A Contemporary Take on the Christmas Story

Image courtesy of Ambrozio at sxc.hu

This is a bit of a traditional Christmas post. The tune has changed over the years but the words have been in my family for some time, even passing down to the next generation now. I hope you enjoy.

 

A number (OK, a pretty large number) of years ago my brothers and I were asked to “put together a rap” for a Christmas program at church. We decided we’d try to stay as true to the text as possible, obviously taking some poetic license as you’ll see, so for grins you might want to open your Bibles to Luke chapter 2.

OK folks I’m gonna take a shot
I’m gonna tell you what it is and what is not
We’re gonna take a little trip back in time
To when the Roman Empire was in its prime

Now in this days there went out a decree
Telling everybody where they had to be
The Roman emperor Cesar was on people’s backs
And wanted to be sure that everyone was taxed
And so in order to be counted everybody had to come
Unto the city that their ancestors were from

A Galilean named Joseph from Nazareth
Went to Judea to the city of David Beth-
lahem was the place that he had to sign
Because he was a descendant of David’s line
And he took with him his wife to be
And you know that her name was Mary

Now Mary was a virgin but she was with child
A lot of people today think that that sounds wild
But it was not strange bizarre or odd
She was the chosen human mother of the son of God

But getting back to the story of Joseph and Mare
They went to Bethlehem and when they got there
You know it seemed that Mary’s time had come
And that then and there she’s gonna have a son
But since the inn was full they had no place to stay
so she laid the baby Jesus down in the hay

Now in that region watching over their flocks
There were some shepherds in the fields eating bagels and lox
When a glorious angel of the Lord appeared
And as the glory shone around them they were filled with fear

“Be not afraid for I bring good news”
“Of great joy to all people both Gentiles and Jews”
“For unto you is born today in Bethlehem”
“The savior Christ the Lord”, the angel said to them
“And this to you shall be a sign”
“that the baby you might more easily find”
“He shall be laying in a manger in swaddling clothes”
The shepherds looked around and said, “what are those?”
And then suddenly and amazing thing
A multitude of angels began to sing

They “appeared to the shepherds in the sky
Singing glory to god in the highest
And on earth peace among men
Because the Lord most High is pleased with them”

Now when the angels had finished the shepherds turned
They went to Bethlehem because of what they learned
And I think you’re gonna know just what I mean
When I say that this was the nativity scene
It was the Bethlehem stable where the shepherds went
Along with three wise men from the orient
The three kings had brought frankincense and myrrh
And I’m not really sure what those things were
But that’s really not important but neither is
Santa Clause Rudolph and all that biz

The real deal of Christmas is that it shows
God’s love for us because he chose
To send to us his only son
To make salvation possible for everyone

Hope you enjoyed it. Merry Christmas!

Christmas in Three Acts – Act 3: Herod

The third of three Christmas season monologues. This one once again uses the on stage screen to display the lines of a second character thus putting the audience members in the place of that character.

For Herod I used an accent similar to something generically middle eastern. Pick almost any local character from any film about the crusades.

Feel free to use any of these monologues as you have need! Merry Christmas.

<Graphic on screen:” Your Highness?”>

<reading from an imaginary scroll, holding up a hand> A moment…<putting down the scroll> Yes Shimri, what news of the easterners?

<Graphic on screen: ” Forgive me your highness but…they have left the kingdom”>

 <frowning> My instructions were clear were they not? Did I not tell them to find this child and report back to me? Were they not shown the courtesy of MY palace coming begging at my door looking for this ….how did they put it…he who was to be born king of the Jews? They defy me in my own kingdom, seeking their would be usurper?

<growing angry> King of the jews?!?! I am Herod…THE GREAT.

<losing it> I am king of the Jews!!!!!

<pacing, growing slowly cold and calculating>

 <Graphic on screen: “Yes, my king.”>

They claim to have seen signs these…astrologers…and yet my own wise-men do not deny that it may be so. Whether or not it is true there will be others who will follow after these three, others who share their …belief. And then what will happen? If they were to somehow manage to bring their belief to bare fruit, where would we be then? Unrest? Rebellion? Death? And where would that lead, an upstart king who has no knowledge of the delicate balance we must maintain with Rome. No, no…not that. I must protect my people. I must protect my throne…MY throne.

<paces a moment more then pauses as though struck by an idea>

 Shimri, you are a scribe and I see you carry your scrolls with you today. Good, good…read to me the passage concerning Pharaoh and the Hebrew mid-wives, I believe you know the one.

<Graphic on screen:The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.” >

<listening, then holding up a hand>

 You see Shimri we shall not make the same mistake. If this usurper is to be a king, then it stands to reason it is a male child. But we shall entrust this duty to soldiers, not to simple midwives. As it is written…so shall it be done.

<Curtain>

Herod’s perspective on the birth of Jesus was obviously self centered and self serving, something we can all to easily fall into ourselves. Picking him as the third of the three characters was the choice of the pastor doing the teaching but it made for an interesting change in perspective from the traditional conversations about the nativity.

How might looking at Christmas through someone else’s point of view help you clarify your own?

Christmas in Three Acts – Act 2: The Innkeeper

This is the second of three monologues on the Christmas story. In this one I chose to use the on stage screen to represent a second character’s part of the conversation thus putting the audience in the place of that character. From the response we received that mechanism worked pretty well.

Simeon here is probably best done with a rather stereotypical Jewish accent.

<Graphic on screen: ”Good day Simeon…”>

<looking up from imaginary set of “books” or real set of “scrolls”> Ah, Mathias, trust a tax collector to be on time. <chuckling> I have prepared the records from the last month for your review. I believe you’ll find them all to be in order as usual.

<flipping through a page or two>

You can see here that things have returned to normal after the crowds we had for the census. <shaking his head> While I do not begrudge the money to be made from such crowds it was a busy time indeed. If only Jesse and his sons had lived anywhere other than Bethlehem, perhaps then we would have seen an increase in business without the entire town overflowing.

<Graphic on Screen: “Yes, the home of the line of David, the shepherd king.”>

<Groaning, rolling his eyes> Ah you have done it now Matthias…reminding me of shepherds….<shaking his head> Do you know Mathias, that a flock of shepherds actually smells worse than a flock of sheep? <flipping through the pages> Yes, here it is, the last night before the official census was to begin.

A young couple comes to my door as evening is falling, obviously weary from the road. I am run off my feet as it were trying to keep up with my guests when they arrive looking for a room. Can I tell you Mathias I almost laughed. A room? In Bethlehem? That night?

<holding up his hands>Buuuut….I am not an unkind man Mathias as you well know, and the young girl appeared ready to burst with child soooooo…I offered them the hospitality of my stable. <chuckling> Do not look at me so. They were in need and I did not charge them….much. <pointing to the books>

I thought nothing of it…that is until later that night.

I awoke, not from any particular sound but from a sense of something of import happening…that is the best way I can describe it to you Mathias. I knew there was something afoot. I dressed quickly and checked the guest rooms. I thought next to check the beasts when I remembered the young couple.

<frowns>Imagine my surprise Mathias when I go out back to my stables to find a veritable flock of shepherds bobbing like chickens around the door. The smell was almost too much to approach but I managed to get the attention of one of the men on the edge of the crowd only to be told a fantastic tale about the birth of the child.

<pausing>

You know Mathias I believe that too much time spent with sheep makes a man as dumb as one…King David not withstanding…

<Graphic on screen: “I have heard the tale”>

<Second graphic on screen “They say the child is the messiah”>

 <nodding> Then you too have heard the foolishness!! Imagine, the messiah, born in a barn, sleeping in a feed trough!! And these shepherds actually believed the tale!!! Some story about an angel, or an army, appearing and telling them it was so. And Mathias, they stayed all night!! Worse yet they went through the dark streets of out little town telling others, many of whom came to see for themselves.

<Graphic on screen “You do not believe their tale?”>

<laughing> Mathias, I am business man! What time do I have to spend on the superstitions of some wandering herdsmen who probably inhaled too much smoke from a dung laden fire and imagined the whole thing?

<shaking his head>No my friend. I saw the child. He looked as other new-borns…gangly, messy, odd shaped head. I congratulated the couple of the birth of their son…but that is all it was. And, as my gift to them, I did not even charge them for the use of the stable and the loss of a night’s sleep.

<considering, pouting a moment> Annnnd if it should turn out I am wrong perhaps “the messiah”  will remember kind Simeon who let his parents stay for no charge. <laughing> Perhaps he will even pay for the night himself!!

Of course, then you would charge me the taxes…either way I lose.

<Curtain>

Simeon missed it. What are you don’t this holiday season to help assure that you don’t “miss it”?

Christmas in Three Acts – Act 1: The Shepherds

Several years ago I was asked to write, and perform, three monologues in preparation for Christmas. The idea was to capture the story of Jesus birth from the perspective of some of the participants. This is the fist of those three acts.

The setting is a Bethlehem street just outside the stable. When I played the part I gave the shepherd the voice of Watto, the junk dealer who owned Anakin and his mother in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. I wanted him to come across rustic and rough around the edges.

 

The Gospel According to Luke

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[1] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

 

Come my friend, come. <stepping forward, then pulling an imaginary person aside>

You want to know what is happening here tonight I think, eh? Come aside and I shall tell you a tale almost too amazing to believe but I swear to you it is all true.

Tonight we were in the fields as usual, tending to the sheep. Because it is the lambing season there are more us of watching the flocks at night. But it is a comfortable camp as camps go, eh?  May Yaweh-Rohi strike me down if it is not as I say.

Tonight we were preparing for the second watch as usual, some waking, some preparing to sleep, others sleeping soundly, or so the sound of their snoring would make it seem, when suddenly there was a brilliant light…lighting the camp as though it was day…it seemed the light of a thousand camp fires had descended into our midst. And there in the middle of the light stood the most fearsome man you have ever seen, clad in white fire and golden armor.

Men began to run in every direction, some loosed their slings into the light as though a stone could hurt that one, eh? All were afraid, yes, even I, Gazez Ben-Hesed <Gah-zeez’  Ben Heh’-sed> was afraid. The camp was in a panic….all but the sheep…they just stared into the light. Sheep, eh?

No, my friend it is true…and what did this apparition say to us you ask? He said “Do not be afraid”. Pfffft….simple enough to say when you are holding a sword and surrounded by the light of the sun.. but…as soon as he had said it I felt the fear drain out of me, all of us did, and we came closer to hear what he would say next.

He told us, <in an alternate ‘angel’ voice>“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” <abner voice>Even as he said the word I felt joy lightening my heart <angel voice etc.>Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christthe Lord.” At this my heart began to pound. The messiah? Born now? In Bethlehem? So close? “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” At this some began to laugh. The messiah, in a manger? Well then he had better be wrapped in cloth or the animals will get to him.

But before the laughter could die on their lips the field was FULL of warriors, clad as this man and what did they do then eh? This magnificent army? They began to sing my friend, they began to sing…<emphatic> SUCH singing you have never heard!!!! My heart leapt at the sound, I felt that it would burst in my chest. But then suddenly they were gone and in their absence we felt the world stand still. <conspiratorially, nodding towards the stable>

To tell you the truth my friend I believe it was in that moment the child was born eh?

There is no need to tell you we were excited, though some were still skeptics…”Let us go and see this thing we said” <pause, becoming, thoughtful, reverent>

My friend that army of warriors I told you of…they were indeed angles, may Yaweh strike me if it is not so….and the child? He is indeed the messiah as you can see. For did not the angels proclaim his birth?

<shaking head, coming back to the moment in the story>

As I said some STILL did not believe even after all we had seen and heard, but still they were willing to come look for themselves. <waving a hand to indicate the group> Some are still here but the others have gone through the town telling this tale for having seen the child even the skeptics now believe.

<moving back towards the manger as though pulling the new comer along for a better look> Come my friend see for yourself…it is the lambing season and a little one has been born here tonight…come along, come…let us adore him…

~Curtain~

What do you think it would have been like to be one of the shepherds on that night 2000 years ago?