THE CHRISTMAS pageant at our church would not be out of place on Broadway. In addition to the basic cast of Mary, Joseph and the kings, there are the Heavenly Host (14 strong), 10 shepherds with 2 real lambs, 4 trumpeters, 5 tumblers, 40 angels (half pink, half blue), 3 innkeepers, 8 pages, an archangel, a narrator, assorted sound and lighting technicians and a donkey. It is directed, as it has been for the past 20 years, by Janet Walker.
On the day before the pageant, I took my daughter (a blue angel) to the dress rehearsal and stayed to watch.
It started out fine. Gabriel appeared on cue and gave the news to a suitably beatific fifth-grade Mary. Then the lights in the church were dimmed and from the balcony, illuminated by a spotlight, the Heavenly Host began to sing:
"Lo, how a rose e'er blooo. . . EEEEEEEEEEK!!!!"
The organist stopped playing and Mrs. Walker called up: "What is it girls?"
One of the less panicked ones reported: "There's a rat up here."
Mrs. Walker was skeptical: "Impossible. Maybe a mouse but certainly not a rat." After asking if they'd never seen a mouse before, she told them to get back to work. They took it from the top.
Then the narrator set the stage:
"And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed."
He was smooth until he got to the route taken by Joseph and his espoused wife:
"And Joseph also went up from Galilee, unto the City of Nazareth. . . No. It's 'into' the City of Nazareth, or is it 'out of'?"
Mrs. Walker slowly went through the sequence: up from Galilee, out of the City of Nazareth, into Judea, and unto the City of David.
After the narrator got that straight, Joseph with Mary perched tentatively on the donkey, came down the aisle and heard "no room" from three diminutive innkeepers. Between the first and second rejections, the donkey suddenly lurched forward, unseating Mary who proceeded on foot.
The shepherds appeared, received good tidings of great joy from Gabriel and, as the narrator said: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host . . . ," 40 angels with tinsel halos streamed down the aisle, flapping their arms. They divided into two groups at the transept and, still flapping their arms, ran around in large circles.
One of the smallest angels waved at her mother sitting in the front pew and flashed a big smile. The smile quickly disappeared as the girl, looking at her mother instead of where she was going, tripped and did a nose dive onto the stone floor. Everyone stopped as Mrs. Walker and the girl's mother sped to comfort her. In a few minutes the rehearsal continued, with one angel temporarily sidelined.
The angels took their places on the stage and the head shepherd said to his colleagues: "Let us now go unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass." When Mrs. Walker corrected him ("It's 'Let us now go even unto Bethlehem' ") the shepherd, who was obviously overqualified for the role, asked: "What does the 'even' add?" Mrs. Walker didn't know but asked that, out of deference to Luke, it be retained.
The tumblers came and went and it was time for the three kings. Each one, with two pages holding his long cape, walked majestically down the aisle, a directional mike picking up his solo. One page dropped his corner of the cape and each time he bent down to grab it, the king stepped forward and the cape would flip out of reach. The page's frustration grew until he finally dived for the cape and landed on it, stopping his sire in his tracks.
The kings, shepherds and angels all sang a few carols and, with the trumpeters raising their tin foil-covered cardboard trumpets to their mouths, everyone receded to "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and the rehearsal was over.
The pageant itself started at 5 p.m. the next day. The mice stayed away from the balcony. The narrator took Joseph and Mary up from, out of, into and unto all the right places. There were no fallen angels. Probably making a statement, the head shepherd said: "Let even us now go unto Bethlehem" but no one seemed to notice. The donkey behaved. The solos were clean and clear and the pages held tight to their capes.
Mrs. Walker was smiling as everything fell into place.
It is the season for miracles.
Mr. Trowbridge is an attorney.