20 Dec I want to be Imogene Herdman for Christmas.
I want to be Imogene Herdman for Christmas.
In the past, I’ve always identified with Mary. We’ve been pregnant a lot around Christmas in the past decade. Pregnant, or grieving the loss of an unborn babe. I think of her physical feelings, and her discomfort. Her emotions at being a first-time mother in seemingly questionable circumstances. I close my eyes and think of her in labor-in a cave/stable/animal dwelling. The smell, the temperature, the dust, the pain. Cleaning, or trying to clean him. Nursing him for the first time. Unwashed teenage boys traipsing in to see her small babe. I love the humanity of the players. I’ve talked about Mary, and I’ve talked about the shepherds.
But this Christmas, this Christmas, I want to be Imogene.
The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse….They were just so all-around awful you could hardly believe they were real: Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys—six skinny, stringy-haired kids all alike except for being different sizes and having different black-and-blue places where they had clonked each other…. As far as anyone could tell, Imogene was just like the rest of the Herdmans. She never learned anything either, except dirty words and secrets about everybody.
See, we forget. We forget that Christmas is for the lost and the longsuffering. The sinners, the scoundrels and the thieves who hung bloodied and bowed next to their savior. Christmas is for the regretful and weary among us, broken by the path of a life they never imagined, and buoyed by the sweet smell of hope and hay swaddled with a newborn King. Christmas is for you, and for me, and all the bits of us we keep buried deep down, ashamed of what people will think if they truly know us.
Christmas is grace, and gospel. Christmas is good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Christmas is freedom.
Imogene Herdman was crying. In the candlelight her face was all shiny with tears and she didn’t even wipe them away. She just sat there, awful old Imogene—in her crookedy veil, crying and crying and crying….She had walked into the corner of the choir-robe cabinet, in a kind of daze—as if she had just caught onto the idea of God, and the wonder of Christmas. And this was the funny thing about it all. For years, I’d thought about the wonder of Christmas, and the mystery of Jesus’ birth, and never really understood it. But now, because of the Herdmans, it didn’t seem so mysterious after all. When Imogene had asked me what the pageant was about, I told her it was about Jesus, but that was just part of it. It was about a new baby, and his mother and father who were in a lot of trouble—no money, no place to go, no doctor, nobody they knew. And then, arriving from the East (like my uncle from New Jersey) some rich friends. But Imogene, I guess, didn’t see it that way. Christmas just came over her all at once, like a case of chills and fever. And so she was crying, and walking into the furniture.
I keep wanting to write more, to tell you more about Christmas, and how He wants us to come empty handed. But there isn’t really much left to say. He is the gift, and the trappings and the expectations, they don’t matter. It is okay to not be okay, to be a little dazed, a little teary, crawling on hands and knees to Bethlehem.
Because Christmas is for you.
With all my heart.
(The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, besides having the best opening line ever, is one of my all-time favorite books and you need to grab yourself a copy asap if you’ve never read it.)