On Sunday, in the congregation I serve, we marked the Fourth Sunday of Advent with a new Christmas Pageant. This particular congregation has used the same pageant for over 10 years. Last year, as I sat in worship listening to the story unfold, I was aware of how some of the things that were said in the story didn’t fit with the congregation. It made claims about Jesus that weren’t quite in character with these people. Plus, it didn’t really tell the story. Instead, it told the story that everyone thinks they know. Of course, in the United Church of Christ, the pastor doesn’t just get to do what she pleases. We work by committee. We discern together what God is doing among us. So I started to ask around. I wanted to see if we really were ready for a new pageant or if it was actually just me that was ready.
It wasn’t just me. We were ready for a new story. We just didn’t know where to look. I started looking around. I asked friends for pageants through the power of social media. I got a couple of scripts. I read through them. I stacked them together awaiting for the time when it would be to share them with the committee I had gathered.
And then, I had an idea. I’m not sure where it started. I’m not sure if was by the suggestion of inviting one of our youth to join the committee or if I watched this particular youth help direct the pageant last year or if it was something else. Still. It dawned on me to ask this particular youth if she would like to write the pageant. I would help her. I didn’t give her much of an explanation. I just named a time that might work over her Christmas break. She was thrilled. And so, we wrote a pageant together over one afternoon in late December.
However, I’m not taking credit. I removed my name from the bulletin that said I was the artistic director. I have deferred any credit that might be given to me to this youth. She finds this strange. She even insisted on Sunday that I did write it. And I should take credit. I still shook my head. The credit is hers. Not because I didn’t help. Not because I didn’t push her to figure out why this story matters. Not because I challenged her to hear both stories from Matthew and Luke. Not because I didn’t giggle at the jokes we came up with together. (Moo.) The credit belongs to this youth because she said yes. She was willing to imagine a new thing in our church. She was open to the possibility that this story could be told differently than it has been throughout her entire childhood.
This morning, my daily lection invited me to hear the story of Hagar and Ishmael after Abraham and Sarah have Issac. Hagar and her son are sent away. They are banished. I heard this story a lot in seminary. It became very familiar. It is this text that centered the womanist theology of my beloved professor Delores Williams. In seminary, by this professor and others, I was challenged to hear how I had pushed others out. I was invited to hear the other side of the story. And yet, I don’t remember hearing about God’s movement in the end of this story. I didn’t recall how God hears Ishmael crying after the water is gone. I didn’t remember that God assures Hagar not to be afraid. Certainly, like our youth writing a new pageant, I’m hearing this story again. And in doing so, I’m challenged to remember again that the credit doesn’t belong to me. Not to Sarah. Not to Abraham. The credit belongs to God. God doesn’t take credit. God simply takes care of the people. God gives them water and allows them to grow up safely. Abraham and Sarah thought they were following in God’s ways. They thought they were doing the right thing. (People always do.) But, God isn’t so concerned about who gets the credit. God just wants us to take care of each other. My God invites me to behave in her ways. She wants me to follow in her model rather that get bogged down in my own pride and prestige. For me, giving credit to this youth is about that. It’s the simple act of loving her and allowing her to grow up in God’s ways.