I was asked yesterday, in a non-church environment, to write a short description of an incident in my life when I found myself “surprised by light.”

As soon as I heard the words “surprised by light” visions of last Saturday leaped into my mind. And so I wrote:

We are in the season of Christmas.

I have worked for the past forty Christmas seasons in the church. I know what Christmas is supposed to look like.

One of the things Christmas is supposed to look like in my little world is a gathering on an evening a few weeks before Christmas with a bundle of energetic children, young people and adults in the building where our community meets for worship.  We call this gathering our Christmas pageant. It is invariably a high-energy, chaotic, desperately cute, full of light and love retelling of the Nativity story.

This year everything is different. There are no physical gatherings in person of any kind in our church building. A pageant this year seemed simply impossible. But then in November someone approached me with a somewhat vague vision and a half-formed plan for a virtual pageant. It involved puppets, readers, people sharing their Christmas traditions, lots of music, original artwork from members of our community and a short talk and prayer by me to open and close.

I had almost no picture of what was being proposed or what such an undertaking might possibly look like or how it might ever come together. But there seemed to be energy and there seemed to be a vision. So, I just kept nodding my head and hoped for the best.

As the day to launch our pageant on zoom approached, in spite of my enormous respect for the planners and my confidence in their creative genius, I began to feel a little bit uneasy and anxious about our virtual pageant. It felt as if the potential for us to send an awkward jumble of disjointed pieces out into the world was pretty high.

I was not convinced anyone would show up on zoom to connect before the video was shared, or that they would last to the end even if they came.

As it turned out last Saturday evening, we had a lovely gathering time seeing people arrive for the pageant who in many cases some of us had not seen for eight months. There was a garble of greetings before everyone settled down and I introduced a video I had never seen and of which I had little concept of what it might involve.

Then for forty minutes I sat back and was surprised by light. The video was framed by a touching and humorous dialogue between two puppets discussing all we had lost this Christmas and how we might make up for these losses in our celebrations. It displayed magnificent works of art by members of our parish to illustrate the nativity narrative being read from various gardens. It invited us into peoples’ homes to see special Christmas traditions they follow. We heard carols sung by people we know and love from different parts of the city. And we viewed photographs filled with familiar faces from past pageants in the years when we were able to gather in the building.

The entire presentation was filled with tenderness and beauty. But, perhaps most profoundly of all, it felt authentically like us. It was a gift of ourselves to each other in honour of the mystery and wonder of this season. It was an incarnation of love, a gathering of little points of light coming together as a whole to shine with the beauty that is at the heart of this story.

As a bonus, thanks to zoom, the surprising light of this virtual pageant was able to be shared with people “in the congregation” from Ontario, northern BC, the US, and as far away as Uganda. The tragedy of COVID had once again produced a miracle of creativity and energy so that we might all be “surprised by light” even in the midst of a dark and difficult time.