Ok, plants, even Jealous Plant, can’t actually talk. They don’t have mouths, see. But Jealous Plant is a good listener. A really good listener. So I started talking and hoped that Jealous Plant would chime in one way or another.
I told him that I suspected that he had made the cacophony in the sacristy that scared the geckos.
“I’m not mad, Jealous Plant,” I went on “I’m sure with everyone fussing over the lizards and snakes and chameleons, you’re feeling pretty left out. And that’s no fun at all. Especially because the only reason all of this is going on is because I came to the church wanting to talk to YOU.”
That got Jealous Plant’s attention. He immediately became less droopy, clearly waiting for what I was going to say next. So I told him about my dare gone wrong and how I had nearly squished Helen the Tarantula (soon to be baby Jesus). I explained that I had run to the church wanting to tell him all about it because he was such a good listener.
“And then everything kind of got out of control, Jealous Plant. But you need to know, that as weird as all of this is, I’m glad we’re co-assistant directors.”
Immediately Jealous Plant’s leaves drooped as if the air had gone out of them.
“What is it?” I asked. “You don’t want to be an assistant director?”
“SOMEONE GET THAT THING OUT OF THE BAPTIMSAL FONT!!!!!” A voice that could only belong to Mrs. Snapper rattled the windows of the sanctuary. If she screamed any louder, I had a feeling the ashes would start resurrecting with or without Jesus to supervise.
“Look, Jealous Plant” I said “Like it or not, we are in this together. Right now, those people in the church need some direction and we are going to go provide it. Come on!”
I grabbed Jealous Plant’s pot and headed back into the sanctuary at a run.
To Be Continued
1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
The Holy Spirit blesses us with gifts to be used in sharing the good news of Jesus and creating a community where Jesus is made known in word and deed. What are some of Jealous Plant’s spiritual gifts? What about the narrator? How have these gifts been put to use so far? What are your gifts and how do you use them in sharing the life of Jesus?
“Fine, I agree that it’s an impressive creature, definitely has the shock and awe down to an art form-but, we really need someone who can speak to play Gabriel the angel” Mrs. Snapper leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and her chin resting in her hands, staring down a chameleon that was currently picking up the red hues of the church carpet as well as the blue of the advent banners. The effect was stunning. “I just can’t see how we can make this work.”
“Well, if you wanted something that talks, maybe you should have found someone with a parrot!” fumed Mr. Skink.
“But he would look quite impressive with a pair of wings” Pastor Basil sighed. “There must be a way. Perhaps James or Silas can say the lines offstage-”
“This is not a puppet show, Pastor Basil” interrupted Mrs. Snapper. “All the actors must speak their lines!”
“Reginald can whistle a bit if he’s in the right mood” offered Mr. Skink.
“There will be absolutely no whistling in church!”
“Now Mrs Snapper-” warned Pastor Basil.
“I will not hear of it!”
While Mrs. Snapper and Pastor Basil argued with Mr. Skink egging them on, I decided to slip out in search of Jealous Plant. I was sure that he was responsible for causing the racket in the sacristy that had spooked the geckos. Someone needed to talk to him before things got even more out of hand.
First I stuck my head into the sacristy, but other than the toppled stack of communion trays there was no sign of Jealous Plant. Except...yes, there, underneath one of the trays was a single green leaf. Jealous Plant had been here all right.
I walked out of the sanctuary and headed down the hall. I glanced in Pastor Basil’s office. It was its usual chaotic mess of books, papers, and odd and ends, but no Jealous Plant. The Sunday school classroom was the same. Even the nursery was empty.
Where could that plant be? I looked out the window to see if maybe Jealous Plant was on the playground. No such luck. Then, I remembered the columbarium. That’s a little garden area outside where we keep the ashes of church members who have died. It’s really not as creepy as it sounds though. I actually find it kind of peaceful and, more importantly, so does Jealous Plant.
Sure enough, there sitting on a bench looking droopy and wilted in the cold December air was Jealous Plant.
I walked over and sat down next to him. “Jealous Plant,” I said “can we talk?”
To Be Continued
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.
The narrator steps away from the work of auditioning the animals for the Christmas Pageant in order to find Jealous Plant. What happens when we step away from business as usual to deal with people who are struggling, hurting, or generally being awful? What might we lose? What could we gain? How is conflict management part of being the church?
A reading of Chapter 13 by Amelia Corbett
The rattlesnake treated us to an enthralling and very percussion heavy dance number. Pastor Basil applauded with enthusiasm “Well done!”
Mrs. Snapper was less excited. “Well, I suppose we’ll have to bring back the little drummer boy this year” she sighed.
Then came Mr. Skink’s tropical house geckos, auditioning for the role of angelic host. They had been hunkering down in a heated tank right up until their audition time. Their entrance, scampering up to the front in a line was endearing and maybe even compelling, but after that they succumbed to a bout of mass stage fright and just stood there staring at us.
“Be careful” warned Mr. Skink “they’re nervous critters and if anything-” CRASH
Something or rather a bunch of somethings toppled over in the sacristy, the little room behind the altar where Pastor Basil keeps the communion supplies, banners, and other odds and ends.
“What on earth!”
“Heavens to Betsy!”
Everyone had something to say about the noise, but no one was able to do anything to keep the geckos from scattering all over the sanctuary. We ended up spending the next half hour searching the sanctuary's corners, crawling under pews, and peering beneath the loose edges of the carpet to finally find and herd all the geckos back into their tank.
“Well, they are definitely NOT angel material” Mrs. Snapper shook a disapproving finger at the geckos.
“No,” I agreed, thinking quickly “But what about sheep?”
“They certainly know how to go astray,” Pastor Basil nodded “Sounds like an excellent role to me.”
Everyone was pleased with my idea. Clearly I had a good handle on this whole assistant director thing. But amid the congratulations, I was the only one who noticed that Jealous Plant was nowhere to be seen and had been missing since before the great gecko getaway.
To Be Continued
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.
The geckos who started off as possible angels ended up being recognized as sheep. In a crisis they scattered and had to be found. All of us have sheep-like tendencies. When have you panicked in a crisis? When has fear caused you to do the opposite of what was needed? Who is someone who helped get you back on track when you were frightened and struggling?
A reading of Chapter 12 by Amelia Corbett
“Well, this is a problem” murmured Pastor Basil.
“Poor stage presence, sloppy acting, and just not at all what we’re looking for!” declared Mrs. Snapper “next!”
“Now wait a minute,” I was not about to let the poor python be dismissed without adding my input as co-assistant-director. “It’s not like we have anything else that could play the donkey. The other animals are too small.”
“Good point,” Mrs. Snapper conceded, “but baby Jesus will be born and old enough to vote by the time that snake gets Mary to Bethlehem.”
The grizzled quilting lieutenant did have a point. We had spent a good ten minutes staring at the python as it lay unmoving in front of the altar.
“Oh for crying out loud” grumbled Mr. Skink, marching up to the altar. “Sybil is not going to move unless she has the right motivation.” With that he reached into his pocket and pulled out a very plump and very alarmed mouse.
“No!” I yelled.
“Oh calm down, she doesn’t get fed until after 6 o’clock, this is just a bribe.” Mr. Skink waved the mouse back and forth and immediately the python perked up and slithered across the floor at a brisk pace.
“Better” Mrs. Snapper stood up, her hands steepled in front of her. “Can you do that during the actual performance?”
“Can’t see why not” shrugged Mr. Skink, sitting back down with Sybil curled around his feet, and the temporarily spared mouse back in his pocket.
“But nothing about this snake says ‘donkey’” Mrs. Snapper began to pace in front of the altar. “How will the congregation know what it is?”
“A tail?” I suggested.
“No, she already has a tail, too much of a tail, that’s the problem” Mrs. Snapper muttered, almost to herself.
“Sybil is pretty much all tail” agreed Pastor Basil. “What about getting one of the quilters to crochet her some ears?”
“You wanna put ears on Sybil?” Mr. Skink stood up again.
“Just for the performance, and, maybe a saddle of some sort-”
“No saddle!” Mr. Skink made as if to march over to Pastor Basil, but instead found his feet tangled up in Sybil’s coils and nearly fell over. He settled for swaying back and forth, his eye patch flapping against his cheek. “She’s a snake, not a pony, I won’t hear of it.”
“Just ears then” Pastor Basil smiled brightly, “Mrs. Snapper, I’ll leave it to you set up a fitting with your fellow quilters. Now, who is next?”
To Be Continued
1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Pastor Basil, Mrs. Snapper, and even the narrator only see part of who Sybil the python is and what she has to offer. They don’t even know her name until Mr. Skink introduces her. How does Mr. Skink’s knowing of Sybil the Python change the way the others see her? Who in your life knows you and helps others to see your full worth?
A reading of Chapter 11 by Amelia Corbett
We never told Pastor Basil, but whenever Mrs. Snapper feels overwhelmed teaching Sunday School, she plays an episode of American Idol to give “us” a break. Right. American Idol is a reality competition show like no other, with drama both onstage and off. By the time Advent rolled around, we were already on the season two finale.
I say this because the Christmas Pageant auditions ended up being just as stressful as the high pressure performances put on by the American Idol contestants. And Simon, it turned out, had nothing on Mrs. Snapper when it came to brutally honest critiques.
True to his word, Mr. Skink showed up the following afternoon with a truck bed full of willing snakes, turtles, lizards and spiders. Even Pastor Basil seemed to be having second thoughts when a large rattlesnake slithered up the steps and into church.
“Your sign does say ‘all are welcome’” Mr. Skink remarked with a smirk.
“I am well aware, Mr. Skink, well aware” replied Pastor Basil as she joined Mrs. Snapper in getting the various creatures seated in the pews.
I sat next to Jealous Plant in the first pew, watching as Mrs. Snapper attempted to haul the eight-foot python up to the front, so that the snake could audition for the role of donkey. Jealous Plant didn’t seem as droopy as yesterday, but he was thinking about something, I could just tell. That plant was plotting.
I was still supposed to be playing Mary. Pastor Basil had insisted that Mary needed to be played by someone who could talk. I had argued that since I had been the one to invite Mr. Skink to join (ok, a bit of a stretch), I should have a role in directing.
Pastor Basil had agreed and said I could be both Mary and share the assistant director role with Jealous Plant. Neither I nor Jealous Plant were happy with this arrangement.
“Dim the lights!” yelled Mrs. Snapper. Someone fumbled with the light switches until only the space in front of the altar was illuminated. Jealous Plant and I leaned forward, eager to see just what the python would do in her audition for the role of donkey.
To Be Continued
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
When Jesus made room for the children, his disciples learned how challenging welcoming others really is. As a church we say “all are welcome,” but do we really mean it? Who might we find difficult to welcome and what can we do to grow as a community that makes room for everyone? When have you had a difficult time including someone different than you?
a reading of chapter 10 by Amelia Corbett
I could see the panic rising in Mr. Skink’s eyes. He may not have been thrilled with me sneaking into his house, but the idea of a pastoral visit from the one and only Susan Basil was downright terrifying.
I decided to come to his rescue, seeing as he had let the whole breaking and entering thing slide. “Why don’t you bring your family here?” I suggested. “Just the ones who want to be involved. Then we can properly audition them.”
“Excellent idea.” Pastor Basil beamed at me. “What say you, Mr. Skink?”
“Oh, I don’t know” began Mr. Skink, but just then, Helen scampered down Pastor Basil’s arm and again began emphatically waving her legs at him. “Fine,” Mr. Skink tucked Helen back into his collar “I’ll bring them all tomorrow afternoon, but only the ones who want to be involved and that’s final!”
“Wonderful,” Pastor Basil clapped her hands together, “we so look forward to seeing you all then.”
It seemed like everything was going to work out for the best. Until I glanced back toward the altar and noticed Jealous Plant. You might think that a plant always looks like a plant, but I could tell something was off. Jealous Plant’s leaves looked decidedly droopy and off color. He was obviously feeling left out with all the attention being given to Mr. Skink and his family of reptiles and arachnids. And, if Jealous Plant was feeling left out, that meant he was also jealous and that did not bode well for any of us.
To Be Continued...
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
What makes Mr. Skink so nervous about a visit from Pastor Basil? What is he afraid she might find out about him or his family of reptiles, lizards, and spiders? What is Jealous Plant also keeping locked away in his heart? What makes it so difficult for us to trust each other? What does God have to say about the secrets we keep locked away in our minds and hearts?
A reading of chapter 9 by Amelia Corbett
“What!?” Mrs. Snapper had been listening in on the conversation and came marching over to Pastor Basil and Mr. Skink. “A tarantula cannot play baby Jesus! Baby Jesus does not have eight legs!”
“Or eight eyes, for that matter,” I added helpfully.
“But we currently don’t have any infants in the congregation, Mrs. Snapper” pointed out Pastor Basil, “and we can’t have a Christmas Pageant without a baby Jesus, he’s kind of the point.”
“We can use a doll” argued Mrs. Snapper.
“While I do admit that baby Jesus did not have eight legs, or at least the Gospel of Luke doesn’t mention any extra appendages, need I remind you that neither does the gospel mention Jesus being plastic? The Gospel of John is quite clear that ‘the word became flesh.’”
At this point, Mr. Skink had had enough. He straightened his eyepatch, squared his shoulders and said “well, I appreciate the invitation, but I and my ’family,’ as you say, have no interest in being part of this Christmas Pageant, we’d prefer to be left alone in the future.” He gave me a hard look and then turned to leave.
“But Mr. Skink,” said Pastor Basil “have you consulted your family on this matter? It looks to me as if that tarantula is quite eager to participate.”
The tarantula had indeed climbed out from underneath Mr. Skink’s collar and was waving its legs with what appeared to be enthusiasm.
“What is it Helen?” Mr. Skink stretched out his arm and let the tarantula walk her way down to his hand. He held her up near his face and the two began to have a heated conversation consisting of a whole lot of whispering on the part of Mr. Skink and arm waving on the part of Helen. This went on to the point of all of us beginning to feel rather awkward.
“Mr Skink, if I may?” Pastor Basil extended her hand and we all watched in shock as Helen climbed up her arm, frantically waving her hairy tarantula legs. “Helen, would you like to play the baby Jesus? Hold up three legs for yes, two for no.”
Helen immediately stuck three legs up into the air.
“Well, there you have it, at least one member of your household wants to be involved. Now, how about I accompany you to your home and we can see how everyone else feels?” Pastor Basil offered with a bright smile.
To Be Continued
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
In Jesus God’s Word becomes flesh and literally “pitches his tent among us.” Even today, we encounter Jesus in our relationships with one another. Pastor Basil takes this one step further both in assigning the role of baby Jesus to Helen the tarantula and in the way she treats Helen as someone whose needs and desires matter. Is Pastor Basil’s behavior right? Why does her casting of Helen the tarantula bother Mrs. Snapper so much? When have you encountered God in unexpected ways?
Chapter 8 as read by Amelia Corbett
There was a time when I would have killed to be Mary in the Christmas Pageant, but I had outgrown those yearnings, thank you very much. Besides, I was definitely not going to be Mary to Mr. Skink’s Joseph; that was just inappropriate. This would not do.
“Wait here, Mr. Skink” I said and slid out of the pew to go talk to Pastor Basil. If I was going to be roped into the Christmas Pageant alongside the weird reptile man from the other side of town, it was going to be on my terms. I looked to see if I could catch Pastor Basil’s attention, but she was in deep conversation with two teenage boys.
“No, Pastor, we really don’t want to do that again” one of them insisted.
“But it was a riot last year! Everyone loved it” pleaded Pastor Basil.
“No! We hated it! We’re not going to be the donkey! We’ll help wrangle the kids, or paint the set, or whatever, but James and I are not getting into that ridiculous donkey costume!”
It seemed that I was not the only one unhappy with my Christmas Pageant assignment. The Kirtland brothers, James and Silas, had been a hit in a two-person donkey costume last year. Unfortunately, they had both grown about four inches each and the costume had already been a tight fit.
“Can we bring in a real donkey?” asked Pastor Basil, directing her question to Mrs. Snapper, the Sunday school superintendent and quilting lieutenant. She handled stage management.
“Nope” Mrs. Snapper shook her head “the Methodists already got the only one in a 50 mile radius, I checked.”
“Really, didn’t I ask you to reach out to that petting zoo back in July?”
“You did. I did. And the Methodists did back in June.”
“Well, bless those Methodists and their punctual ways” muttered Pastor Basil. Then she looked at me, and then past me, her eyes lighting on Mr. Skink and his very nervous tarantula. “Wait, I have an idea…”
At that very moment Mr. Skink stood up and made as his to head out of the sanctuary, but Pastor Basil strode past me, and caught up with him before he was anywhere close to the door “Mr. Skink,” she declared “you are just the man we need, you and your family, of course.”
The tarantula, surprised to be included, peered over the edge of Mr. Skink’s collar, waving a couple fuzzy legs in the air. Mr. Skink shifted his eyepatch to the side of his head in order to give Pastor Basil his full attention.
“What? Now listen, Miss-”
“Pastor Basil, I don’t really go to church-”
“But you are here now, and I’m sure God has brought you here for a reason.”
“Well as a matter of fact-” again, Mr. Skink found himself unable to get a word in edgewise in the face of Pastor Basil’s relentless invitation and hospitality. Lucky for me.
“And that reason is” continued Pastor Basil, “you have been sent to help us put on this year’s Christmas Pageant. The Methodists may have the donkey, but we have you! You and your eight foot python, which will make a fine donkey, and your tropical house geckos which will be glorious as the angelic host, and of course that adorable tarantula which will make a perfect baby Jesus!” To Be Continued
The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
Pastor Basil is convinced that God has a purpose for Mr. Skink and his family of reptiles and arachnids, but Mr. Skink is skeptical about such a plan. The Bible is full of people who react to God’s plans for them in the same way: with doubt and unwillingness. Why might Mr. Skink be unwilling to see himself as part of God’s plan? What new or difficult things might God be inviting you to try out?
Amelia Corbett with an audio recording of chapter 7
“You are just who I was looking for!”
“And you invited Mr. Skink to come too! What a pleasure! Sit down, both of you, I’ll get you a script!”
In retrospect, Mr. Skink never stood a chance in the face of Pastor Basil’s relentless hospitality. Before he could demand that the police be called or alert everyone to the burglar in their midst, we had both been ushered into a pew and handed scripts for the upcoming Christmas Pageant.
“What is this?” whispered Mr. Skink, popping up his eyepatch to get a better look at the script. I could see the tarantula nervously hunkering down beneath his collar.
“It’s a script for the Christmas Pageant. We act out the story of Jesus being born in Bethlehem” I explained, hoping that if I was helpful, Mr. Skink might let my earlier breaking and entering incident slide.
“Where in tarnation is Bethlehem?” demanded Mr. Skink.
“Uh...Pennsylvania, I think?” I hadn’t realized we’d be doing geography. “It looks like you’re playing Joseph.”
“Uh, Mary’s husband”
“Um...baby Jesus’ mom and, uh…” I glanced nervously down at my script “me?”
To Be Continued
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
A reading of Chapter 6 by Amelia Corbett
Belliacre, in addition to being relentlessly boring and uncomfortably perfect (with the exception of Mr. Skink’s trailer) is also small. It only took me a few minutes to get to St. Mark’s. There were a couple cars in the parking lot, probably just some old people doing whatever it is old people do in church. I didn’t pay them much attention. Instead, I pushed open the front door, and came into the narthex. Some people call it the lobby or “that area outside the sanctuary,” but Pastor Basil says the proper name is the narthex even though it sounds like some sort of sinus condition.
To my right was the sanctuary, the big room where church happened on Sunday mornings. It was decorated with blue banners and a blue cloth around the altar since we were in the season of Advent, the few weeks right before Christmas. The color for Advent is blue. My brother says this is because baby Jesus is a boy, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than that.
A small group of people were inside, seated in the pews, these long wooden benches that are the opposite of comfortable. Pastor Basil was standing in front of the altar, talking to everyone. I could see Jealous Plant perched on the railing that stretched around the altar, clearly involved in whatever was going on.
Cautiously, I slipped into the sanctuary, hoping not to interrupt whatever meeting was going on. Pastor Basil probably wouldn’t mind if I offered to take Jealous Plant off of her hands for a little bit anyway. As I walked down the aisle toward the altar where everyone was gathered, I could see that Pastor Basil had a bunch of papers in her hands and was handing them out to the other people. No one seemed particularly happy to be getting these papers.
As I got closer, Pastor Basil looked up, saw me, and smiled. BOOM! The doors burst open behind me and I turned to see Samuel Skink storming into the sanctuary, eyepatch askew, the tarantula I’d nearly squashed clinging to his shoulder and glaring at me with all eight of its beady little eyes. At the exact same moment both Pastor Basil and Mr. Skink pointed right at me and shouted “YOU!” To be continued
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
Part of how the devil operates is by getting under our skin to the point where we need to justify ourselves, that is, prove our worthiness. And nothing makes us want to justify ourselves more than a good round of accusation. What might Mr. Skink be accusing the narrator of doing? What about Pastor Basil? What can we do when we find ourselves being asked to prove our worth, even as God already declares us worthy of love?
A reading of chapter 5 by Amelia Corbett
About the Blog
Journey through the season of Advent with daily updates on the adventures of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Belliacre, MI as they attempt to cobble together a Christmas Pageant with an unlikely cast of characters.
Stephanie is an art educator and a landscape/portrait artist. Her inspirations come from the amazing people she meets and the gorgeous state of Michigan as well as her home state of Florida. She and he husband love nature. They are out in the water during the summer months and on the snow in the winter enjoying the simple pleasures of life.