by Jean Mlincek
Ah, Christmas! What memorable stories it has inspired, from Charles Dickens’ reformation of grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” to Dr. Seuss’ zany and wild-eyed Grinch who tried to steal the joy of this celebrated holiday from the inhabitants of Whoville.
Although these stories have entertained us for decades, the biblical account of Jesus’ birth remains the greatest story ever told. Every December, local churches recruit wannabe wise men and shepherds and search their youth groups for a demure yet beautiful Mary and, of course, someone always seems to lend the stiffest baby doll on the planet to debut as the infant Jesus. Several years ago, my church added “live” sheep - little tots dressed in wooly costumes - to its amateur cast. The main thing I remember about the re-enactment of Jesus’ birth at the time of that addition was the one little sheep who went astray.
At first, four-year-old Cindy followed the script like a sweet little lamb should, tailing a deacon-turned-shepherd down the church aisle to the manger scene, where Mary and Joseph stood like cardboard cut-outs, never moving or blinking once during the entire 12-song cantata. I am sure the real Mary looked adoringly upon her God-in-the-flesh Son, but I understood why our Mary may have found it difficult to muster even a faint smile for what seemed to be a two-by-four wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Baby lamb Cindy was adorable in her faux fleece and like most little kids, she knew she was a hit in her oversized wooly costume with floppy ears. Although Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were in the spotlight, the three lambs that “grazed” to their left were equally captivating. At mid-point, however, baby lamb Cindy had obviously had enough of being sidelined, and wandered from the flock, down the stage stairs, and stood center aisle, scrutinizing the spectacle before her as if she were the director. Then she turned and began weaving in and out of the pews. The congregation couldn’t help but be amused by this errant lambkin and found it difficult to focus on the Holy Family with such an animated and adorable sheep on the loose.
After sitting briefly with her grand-mother, Cindy was on the move again. At first, it looked as if the little lamb was going to re-join her flock, but, no, she headed straight for the stoic Mary and her cuddled infant. While the reserved cast looked on speechless and immobile, little sheep Cindy got right in Jesus’ face . . . and pressed her nose against his!
At first, this intimate gesture seemed comical, if not profane, but in that unscripted moment, an epiphany of Christmas truths became evident. This was God and humanity connecting. This was joy unspeakable. This was the revelation of child-like faith in full measure. This was a pre-dawn meeting of Shepherd and sheep. This was spontaneous worship versus liturgy. Even the stoic Mary broke into a Mona Lisa half smile. There was a new energy in the cast, the choir, the audience.
It was, and remains to this day, the best Christmas play I have ever witnessed - all thanks to Cindy, the adorable, unpredictable, stray sheep.
Jean Mlincek is a freelance writer who resides in St. Petersburg, Fla.