Back in 1966, Guideposts magazine published the story of a children's Christmas pageant that took an unexpected turn.
like it so much that I have posted it here in its entirety. I
appreciate the opportunity to post this and hope that it will bless your
heart as you read . . .
For years now, whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a
certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name
of Wallace Purling.
Wally's performance in one annual production of the Nativity play
has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old-timers who were in the
audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.
Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should
have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty
keeping up. He was big and awkward, slow in movement and mind.
Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all
of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their
irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for
that matter, in which winning was important.
They'd find a way to keep him out, but Wally would hang around
anyway—not sulking, just hoping. He was a helpful boy, always willing
and smiling, and the protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. If the
older boys chased the younger ones away, it would be Wally who'd say,
"Can't they stay? They're no bother."
Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd in the Christmas pageant,
but the play's director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him a more important
role. After all, she reasoned, the innkeeper did not have too many
lines, and Wally's size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more
And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered
for the town's yearly extravaganza of crooks and creches, of beards,
crowns, halos and a whole stageful of squeaky voices.
No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night
than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and
watched the performance with such fascination that Miss Lumbard had to
make sure he didn't wander onstage before his cue.
Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding
Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set
into the painted backdrop. Wally the innkeeper was there, waiting.
"What do you want?" Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.
"We seek lodging."
"Seek it elsewhere." Wally spoke vigorously. "The inn is filled."
"Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary."
"There is no room in this inn for you." Wally looked properly stern.
"Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with
child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner
for her. She is so tired."
Now, for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and
looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to
make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
"No! Begone!" the prompter whispered.
"No!" Wally repeated automatically. "Begone!"
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon
her husband's shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The
innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in
the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow
creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.
And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.
"Don't go, Joseph," Wally called out. "Bring Mary back." And Wallace
Purling's face grew into a bright smile. "You can have my room."
Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet
there were others—many, many others—who considered it the most Christmas
of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.
Which begs the question . . . if you'd been in Bethlehem that night, what would you have done?