A Very Mary Christmas

December 11, 2012 | 26 comments

Feet dangling in patent-leather, I sat on the polished pew while the Christmas pageant director assigned parts. I held my breath, waiting as she called names. I dreaded this moment, for I knew I’d be instructed to serve as a sheep or cow. Each year, the director would assure us that those lowing, humble barn-dwellers were “important” pieces of the story.

I didn’t buy it. I wanted to be Mary.

As I grew older, I was upgraded from beast to human. In this more esteemed role, I had the opportunity to deliver real lines, beyond the scripted moo-ing. We didn’t have enough boys in church to fill all the male roles, so I regularly stood in as a king or a shepherd, wearing an itchy gunny sack. One year, I did get to wear white wings, proclaiming into the church microphone: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people!”

But even as an angel of the Lord Most High, I secretly pined to be tapped as Mary, Mother of God. This was every Sunday School girl’s dream. Each year, the highly favored one would ride down the red-carpeted aisle on a cardboard donkey. She wore a flowing gown, which the director ceremoniously retrieved from the church’s costume vault only once a year. Mary never had lines to memorize. Her only job was to look good.

Each year, Mary seemed to glow, outshining even the glittery star overhead. She radiated in that magical moment when, at the end of the play, everyone in the pews would rise up, gripping candles, to sing “Silent Night” in a circle.

I watched Mary as I mouthed the words to the song. She sat center-stage by the wooden communion rail, while gazing upon the babe in arms. Some years, we had a real-live baby as our Jesus. Mostly, though, we used a doll from the nursery toy-bin. We wrapped it in swaddling clothes — threadbare dishtowels from the church-basement kitchen.

Often, a pretty blonde was christened as Mary. Even at a young age, I knew this was historically inaccurate. But no one seemed to mind in our town, where Swedish descendants bore names like Larson and Anderson. Mary usually matched our toy-box Jesus — a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl doll with magic marker drawn on the back of her head.

Then, behold, in 1982, the heavens opened, and I witnessed my very own Christmas miracle: I was called forth from the pew.

“Jennifer?” she asked. “Would you be willing to serve as our Mary this year?”

I nodded a shy yes, but on the inside, I belted out the Magnificat.

I remember it still, draping a white cloth around my brunette head, then walking down the aisle of my dimly-lit church. I remember cradling the baby in swaddling dishtowels, and hearing everyone laugh when one of the wee kings in a cardboard crown shouted out: “Hi, Mom!” A shepherd stretched out on the step for a long winter’s rest. Beside me, the cattle were lowing and adjusting brown-felt ears. And behind me, I sensed a great company of the heavenly host—all dressed in holey bed sheets. Or maybe they were holy.

Then came the moment for the final number, the hallowed singing of “Silent Night.” A great hush fell over the room, as the congregants rose to their feet and lit candles by passing a flame around the circle.

The pianist began, then voices rose in unison:

Round ‘yon virgin, Mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild

And that’s when it happened. At the front of a tiny Iowa church — where I sat in a sheet-covered folding chair — Mary’s story was becoming my own. I looked at the cradled babe, with bits of hay snared in blonde locks. I was beginning to realize, right then, who the real star of this Christmas show was.

I turned my head a bit, bowing my chin lower as voices swelled higher. I hoped no one would notice a single tear sliding down my cheek. I — the holder of the Christ-child — was discovering what those words in the story meant, about a young girl treasuring up all these things, and pondering them in her heart.

A repost from the archive.

Today marks the final installment of God-Bumps & God-Incidences, a weekly writing community that we started in 2011.

However, I have some great news! We’re working on exciting things here at the blog, and we’ll be ready to share it with you in the weeks ahead. The changes include a brand-new writing community designed for all of you storytellers. This community will be firmly anchored in the remarkable power of story. More coming soon …

And now, the last of the God-Bumps & God-Incidences linkups …

Take your pick …




by | December 11, 2012 | 26 comments


  1. Leanne

    a writing community? that sounds pretty darn exciting

  2. Lori

    Oh Jennifer, I loved this story….I can still remember when my good friend played Mary when she was pregnant with her first child…..I need to call her and see if she remembers, I am sure she does. That is really the height of any Sunday School girl’s dream….so glad you got your chance!

  3. Diana Trautwein

    I love this story. And I’m excited to ponder what’s coming in weeks ahead. Wish I could contribute to the last week of your great meme – but this daily thing I’m doing has meant not much else is getting written! I’ll link up today’s just for the heck of it – even though it doesn’t fit the theme particularly well. I just can’t the ‘last’ one go by.

  4. Lynn Morrissey

    THis is so beautifully told, Jennifer. I hope you are putting it in your new book! Lovely how God showed you the real meaning of Christmas, experientially, when you were so young. And I couldn’t help but think of the Mary (as in Herdman) in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. You bear no resemblance, except maybe that tear down the cheek and the pondering part.

  5. Sharon O

    Beautiful story I am in tears, so sweet and tender and oh I can just see ‘the little girl’ who wanted to be Mary.

  6. Kath

    “I nodded a shy yes, but on the inside, I belted out the Magnificat.” I can feel this one.
    And then this… “about a young girl treasuring up all these things, and pondering them in her heart.” Yes.

  7. Barbara Isaac

    Thank you for your amazing writing that always leads me deeper into Him; you are being used of your Father powerfully. Well done, faithful servant!

  8. Kim

    Beautifully told, as usual, Jennifer. For many years, when my kids were little, I was the director passing out the parts for our annual musical. I do hope I was able to convey how important each part was to the whole, like it talks about the different parts of the body in the Bible. But you’re right: Every little girl longs to be Mary. I hope we big girls long to be like Mary, too. Merry Christmas, Jennifer, and thanks for hosting.

  9. Laura @ Pruning Princesses

    Love this story, though I always wanted to be an angel, with furry white wings and a beautiful voice. The Christmas pageant never really touched my heart. So glad it touched yours.

  10. Jillie

    Dear Jennifer…You have taken me back in time today, to the one and only occasion I was ever in a Christmas pageant. Standing on a chair in the background, alongside my two best friends, in flowing white holey sheet costumes with tinsel ‘halos’ round about our heads. Ironically, we were the ‘angels ’round about’. With direction to raise our ‘wings’ every few moments in the course of the play. Candles lit throughout the sanctuary. Even as a very worldly child, I recognized the deep meaning and sacredness of the Holy, Silent Night we were enacting.
    Loved your story today, especially the tear sliding down your cheek as you gazed at the baby Jesus.

  11. Sharita

    Such a sweet post, Jennifer! (You got me all teary first thing in the morning… That or it’s these blessed first time preggo hormones. SIGH.)

    Congrats on a strong couple of years with “God-Bumps and Incidences…” I am way excited for the new writing community and will be creeper-stalking your website til launch. 🙂 Love and blessings to you, sister!

  12. floyd

    And the heart God gave you is still pondering… The innocence is still alive in Him. Great story. I love the real life childhood stories. I just don’t think you can get any closer to a heart.

  13. EvieJo

    Oh wow, I will miss this but the thought of a Story telling community is exciting. I just started a blog (2 weeks ago) that I am posting a real life telling of a positive story on once a week. God laid it on my heart. There is only one other blog that I link this story with. So glad that there will or may be another. Bless you!

  14. Sylvia R

    I knew this was gonna be good when I first started reading… And. it. was! We should all put ourselves in Mary’s sandals for a while — and ponder.

  15. Christina

    Excited to see what’s next!

  16. Alecia

    Can’t wait to see what lies ahead over here!
    Don’t we all want to me Mary? And then humbly we realize it’s not about us. Precious story.

  17. ro.ellott

    Change is everywhere…blessings as you follow where He leads…sometimes where He leads can give me a sense of being left behind…not by Him…but by the world around me. but He never leaves us…and when we are with Him we are not left behind. Have a very Merry Christmas xoxo

  18. Kris

    I always love that scripture, about Mary pondering these things in her heart–really, we can’t even begin to imagine…. This post is so beautiful, Jennifer, and I am not ashamed to say I am just giddy here, waiting for the reveal…. how very exciting!!! God bless you, sweet friend!!

  19. Laurie Collett

    What a beautiful story, Jennifer! So many things for Mary to ponder in her heart as she held her Child and King. Thanks for hosting & God bless!

  20. Dolly@Soulstops

    What a tender story of your experience with the Christ child …look forward to hearing what you have planned…Thanks for hosting, Jennifer 🙂

  21. ro.ellott

    ps…thank -you for this sweet community you hosted here…your place was one of the places God lead me…I found so much love …and this place was a place of healing and growth for me…may you be blessed as you have blessed me and others~

  22. Linda

    I remember this one Jennifer (so you know it made a lasting impression!). It is so beautifully written and such a sweet story. Love you sweet lady.

  23. Megan Willome

    Can’t wait to hear what’s next!

    And your comment at the end of my series–it meant so much!

  24. kelli- AdventurezInChildRearing

    Precious – I’ve really enjoyed participating when I can with your link up – looking forward to seeing where God leads you next.



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