I’ve been going to the same exact musical every year for the past fifteen years. Maybe more.

The cast changes every year. Sometime the lines change, or the music, or the date. But the story’s the same year after year. And most of the characters are the same. At least the leading ones are.

There’s the teenaged girl, and that angel who visits her. The husband-to-be, visited later by that same angel. There’s the donkey, generally played by an actor who’s five years old. Or maybe six. Sometimes four if he – or she – is really outgoing. And of course the innkeeper. Or maybe a few innkeepers, if there happen to be a lot of children who want to be in the Christmas play that year.

And there are always the shepherds.

Sometimes they get to wear makeup. Moustaches and beards drawn on by one of the parent-volunteers, and this? This always delights the shepherds, boys and girls.

Sometimes they carry staffs, those shepherds. Usually they don’t carry them at the rehearsals. And usually they only get them at the last minute on the day of the performance. Because staffs make excellent swords and a lot of the shepherds are seven or eight-year old boys.

The angels get their wings much earlier than the shepherds get their staffs.

I’m in charge of the music. Which is why I’ve seen this show year after year and for many years after my own kids were dressing up as kings or stars or sheep or shepherds. (Yeah, they couldn’t really be trusted with the staffs either.)

It’s always the same, this show. But it’s also always different.

It’s always the same. But it’s also always unique. Always special. And always – always – perfect.

It’s not perfect because everyone remembers their lines. (They don’t.)  And it’s not perfect because the gifts that the Kings bring balanced on those pillows always keep their balance. (They don’t.) And it’s definitely not perfect because the cast always remembers their stage directions or their cues or the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

It’s perfect because it’s imperfect.

It’s perfect because the angel who can’t quite keep up with the bigger ones or the sheep who’s just a little bit lost or the donkey who forgets what she’s supposed to say (that would be “hee-haw”) make us grown-up types smile.

It’s perfect because little kids in costumes – especially angel and sheep and donkey costumes – might be our own kids or our grandkids or maybe they just make us remember when that fifteen year old we had to drag to Church today was once upon a time that donkey who couldn’t remember to hee-haw, or that angel who’s little legs couldn’t quite keep up with the bigger angels.

Or maybe it’s just because somewhere inside we understand that we’re all a bit lost like that sheep.

The thing is? The director usually whispers to the shepherd that sheep belongs to that he needs to turn around and go rescue her. Which the shepherd, staff proudly in hand, always does.

Because that’s what a shepherd does.