I Bring You Franken-thine

Miss Swickey knew she was in deep trouble when six-year-old Homer first uttered his one and only line in the Sunday School Christmas pageant. Facing a facsimile of the Christ child, lying in a manger, Homer, as one of the three Wise Men, held out his gift and said, "I bring you Franken-thine." Immediately the entire stage was bedlam.

"That's frankincense," Miss Swickey said soothingly over the hooting of the other children. "The word is frankincense, Homer. Not Frankenstein."

"Yeth'm," Homer said, a sheepish grin on his face.

Miss Swickey shook her head. The rehearsal had not been going at all well today. First one of angels got into a fight with a shepherd. Then Joseph upstaged Mary by picking his nose. Shortly thereafter, one of the sheep -- donated by local farmer Isaiah Doolittle -- had an accident onstage, much to the merriment of the young thespians. Now this. If Homer said his line like that tomorrow night, he would surely bring down the house.

For a moment, Miss Swickey questioned her own sanity in accepting the assignment to direct this year's Sunday School Christmas pageant. But Pastor Spicknal had a silver tongue and could talk the devil out of his pitchfork. So it was a small matter for him to persuade Miss Swickey to direct. She closed her eyes for a moment and uttered a silent prayer for strength. Then, once again, she leaped into the fray.

"Now children, we only have another hour or so to get this right," she said, clapping her hands for attention. "All your parents will out there tomorrow night watching you. You wouldn't want to embarrass me... THEM, would you?"

"No, Miss Swickey," everyone said, almost in unison.

"All right then, children. Let's take it from the top. Wise Men, go back stage. The only ones out here should be Joseph and Mary and that stupid sheep."

"Churchill's a nice sheep," the little girl playing Mary said. "He just had to go to the bathroom, that's all."

Miss Swickey smiled benevolently at Mary and her lamb. "Yes, you're right. Churchill is one of God's creatures. So he is very nice." Then she frowned. "Joseph, stop that," she growled. "We've talked about that kind of behavior before. It's disgusting."

"Yes'm," Joseph said as he put the offending hand in the pocket of the bathrobe he was wearing.

"I gotta go potty!" cried one of the shepherds from backstage.

"Me, too," Mary said.

Miss Swickey sighed the sigh of the exasperated. "Very well, children. We'll take a ten minute potty break. But at the end of the ten minutes, I want all of you back here and ready to go to work. And stay out of the nursery," she yelled after them. "Those toys are for the younger kids."

When everyone had clamored offstage, Miss Swickey sat down in a nearby chair and put her head in her hands. She wanted to cry, but she was too exhausted. A moment later, Pastor Spicknal walked into the hall. "Where are all the children?" he asked.

"Bathroom break," she replied curtly.

"What's wrong?"

Miss Swickey looked up at the preacher standing over her. Her eyes were rimmed with red. "I'll tell you what's wrong. EVERYTHING is wrong, from that infernal misnamed sheep over there, to fist-fights in the stable, to a kid who can't say a simple word like frankincense, to.... Well, you name it. There is no way this pageant is going to be ready by tomorrow night."

Pastor Spicknal put a fatherly hand on Miss Swickey's heaving shoulders. "There now. Everything will be fine. Just have a little faith. Remember what Jesus said about the mustard seed and moving the mountain."

"What I really need is the mountain to fall on me, Pastor."

Pastor Spicknal patted the woman lightly on the shoulder and smiled. "Take my advice, Miss Swickey. Believe that the pageant will go on with the minimum of trouble, and it will." Then he was gone.

"A lot you know about it," Miss Swickey grumbled under her breath as the pastor disappeared through the door. "You don't have to deal with these little heathens."

Surprisingly, the rest of the rehearsal went off with little trouble, except for young Homer. He still couldn't say frankincense. No matter how hard she tried to coach him, he always said, "I bring you Franken-thine."

The next night, the hall filled rapidly with expectant parents, all anxious to see their child trod the boards. Miss Swickey looked out into the audience and instantly got a sinking feeling. Pastor Spicknal sat on the front row, chatting with some of his parishioners. He saw Miss Swickey peeking out from behind the curtains and winked at her. He looked the very essence of confidence. Maybe he was right about the mustard seed after all.

So in spite of the chaos swirling around her backstage, she said a silent prayer. "Lord, please make this pageant come off as planned. I have faith that You will, Lord. I ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus, Amen."

The prayer was still on her lips when the hands of the clock reached seven o'clock. She took a deep breath and signaled the young man at the ropes to open the curtain.

The tableau was beautiful. There was Mary and Joseph and the manger. Even Churchill was behaving. He was lying on a pile of straw, looking at the manger with appropriate adoration. Then it was time for the angels and the shepherds. Everything went off without a hitch. Miss Swickey was pleased so far and it looked like her prayer was being answered. But young Homer had not appeared yet and he could still not say that word. Miss Swickey cringed.

Then came the Wise Men. Homer would be the first to speak. Miss Swickey looked heavenward, pleading for mercy. Young Homer, looking suitably solemn opened his mouth and held out his gift. Miss Swickey took a deep breath. "I bring you FRANKIN-THENSE," he said in the loud, clear voice. Miss Swickey almost yelled "Hallelujah," but, restrained herself.

After the performance, the pastor came up and congratulated Miss Swickey on a job well done. "That was the best Christmas pageant this church ever had," he said. "Congratulations. I take it that you did what I told you to do."

"Yes, Pastor. I did. It worked real well. And thanks for helping me by praying, too."

"It wasn't me," the pastor said. "Your help came from an entirely different source."

"What do you mean?"

"Young Homer, there. He was so worried about not being able to say frankincense in the play and making you angry, that he did quite a bit of praying himself in the past 24 hours. We adults could learn a lot from those kids, Miss Swickey. 'Their middle name is 'faith'."

"I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
(Matthew 17:20 NIV)

[ By Ed Price -- from 'Themestream' ]


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