The songs were cheery, and the children were cute. It was thrilling when the drums began to beat and the whistles to blow, and the house was invaded by dancing toy soldiers and giant puppets marching down from the balconies. It was like a parade -- very exciting until it passed. There was silence and darkness then and an empty stage, and then with 400 candles, the choir filed in and lined the walls and filled the air with "Silent Night."

... round yon vir-gin moth-er and child
Ho-ly in-fant so ten-der and mild
Sleep in heav-enly pe-eace
Sle-ep in heav-enly peace ...

The baby Jesus had been chosen for its peaceful qualities. A group of baby Jesuses rotated in and out from one show to the next. "Boy, girl -- it doesn't matter out on the stage," said Annella Taylor, who directed them.

Off-stage, the adult Jesus was worried about the crown of thorns. He hadn't tried it on, and since nothing else was one-size-fits-all, why should the crown be? His body was covered with dark makeup, and he was so nervous that he sweated off what was under his arms. Then his cue came, and Bill Scott stepped into the spotlight, wearing a frock and custom-made size-14 Jesus sandals.

He opened his arms to his disciples, and with a beatific smile, one of them came to him and whispered, "Your fly's open."

"Bless you, my child," said Jesus.
He healed the sick. He gave sight to the blind. He spoke boldly as he broke the bread that was his body. And then it was time to die.

This was a Baptist Christmas play, and the crucifixion was the most spectacular scene. That's when the earth shook, and a bloody sky flashed with fat, B movie lightning bolts. Lights up on Bill Scott, and he seemed to be doing well, heaving and writhing and dying quite nicely. Two scenes later, in what the narrator described as "a picture of what awaits those of us who do believe," there he was in Heaven, smiling happily, surrounded by fawning angels. In a shimmering gown, he walked down among them and raised his hands high to the crowd. There was an explosion of applause and a standing ovation, and then, from out of a tunnel and through the mist, a large, round figure stepped forth. Standing among the angels, it was Brother John. He said he knew exactly what we were thinking: How can we hold onto this wonderful feeling?

"Well, you can, you know," he said. "Jesus came alive on this stage, and he can come alive in your heart. Every day can be Christmas for the rest of your life."

No one was saved that night -- probably, most in the crowd had already been saved -- but the pageant was launched, and the choir was euphoric.

"Jesus, you can't be a stick in the mud!" Bill Scott heard, and it was a retired Jesus telling him. "You gotta go out and party with us!"

Someday, he answered, but not now, and Scott left the church, still wearing his scar. His experience in Heaven had been one of the most electrifying of his life, and he hoped he would get to go there every year. But now he was going home. His family was asleep when he arrived, but there was a note on his pillow. He picked it up and read, "We're very proud of you."

His work was done.
Jesus slept.

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