by Pastor Katrina Clinton
Eunice Prescott had directed the Christmas pageant for 26 years. Over the years there were certain customs and traditions that grew to be very important to the pageant. One was the STAR. In 1973, Eunice charged her 18 year-old son and her husband with creating a Bethlehem star that would be enormous and hang from the middle of the Proscenium arch over the church chancel area. The apex of the arch was 20 feet off the floor, so there was plenty of room to hang a large star. They came up with a grand star made out of old Christmas lights, the little bulb kind- wrapped around some coat hangers and other wire shaped like a star with a long tail, and taped together with green floral tape. She kept the star safely stored in a black large trash bag with a sign saying “Bethlehem star” marked on the outside up her attic until the day when it was put up in the church.
That was always a nerve-wracking day, because someone had to stand atop the 22’ extension ladder that went from the dais to the top of the arch, with nothing to stabilize it in between. The climber had only empty space to look at and a wobbly ladder to climb to get there. The problem was compounded in that the star had to be installed in the middle spotlight, so that it could be on the rheostat. Eunice would have the star start to glow slowly until it became very bright as the people sang, “OH, star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright…”
But before you could screw in the outlet where the star was to be plugged, you had to unscrew the spotlights- all three of them- on the left and right and then middle- 3 trips up the ladder. Eunice could never watch as it made her dizzy to look up. She would stand in the corner muttering a prayer of guidance and safety for whoever was on the ladder.
The other tradition that Eunice had was that the Baby Jesus was a flashlight wrapped in a blanket so that during “Silent Night”, the baby would glow from the manger. As the years went on the flashlights got bigger and more sophisticated. What had begun as an old 6 c-battery heavy duty Ray0vac silver flashlight had become a roadside lantern with a big battery that had a white fluorescent light instead of the old yellow incandescent look.
Well, the particular pageant I wanted to tell you about was the year when the star blew up…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Eunice set up the time for her son to come help hang the star. We got out the ladder and set it up and Sherm and I took turns going up the ladder or holding it to keep it from wobbling too much. He finally got the star all plugged in and then we strung the fishing line to the sides of the arch so that the star would hang straight. At the time I remember asking how old the star was, and commented that it seemed to be showing some signs of its age. But there it was, hanging high above the wood manger that was also made a long time ago. The stage was all set, and Clarence was given the job of lighting director. The script had all the lighting cues marked on the side- “Bring star up.”
Everything had gone fine in rehearsal on Saturday, and the cast was ready. Mary-Jo Chandler was chosen to be Mary that year. She was in the confirmation class and a rather shy and nervous 14 year old. Bobby Brown was to be Joseph because he wanted to make sure he had a no-speaking part.
The pageant was going along just fine on Sunday evening. Oh, there were the minor glitches of the angels popping up before the line about the whole host of heaven, but they were just so anxious. And one of the shepherds had to go to the bathroom in the middle of his journey to Bethlehem so he took a detour down the back aisle to the bathroom and then joined the rest of the shepherds on the last verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
But then it was time for the wise men to appear in the East and see the star. Calarence turned up the rheostat slowly just as he had been instructed. The star began to glow, and the congregation sang with lumps in their throats: “We Three Kings of Orient are….. When they got to the “OH star of wonder “part, Clarence had the rheostat turned all the way up and the star was shining for all it’s worth…then it gave a crack and a sputter and a blinding light flashed before the whole place went dark. The angels were screaming. The shepherds were giggling, and poor Mary and Joseph didn’t know what to do. Mary fumbled for the switch on “Baby Jesus” so she could turn on that light and at least have some manger glow, but instead she hit the emergency light switch and the red light started blinking in the manger. Joseph was no help whatsoever as he tripped on the too long robe and the staff that was caught in the manger.
Eunice was in the back with Clarence trying to find the other light switches to get some other lights on. The sanctuary was all dark except for two red exit signs and a blinking baby Jesus in the manger. Then the emergency lights came on, as the fire alarm went off. Members of the Fire Department were there in 5 minutes. They ushered everyone out into the snowy parking lot while they checked out the building. The blaring horns and blinking lights finally stopped.
By now, Mary had turned off the red blinking light and put the white one on. She clung to the flashlight blanket for dear life and everyone gathered around her in the parking lot. Someone started to sing:” Silent Night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” And then everyone joined in, even the firefighters who emerged from the building to give the “all clear” signal. Everyone was very thankful for the calm and the light of Baby Jesus and the bright parking lot floodlights that outlined their shadows on the snowy ground.
There was a final prayer of thanksgiving for the light of the world that had come to save all of us. Then everyone was invited back into the fellowship hall for cocoa and cookies. Eunice was embarrassed, but everyone told her how wonderful the pageant was. Many people told her that they finally understood the link between the light of the world and the birth of the Savior. They felt saved that night and they had a Christmas story to beat all other Christmas stories.