And the Child Grew and Became Strong: Reflections on Luke 2:39-52
December 30, 2012
When my "baby" brother Robert was five years old, he had blonde curls and big blue eyes and was just about the most adorable little boy imaginable. (I have his permission to share this personal, but positive, description of him!)
He was assigned a part in the Christmas Eve pageant by its director, Mrs. Betty Hefflebauer. He had his heart set on being a wise man because of the cool costumes. But she did not cast him as a wise man. Nor did she cast him as Joseph, the inn keeper, or a shepherd. To her mind, none of these parts seemed quite right for him.
Instead she gave him what my mother tried to convince him was the most important part of all—the narrator. He only had one line, and it was straight out of Scripture (Luke 2:40). After all the actors in the pageant had processed down the double aisles to the front and had taken their places in the Nativity Scene at the front, little Robert was to come out, walk to the center, pause to heighten the moment, gesture dramatically toward the baby, and say, loudly and clearly, "And the child grew and became strong!" He had the last word of the whole play. That was what my mother kept telling him.
My mother took him to Sears and bought him a Christmas suit: little black pants, a red velvet blazer, a white shirt, and a clip-on bow tie for his acting debut. We all helped him practice around the house, prompting him with the first part of his line, "And the child grew..." to which he would chime in "and became strong!"
Other times, he would start things off by saying, out of the blue, "And the child grew," to which the whole family would respond in chorus, "and became strong!" Add to that the weekly practices during Sunday school and, by the time Christmas Eve arrived, our little thespian was set to do the family proud.
We're still not sure what happened that night. Maybe it was because he had never practiced making his entrance and saying his line in a darkened sanctuary. During Sunday school there was always light streaming through the Garden of Gethsemane window at the back. Maybe it was because he had never practiced making his entrance and saying his line with the place packed with people.
Whatever the reason, when the Holy Family and their entourage were in place and his moment came, Robert walked out, his red velvet jacket glowing in the candlelight, and stood in front of the congregation. He was a baby deer with blonde curls and big blue eyes caught in the headlights.
He opened his mouth, and nothing came out. His eyes began to glimmer, and his little lip trembled. He looked toward the baby and gestured, but couldn't get the words out. Mrs. Hefflebauer, from her position as prompter crouched behind the lectern, whispered to him, "Pssst, Robert...And the child grew and became strong."
Still nothing. Again she whispered, this time a little louder, "And the child grew and became strong."
Suddenly, a look of relief washed over his cherubic countenance. He leaned forward in a conspiratorial manner and whispered to the congregation in an audible and even dramatic stage whisper, "And the child grew and became strong!"
Practicing Our Lines for Epiphany
Epiphany begins next week, January 6. It takes its name from the Greek word epiphaneia, which signifies a "manifestation," "striking appearance," or "theophany." Epiphany, as a Christian feast day, celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. Both Western and Eastern Christian traditions celebrate the visit of the Magi and Jesus' baptism by John.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.