Favorite Christmas Memory

Mary and the Three Kings

Two of the most iconic Christmas images, Mary and the Three Kings, collided during the 1992 Christmas cantata at Mt. View United Methodist Church where Marvin Beach was my choir director, creating my favorite Christmas memory. 

Alan and I had a baby boy on August 30 that year, and in the cantata, Michael, that baby, was going to be the newborn Jesus, and I would play the role of Mary. I had often thought of Mary and her willingness to be obedient to God’s call to be the virginal mother of the Christ child. I considered how she said yes immediately, knowing that she might face cultural consequences to the unplanned pregnancy. I marveled at the Magnificat – the praise song of the mother: 

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:45-59 NIV)

I approached the role of Mary seriously and reverently and sang the solo with all my heart while considering the love a mother has for her son. 

After the solo, Alan, Michael, and I posed in the manger while the Three Kings dressed in beautiful royal garb processed down the center aisle of the sanctuary, each carrying a gift to present to the baby Jesus. 

The three kings had a special place in my heart also. With four children between us and the limited finances of young parents, Alan and I had to find a creative way to manage the expectations of the kids and meanings behind the gifts we gave. We decided to give each child three gifts representing the gifts of the Magi.

Since frankincense was a gum resin used for incense, we gave a gift that could be used multiple times like a magazine subscription or a membership to a favorite activity. To represent the myrrh, a spice often used for burials, we gave the children a practical gift, like clothes or Boy Scout supplies. The gift of gold – the most generous gift – was usually their “heart’s desire” gift, the toy they wanted most. The kids really loved this way of receiving the gifts, and it kept our family focused on the real meaning of Christmas.

It was with these tender images in my heart, my baby in my arms, my beloved husband standing behind me, and the choir singing a song of royal welcome that I watched the kings approach one by one. 

The first king, the mighty Balthazar, came with an intricately carved, wooden box. Upon kneeling, the king slowly opened the box. I looked into his smiling face and followed his eyes to the box. Inside was a pair of plastic glasses with a fake nose. I can tell you now that I wasn’t expecting that

The next king opened his giftbox, and inside was an (unopened!) can of sardines. The last king had a golden box to present, and it was a fake bird – like a partridge or some other bird the true love presented during the twelve days of Christmas. 

I’m not sure how Alan and I managed not to laugh at these three guys, and we knew who was behind these hijinks. Yep, it was Marvin. He has always been great at helping his choir members not to take themselves too seriously and not to let the stress of the concert or the season make us forget why we sing or why we celebrate Christmas.

Mary, Marvin, and the three wise guys. It’s my favorite Christmas memory.

Julie Land

P.S. – Don’t forget to join us for Marvin’s last Christmas Concert on December 17. You never know what surprises will be in store!

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