I was never Joseph.
I was normally a shepherd, although I seem to remember graduating to innkeeper once I got a bit older. My church wasn’t very radical when it came to parts in the Nativity play – beyond the starring roles, the boys were shepherds, the girls were angels and that was that. No need for lobsters or aliens.
Nowadays there’s often a reaction against nativity plays – they infantilise the gospel narratives, say their critics, they distort the facts (the wise men didn’t show up until Jesus was getting on for the age of two, for instance, and the Bible doesn’t refer to a stable, just a manger which could have been in someone’s house, etc etc etc). I get where the critics are coming from in one sense, but there always seems something churlish about the whole thing. Like the people who complain about inaccurate physics in science fiction shows – how many people are turned onto science through sci-fi, inaccuracies aside? And how many people hear the underlying message of Christmas because their five year old daughter was playing an angel?
(That’s another inaccuracy, by the way – in the Bible, angels are always male.)
Besides, school and church nativity plays are one of the few remaining ways that the community tells itself a shared story. It’s a necessary counter to all the other stories we’re told at this time of year – buy this, eat that, spend everything. Nativities help us to get beyond that, even if they do fit more into the Passion Play tradition than that of the sermon. Storytelling has become somewhat professionalised in the media age – we don’t tell tales around a communal campfire any more, we watch them on television instead, and since the advent of video recording and TV on demand, its less and less likely that we watch the same shows at the same time as the rest of our sociasl circle. Nativity plays hark back to an older tradition – communal, shared, participatory, the campfire replaced by a hundred flickering candles.
Truth can be found in story as well as in sermon. We just need to have the ears to hear it.