We may not have a crown, but if we’re focused on ourselves, then we completely miss the point."
Often we’re like King Herod. We may not have a crown, but if we’re focused on ourselves, then we completely miss the point. I was so wrapped up in my task as the angel Gabriel that I didn’t even hear the rest of the story being read. And it’s the same every year, for me, and for all of us. We have selfish desires; moments where we think we deserve to be the star. The shepherds and the magi understood. They realised the event of Jesus’ birth wasn’t about them; they’d come to worship Jesus and give Him all their attention.
So this is my challenge: I’d like to encourage all of us to not miss the point. To look outside of ourselves, surrender to Christ, focus on others and meet their needs. Jesus Himself commanded us to free the oppressed and stand up against injustice (Isaiah 58:6), to share with people in need and practice hospitality (Romans 12:13), and most importantly, to not look to our own interests but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). There are plenty of people, regardless of the season, who need help—whether that be financial or through the giving of food, clothes or even your time. Sometimes it’s not easy. It requires energy and effort, patience, kindness and humility. But if I could re-enact our nativity play, my point would be a simple one: God gave selflessly, Jesus served and all those around worshipped unreservedly.
This Christmas, New Year, and in the months and years that follow, I’d like to do the same.