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The Pageant

A public school, a Christian teacher, a lifelong lesson

By Don Detrick

In December 1965 I was about to turn 11 years old and a fifth-grader at Dundee Elementary School in Dundee, Ore. It was a tradition for the fifth-grade class to recite the Christmas story from Luke 2:1-14 in the annual school Christmas program. Harold Wilson, our teacher, instilled in us a belief that our recital of these 14 verses from the King James Version would be the highlight of the evening’s festivities.

At the appointed hour, the school gym — where hours before we had played basketball or “Red Rover” — became a Nativity scene. With anxious parents looking on from their folding chairs in neatly formed rows on the floor, we took our places on the stage. I have many memories of Sunday School and grade-school Christmas pageants where I alternately played a shepherd, Wise Man or Joseph while wearing my bathrobe and sandals as a costume. But none stands more clearly in my mind than that particular night as we stood before that audience. Hours of memorization paid off as we began to recite the familiar words: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. …”

As we finished with, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,” the audience rose to their feet with thunderous applause. Mr. Wilson beamed, our parents glowed, and we were all thankful that we had completed our assignment without missing a word.

Looking back, that evening was a highlight of my young life. I had quoted many great authors from that stage — Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech and various works of prose and poetry. But none seemed as inspiring as quoting from the greatest story ever told.

It was no secret that Mr. Wilson was a born-again Christian and a member of the First Baptist Church. Nor was it a secret that he was an excellent teacher, devoted to his craft and to his students. I knew him as an engaging teacher, a caring coach, a volunteer vacation Bible school leader, and a man who impacted my impressionable young life by showing me that the world was bigger than the humble environment of our family farm.

I remember the bulletin board he prepared for our school that year. In those days it seemed fashionable to abbreviate Christmas as “Xmas.” Mr. Wilson would have none of that. In capital letters his bulletin board message boldly proclaimed “Keep Christ in Christmas.” No one protested or ridiculed — at least not publicly. Deep in our hearts, we knew that the message was true. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, not just another “happy holiday.”

A lot has changed since then. The freedom to express his Christian faith that Mr. Wilson enjoyed as an American educator has slowly eroded over the last 44 years. Most would agree that the erosion of that freedom has coincided with an erosion of values. Courts and school boards in many jurisdictions have decided it is illegal to promote public expressions about the real meaning of Christmas, and that is a shame.

The truth is, you really can’t remove Christ from Christmas. After all, it is His birthday. It would be politically incorrect to try to distance most holidays from the birthdays they commemorate. For example, to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day without a discussion of his life, death and accomplishments would be unheard of in the 21st century.

Jesus Christ was a real Person cutting a far wider swath in history than any contemporary human being. We even count the years on our calendar from His birth. So why shouldn’t we allow the historical details of His birth, life, death and resurrection to be publicly proclaimed? D. James Kennedy wrote:

“The truth is this: Had Jesus never been born, this world would be far more miserable than it is. In fact, many of man’s noblest and kindest deeds find their motivation in love for Jesus Christ; and some of our greatest accomplishments also have their origin in service rendered to the humble Carpenter of Nazareth.”*

For the past 30-some years, our family has gathered around the tree on Christmas Eve. These days, that circle includes our children and two granddaughters, often joined by other assorted family members and friends. Before opening our presents, our traditions include my recitation of the Christmas story. Those timeless and familiar words from Luke’s Gospel entered my mind in 1965, but they also entered my heart. They never left, and I hope they never do.

About 20 years ago I wrote a similar article on this theme that was published in the Pentecostal Evangel. I sent a copy of it to Mr. Wilson, thanking him for the impact he made on my young life. Later I met with him, and we reminisced about those days.

Since then, we’ve lost track of each other. I’m not sure if he is still living, but if he is, I’d like to say, “Thanks, Mr. Wilson. Thanks for taking an interest in children and devoting your life to helping them learn and become better citizens and better people. Thanks for helping us remember to ‘Keep Christ in Christmas.’”

It was good advice back then, and it is good advice today. In fact, it always will be.

* D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1994), introduction.

DON DETRICK is the secretary/treasurer of the Assemblies of God Northwest Ministry Network in Snoqualmie, Wash.

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