Monday, November 30, 2009

The Christmas Story

We had no idea the Christmas play at the NG Kerk would be so crowded. We had seen the posters of invitation, a picture of the church, happy and pink with fruit decorating the roof, calling all to come. Inside the church there was hardly a seat to be had. Langkloofers are, for the most part, largish. Lex heard his name being called - a burly Langkloofer and his birdlike wife indicated that we should sit next to them. They shifted up and we sat down, realizing too late that it would be a tight squeeze. We snuggled ourselves into the pew, me on the outside, knowing that should we need to stand to sing, I would be released, like a cork from a bottle. But, for the moment I was settled, and getting as comfy as was possible (not really) I took in the scene.

The church was dressed in its Nativity Scene best. There was the star, large and silver and suspended over the 'stage', complete with palm fronds and, ofcause the manger.
I was glad to be there, with the church bell suddenly chiming, surrounded by the Afrikaans community of the Langkloof, and one or two, like us, inkomers. But, by now the Church felt somehow familiar - certainly friendly.

Silently the various actors took their places in the dimly lit pews. How comforting it was to see the Nativity players, young boys wearing their dressing gowns surely, and others with towel- like headdresses, some with crowns, some with scarves of chiffon,and there, naturally upfront, dear Joseph and Mary hovering over their most precious baby.

Christmas has, for us, been almost discarded. Firstly, I suppose, because Cape Town, or any big City, thrusts it down your throat from October, grinding away at the old jiggles, tinsel and Father Christmas hats, till you can't wait for it all to be done, dusted and packed away till next year.

And then theres the knowledge, somewhat newly learned amongst many Christians, that the whole thing is pretty Pagan any way (old Constantine doing his thing again!) and so lets toss the whole thing as a result. But I have lately begun to wander if the baby hasn't been tossed out with the bath water. And the thing is - this is a baby we really can't afford to toss , is it?

In fact, the rebel in me, (not to say thats a good thing) has lately, here in Twee Riviere began to fantasIze about putting lights up on our roof , and maybe even decorations in our tree.
I imagine our house, here on the edge of things, shining out cheerfully over the valley, a joyous celebration of the birth of this most special baby of all.

No doubt that would not be appreciated, and it will never happen, but the thing is, here in the Langkloof, I find my self having a great desire to do this thing again, this celebration.

It is a beautiful thing really - the Nativity. And the NG Kerks' version was an interesting one, tracing, as it did the lineage of our beautiful Christ. We were reminded of all the dodgy characters that God chose to use to bring forth the Messiah, Tamar, and Rahab, amongst others. One could not help to be, well, encouraged.

In fact I found, whilst watching - and yes, someones headgear slipped, the star suddenly began to bounce alarmingly and the sound system faded in and out, in the familiar tradition of these things - I found myself feeling inexplicably joyful. I looked around at the crowd of us, and knew, with a sudden clarity that God really does love us all. The other thing, which I whispered in Lex's ear, was a certainty I felt right at that moment - that surely there was a smile on the face of God.

We stood up to sing, and yes, I did catapult out into the aisle a little, and I struggled to read (without my specs) the Afrikaans words of old favourite carols, and so warbled along in snatches of English. If anyone heard I don't think they minded.

Its a greatly, hugely serious thing, the Nativity, but also contains so much joy.The Kerks Christmas Play conveyed that to me, when each player, with hands lifted high, sang out their songs with gusto.
Little girls, I loved your scarf dances, especially the bit when you ran down the aisle and one soft ,fluttering scarf caught me and the old chap behind me off guard, and slid quickly from his face to mine. We laughed out loud together.
And how I enjoyed those three wise men, red lantern led, and Barnard - well - what can anyone say about that dress...

But as we sang the closing Stille Naght and only the manger remained upfront , surrounded by the gifts that all the players had brought to lay before Him, I was grateful to be there, worshipping Him also.

No Christmas do is ever really done until some food and drink has been consumed and so we duly followed the crowds to the Kerksaal for 'refreshments.' Rows of white cups awaited us and piles of koeksisters, cold meatballs and those yummy toothpicks of cheese and pickled onions. We are English and unaccustomed to these delights. We held back through the thank you speeches, the bunches of flowers, milling about in a crowd of Nativity characters (the dominee still in THAT dress... )
And then we dived in, and with laden plates spoke our broken, happy Afrikaans to folk who begin to feel like friends and hoped they would forgive us for being so 'niks gewoont nie'.

But Christmas is a time of excess, traditionally, shall we say - celebrating such an outrageous act of God - Immanuel (God with us.)

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