Children have such a unique way of looking at the world, especially in matters of faith. This summer, we have been exploring what it means to have "Faith like a Child," as Saint Luke members introduce faith topics through children’s literature.
We continue this series with special guest, Carol Koup. Let your inner child out to be swept away as Carol shares with us from one of her favorite children’s books.
The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied, stole, smoked cigars (even the girls), talked dirty, hit little kids, cussed their teachers, and took the name of the Lord in vain. They were just so all around awful you could hardly believe they were real! Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys. They lived over a garage and their pet cat was the meanest looking animal- short legs, broken tail, and missing one eye. We figured they were headed straight to hell by the way of the state penitentiary - until the got themselves mixed up with the church and our Christmas pageant.
Our pageant isn’t what you’d call four star entertainment. The script is standard and so are the costumes and the castings. Primary kids are angels, intermediate kids are shepherds, the big boys are wise men, the ministers son was Joseph, and Alice was Mary because she is so smart, neat, clean, and most of all, holy looking. The rest of the kids are in the angel choir.
One day at school, Leroy Herdman stole dessert from my brother, Charlie’s lunch box. Charlie said, “Go ahead and take it. I can get all I want at church.” The following Sunday, the Herdman’s showed up with eyes peeled for refreshments. The Herdmans heard about the Christmas play that day.
About 35 years ago, I was looking for a meaningful book to read to my boys about Christmas. A librarian pointed me to Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
When my boys and I curled up in Mark’s bed to read it, we laughed so hard I had tears running down m cheeks (at times I had tears from the poignancy of the story as well). It is now one of my all time favorite books, which says something about me, I guess there is so much to love and learn from children’s books.
As an added bonus, Barbara Robinson was a Berwyn resident and I used to chat with her in the Acme!
When the director, Mrs. Armstrong, broke her leg, mother got stuck with the job. She asked for volunteers to be Mary. Imogene raised her hand and said she would be Mary and Ralph would be Joseph. No one volunteered for wise men, so Leroy, Claude, and Ollie became wise men. By default, Gladys would be the angel of the Lord. Alice, who was always Mary, was threatened by Imogene. She was threatened by Gladys to have pussy willows shoved so far down her ear that they would sprout and Alice would spend the rest of her life with a pussy willow growing out of her ear.
My father said someone should lock up the silver service. The pastor, after listening to all the complaints, reminded the members of the congregation that Jesus said, “Suffer the little children…all children including the Herdmans.”
Yay for the Pastor!
At the first rehearsal, my mother read the Christmas story since the Heardmans had never heard it. When Imogene heard that there was no room at the inn, she said, “Not even for Jesus?” Leroy asked, “What was that they laid him in - a bed? Mother explained that was the point- there was no bed. Leroy asked, “What were waddled up clothes?” Swadling clothes, mother explained. Imogene was incredulous. “You mean they tied him up and put him in a feed box? Where was child welfare?” Gladys piped up, “Shazam!” Gladys, exclaimed “Shazam!… Out of nowhere, in the back night- with horrible vengeance- the Might Warrior!” Ollie piped in, “Wise men- were they like school teachers?” Claude said, “No dumbbelll, it’s like the US president.” “Very close,” said mother, “actually they were kings.” Imogene burst in, “Well it’s about time! Maybe they’ll tell the innkeeper where to get off and get the baby out of the barn.” Mother continued, “The wise men presented gold, frankencense,, and myrrh.” “What’s that?” Leroy wanted to know. “Precious oils and fragrant resins,” my mother explained. Imogene shouted, “Oil? What kind of cheap king hands out oil for a present? You get better presents from the firemen.” Imogene said, “My God, he just got born and already they are out to kill him.”
When we got home, Dad asked about the rehearsal. Mother said, “Suppose you had never heard the story, what would you think?” “I guess I’d think it was pretty disgraceful that they could not find a room for a pregnant woman except in a stable.”
In her book, Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz Weber commented, “The world in which Christ was born was certainly not a Normal Rockwell painting. God did not enter the world of our own nostalgic, silent night, snow blanketed peace on earth suspended reality of Christmas. Instead God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered our violent and disturbing world…So here we have a girl likely between 13 and 15, a peasant, to be married to a pretty religious guy. Here’s where Mary had some real chops. She heard outrageous things from the Angel and said let it be with me according to your will. Maybe the really outrageous act of faith on Mary’s part was trusting that she had found favor with God.” I appreciate Nadia’s perspective- fighting the ‘not good enough’ talk in my head, as my childhood consisted of a vengeful God who would strike us down for infractions - akin to Gladys’ SHAZAM!
Our story continues on the night of the pageant…
All players were in their positions - except for Imogene and Ralph. Suddenly the came in, not pushing and shoving - just standing there looking like people on the 6 o’clock news": refugees sent to wait in some ugly place. It must have been like this for the Holy Family- stuck away in a barn by people who did not much care what happened to them.
Eerie how this sounds so familiar to the flight of refugees today…
Ralph, with his hair sticking out all around his ears, with Imogene whose veil was cockeyed, and who thumped the baby twice before putting him in the manger made quite the unusual scene. Alice, who watched intently so she could report every infraction to her mother and the pastor, thought it was wrong to be burping the baby Jesus. She mused, “Do you think He had colic?”
The whole point is that He did not come down on a cloud. He was born and lived a real person…
Gladys entered next, stepping on people as she came on stage. As she was the only one with a speaking part, she yelled. Gladys, with her skinny legs and her dirty sneakers sticking out from under her robe, yelling at all of us, everywhere:
“Hey! Unto YOU a child is born!”
May our hearts be stirred awake by the call. Hey! Unto YOU a child is born! Help us to live in this reality both as children and adults, in christmas time and throughout the year. Amen.
Special thanks to today’s guest Carol Koup. She has been a member of Saint Luke since 1971. Her and her husband Rick were married at Saint Luke, Rick’s childhood church. Together, they raised their sons at Saint Luke. Over the years, Carol has been involved in everything from Sunday School, Confirmation, and Christmas Pageants. Most recently, she immensely enjoyed helping out at VBS.