A Simple Nativity Story

Church: Scene opens with choir members coming into choir loft. Director talks to members after casual discussions among the choir.

Tyler: Cam!

Alan: I went to the creek last night and saw a deer crossing the road…

Destiny: (To choir director) I think we oughta sing that first song we did last summer, you know?

Bro Shannon: No, we are going to do something else this week. We have to get ready for our program and we only have a few more practices.

Joseph looks distracted, quiet and off to himself on the side of the choir loft.

Bro. Shannon: Listen up guys, we are going to the back for practice. Too many people come to church early and I do not want you guys to be distracted. We have a lot of work to do, so let’s go.

They file out through the side door, chatting and talking. Joseph slides over behind the pulpit, trying to stay out of view. He follows the movement of the choir, keeping himself covered behind the pulpit as he does so. Once the choir has filed out, Bro Shannon closes the door, and Joseph sits on the steps.

Joseph: Christmas. Shoot. Dumb songs. Why did I have to come here? (Sings sarcastically) O little town of Bethlehem, and I don’t get an X-box again this year. (Frowns sadly and shakes his head)

In the background, and from the door they exited, you can hear the choir begin to sing ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ as they begin to practice.

Bro. B comes down the aisle with his guitar, in an obvious hurry.

Bro. B: Hoo boy, I’m late again! (He almost passes Joseph, then stops when he notices Joseph sitting on the steps by the pulpit) Hey Joseph, what’s up man? (Joseph kind of smiles, but does not answer)

Bro. B: Is the choir in the back? (Joseph nods his head)

Bro. B: Cool, I’m late. But I love me some Christmas music! Heh-heh.

He walks toward the door, but then stops as if he suddenly got a thought.

Bro B. Joseph? Why aren’t you back there with the rest of the guys? What’s wrong?

Joseph: Oh nothing. Just not into Christmas songs this year. Besides, I’m too old for that kind of stuff.

Bro. B: (Shocked) Too old for Christmas songs and the choir?

Joseph: (Looks down) No, uh, not that. Just too old for Christmas stuff, you know, Santa Claus and Reindeer, and toys and junk.

Bro. B: Joseph! What do you mean????

Joseph: Well, Christmas dinner is nice. I mean, you know I like to eat and stuff. And it’s good to have family things, but as I get older Christmas just ain’t got no joy left in it. You know what I mean?

Bro. B comes and sits down by Joseph, leaving his guitar against the communion table. He gets a serious look on his face, and pauses as if in reflection. He puts his arm on Joseph’s shoulder.

Bro. B: Joseph, I don’t know what to say. Let me think here a minute. Let’s see. (Hand under chin, thinking for several seconds) Hmm.

Bro. B: So let me see, too old for Santa and the reindeer, okay on the food and family, but don’t want to sing Christmas songs or…

Joseph: What can I say, Bro B? No Christmas Spirit this year.

Bro. B: I might be sensing something else here? Be honest with me.

Joseph: Well, you know, I really wanted the new X-box this year. My console is two years old now and you gotta have the new one to play all the good games. Thought I’d get it for Christmas, but it turns out from what I have found out, I’m getting mostly clothes and junk. I guess my parents think I’m too old for that kind of stuff.

Bro B looks at him incredulously

Joseph: I know it’s silly, but it was important to me. (sigh) Guess I can always go over to Alan’s and play with him on his console. Some people have all the luck. I’m telling you, Christmas ain’t all it’s cracked up to be when you get older. It’s just another day.

Bro. B shakes his head slowly, taking it all in. Joseph stares out at the audience.

Bro. B: Well, Bro Shannon and the kids are gonna have to wait on me or do without. Seems like I have stumbled onto a Christmas emergency, and down here by the pulpit, no less.

Bro. B: Joseph?

Joseph: Yes sir?

Bro. B: Joseph, have you ever thought about what Christmas is really all about?

Joseph: On sure, you know ‘good saint Nick’ and Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer, and Santa Claus is coming to town. Yeah, I get it. Or I used to anyway.

Bro. B: (Trying to hide his shock) Hold on, man! No, no, no! Those are nice things and fun things, but there is a lot more to Christmas than meets the eye, bro!

Joseph: Oh yeah, well I forgot about that, the whole ‘away in a manger’ thing. What is a manger anyway? Is it like a forest ranger, or forest manger? Something like that?

Bro. B: Oh my word! Son, I don’t know where to start. Do you know about Bethlehem? The wise men?

Joseph: Wise men? Like some dudes that are really smart?

Bro. B puts his head in his hands, then shakes his head.

Bro. B: Oh Joseph, you might as well get comfortable. Have I got a story for you. Christmas is not about Santa Claus, elves, or reindeer. Yes, more than likely you have outgrown that stuff. But the real meaning of Christmas, well, you will never grow too old for that.

Joseph: What are you talking about?

Bro. B: Well it all started back a long time ago in a country called Israel, see they had this king who was not doing very good. He was very sick and asked G_d for a sign on whether or not he was going to make it. He was really sick! Here, let me get my Bible and show you what happened.

Gets Bible and begins flipping pages

Bro. B: Let’s see now, here we go, listen: Isaiah 7: 14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Bro. B: The king was told that the baby would be called ‘Immanuel’. Do you know that that means in Hebrew, Joseph?

Joseph: Uh, no sir, we don’t actually have a Hebrew class at PRC. But what does it mean?

Bro. B: That’s the good part. It means ‘G_d WITH us’ bro! You see, He loved us so much that He became one of us. Yes, that’s right, the G_d of Heaven and Earth became a baby just like you and I were a long time ago. Ha!

Joseph: Okay. If you say so.

Bro. B: Not because I say so, the Bible says so, Joseph. See Israel was waiting for a messiah or deliverer to come—had been doing so for many years. This prophecy was just the start of it. I guess it kinda went something like this: (Darken lights to church)

From a side door, Kim comes in carrying a candle. She sings (Acapella) “O Come O Come Immanuel” First verse only –softly, but amplified with mic, and song builds.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Following last note, Kim exits back through the door, spotlight back on Bro B and Joseph as lights go back up.

Joseph: So did the Immanuel come like the prophet said He would?

Bro. B: You betcha. It was many years later, but an angel visited a young girl named Mary. She lived in this place called Galilee. Anyway, the angel told her that she would have a baby and would call his name Jesus.  But here’s the catch, Mary was a virgin and wasn’t married or anything yet.

Joseph: Whoa! Bad news!

Bro. B: Yes, especially back in those days. But see, G_d had already prophesied that it would happen just that way. Still, Joseph, her fiancĂ©e was kinda freaked out about it, I mean, come on, that’s a hard story to believe. But an angel visited him in a dream and told him it was all okay, and Joseph believed and all was good.

Joseph: So then they got married and had the baby and everything was good, huh? I mean, I know about Jesus and all from Bro. Joey’s Sunday School class.

Bro. B: Hold on a minute, it wasn’t that easy!

Joseph: Well it had been prophesied back in Isaiah, and Mary got visited by and angel, then Joseph also in a dream, that kind of makes it all legit, huh?

Bro. B: (Puts hand on Joseph’s shoulder again) Hold on a minute, we’re getting to that.

Bro. B: See, the problem was the Romans were in charge in Mary and Joseph’s day, and they decided that they needed to take a census of all the people. Now back then they didn’t have email or the Internet, or even regular old mail. So everybody had to go to their hometown. Let’s see (flips through Bible)

Bro. B: Here we go in Luke 2: And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

Joseph: So how long a trip was it for them?

Bro. B: Probably, they say, around 80 miles.

Joseph: Hmm. Not far enough to catch a flight. So they went by school bus? Car, train? What?

Bro. B: Joseph, c’mon, Those things weren’t even invented yet. They went by donkey!

Joseph: That’s bad, and she was ‘great with child’ according to those verses. Must have been rough, huh?

Bro. B: And it got worse. When they got to town, there were so many people there that there were no hotel or motel rooms available.

Joseph: Wait a minute! No flights, cars and busses were not invented yet, but they had hotels?

Bro. B: Well, not exactly. They were simply called ‘Inns’ back then. But the principle was sorta the same.

Joseph: So couldn’t they stay with friends or family?

Bro. B: Nope.

Joseph: So what did they do?

Bro. B: Well, the innkeeper had no room, but he made them a place to stay in the stable.

Joseph: No way! How cruel! She was pregnant, and didn’t the innkeeper know that she was carrying the Immanuel in her belly???? Unreal!!

Bro. B: We don’t know the how or why of the Innkeeper, but let me show you what happened: And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Joseph: Man, that’s sad. She had the baby right there in a stable. So that’s what a manger is, huh?

Bro. B: Not exactly, the manger was kinda like a feed-trough. And swaddling clothes were just rags they used to wipe their hands when they milked the cows or goats.

Joseph: Unreal!!

Bro. B: Yes, Joseph, can you imagine… well, close your eyes and think about what it would have been like to be there at that very moment in time: (Darken lights to church)

Up center aisle comes Mary and Joeseph (Tyler and Hannah), Tyler helping her down the aisle. She is in great pain. They are met at the front of the church by Alan, who shakes his head sorrowfully. Hannah is crying.

Alan: Sorry guys, there’s really nothing I can do.

Tyler: Please mister, she’s due any moment!

Alan shakes his head, but then appears to be thinking hard about it. Tyler and Hannah turn and start to go off toward the side.

Alan: Hey, wait a minute guys.

They both turn, and Tyler looks at him hopefully.

Alan: It’s not much, and I feel bad even offering it to you, but I have a stable, and if you can’t find anywhere else to go, I will do my best to make it as comfortable as possible for you.

Tyler: We’ll take it, mister. Please hurry!

They walk over to a prepared area with hay and a manger. Hannah and Tyler have their back turned to audience while Alan retrieves a blanket from behind a bench. He spreads it over Hannah. The lights in choir loft dim (Alan can do this subtly) Wait a few seconds, Tyler and Hannah trade places behind the manger, Tyler with his arm around her, and Alan turns the choir loft lights back on.

From a side door, Destiny comes in carrying a candle. She sings (Acapella) “Away in a manger” First verse only –softly, but amplified with mic, and song builds.

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head
The stars in the bright sky looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay

Following last note, Destiny exits back through the door, spotlight back on Bro B and Joseph as lights go back up.

Joseph: That’s a cool story, but I gotta be honest with you, Bro. B. It seems a little far-fetched to me. I mean, G_d as a baby in a nasty old manger, and innkeepers with no rooms to stay in. IS that all we have to go on, was there any more witnesses besides Mary and Joseph and the innkeeper?

Bro. B: I was just getting to that, son, just getting to that. Be patient. G_d always provides a witness when He does great things, heh heh. You bet there were witnesses, check this out: And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them:

Naomi, hidden in baptistry, wearing a white robe, pops up. Lights in church are dim, but spotlight in baptistry is lit

Naomi: Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Lights come back up and Naomi sneaks out to join the choir for the appearance later on

Joseph: Wow!

Bro. B: I know, right? So imagine you are sitting there, minding your own business out there camping out in the fields with the sheep, hanging out with your bros, and all of a sudden this angel appears out of nowhere and tells you all this stuff?

Joseph: Probably scared ‘em pretty good.

Bro. B: Well, the verse says they were ‘sore afraid’ heh, heh. And you wanted witnesses!

Joseph: Yeah, well go on, and then what happened?

Bro. B: Well then, just about the time they were getting settled and not scared out of their gourd anymore, all of a sudden, a buncha angels appeared. (Goes back to Bible) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Bro. B: Imagine what that was like: (Darken church lights)

From the front door, and going down all three aisles, the choir comes in wearing white robes and carrying candles, they sing (acapella) Angels We Have Heard on High:

Angels we have on heard high
Sweetly singing ore the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Gloria in excelsis Deo

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ whose birth the angels sing
Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord the newborn King

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Gloria in excelsis Deo

See him in a manger laid
Whom the choirs of angels praise
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid
While our hearts in love we raise

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Gloria, in excelsis Deo
Gloria in excelsis Deo

Choir stays up on the stage as the lights come back on. Bro. B and Joseph are still by the steps. Choir sings “O Little Town of Bethlehem” First verse only, acapella.

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

Joseph: I gotta admit, that story is pretty legit!

Bro. B: You see, Joseph, Christmas is so much more than just toys, food, friends and family. It’s even more than the newest X-box game console. It’s about the greatest gift ever given – G_d came down and joined us. And not like some creator G_d up in Heaven that just watches over things, He actually became a man and dwelt among us, and gave us all a chance to be saved by His infinite grace!

Joseph: Yeah, I guess that is a notch or three or four, or a million better than an X-box! So what does it all mean for us now? What should we really do at Christmas???

Bro. B: Well, it means we should share His story with everybody! You know, like…

Grabs guitar as a prop, begins singing acapella ‘Go tell it on the Mountain” Choir joins in.

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

Down in a lowly manger
Our humble Christ was born
And God send us salvation,
That blessed Christmas morn:

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens,
There shone a holy light:

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

Following Him

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. John 6:66

Bill: Crazy, I tell you, just crazy. ‘Bread of Life’ and a Quickened Spirit. What’s He even talking about. I don’t get it. It’s simply too confusing. Whatever.

Sarah: It’s been a good run and I have enjoyed His teaching up to this point. But things are getting a little strange around here—am I being brainwashed? I’ve got to step back a little and re-assess the whole situation.

Joe: Man, I wish I could keep following Him as it would be great to know what He says next. He’s always coming up with these really deep thoughts. But I honestly have to get back to my job and my responsibilities. I mean, who is going to raise my children? Who’s going to take care of the farm and the livestock?

Karen: Look at the faces of these people in the crowd around me. They must be out of their minds. Did they hear something that I didn’t? Turns out He’s just a man like any other. I’m going home.

Rhoda: Things were going so good up until this point. People were being touched and healed. The crowd was growing each week. Lives were being changed and souls were being saved! Why did He have to go and say that? Now look at the people leaving. I better go now, too, while I still can. (sigh) It’s a shame.

Bob: He saved my soul, but He should have done more. He could have healed my body while He was at it. I’m not sure it’s worth it anymore. I was expecting so much more from Him. I’m feeling let down over the whole thing.

John: I was ready to follow Him anywhere He wanted me to. But look at the people who are leaving right now. Maybe they're right. What will they think of me if I stick around here any longer? They may just turn on me, too. I can’t pay that kind of price. It costs too much to follow Him, and I have invested far too much time and effort as it stands anyway.

Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? John 6:67

Pete: Everybody is leaving and it makes sense for me to do so as well. It’s the wise thing to do. It is the smart thing, hey, even the mature thing to do.  I always try to be logical in these kinds of instances. It is why I’ve made it as far in life as I have. I've got a wife who needs me even if He already healed her. Who’s to say she won’t get sick again? I’ll go back to fishing and living my life as a model citizen by the sea. I’ll work in the cool morning breezes and spend my evenings with my children telling stories about the times I spent with Him. I'll go back to just living a normal life, like everyone else.

He will understand. Hasn’t He said as much, throwing in that ‘also’ as if He even expects it from me? I can only do so much for Him, and He knows how hard I tried to do His work. He should respect that.

I’ll go to church and warm a pew each week, and I’ll listen to the preacher, and

I’ll be a good person and treat everyone with dignity and respect and

I’ll be well thought of by everybody. They will know me as fair and honest and

Where will I go? Where will I find the actual truth? Who else can give me the words of eternal life that I so desperately need to hear?

No. Sadly, this is it. This is all I will ever need. It may not be the easiest course to take, and it may make no sense at all to others, or even to me. But I know this. I know it in my heart even if I cannot explain it. There are no other available options. This decision, this putting Him first and following Him is an eternal arrangement. There is no other way.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” John 6:68-69

Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? John 6:70

Pete: There He goes again. Another riddle for us that we can’t understand. Even though we tell Him we are going to stick around, He says one of us will betray Him. Like that is going to happen? Every time I think I give the right answer, and it’s a well-thought out answer on my part, He always comes up with something else. Gotta love the guy.

No… I really do love the guy. And I will simply follow Him.

Is He Able?

And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? Daniel 6:20

It was a rhetorical question; the type you use when you are teaching a class to emphasize a point that might otherwise slip unnoticed through the hearts and minds of your students.

Can G_d still deliver during times of need today?”

But this morning I actually chose the question for another reason. Reading the verse quoted above out loud for the first time, despite the time and effort spent in a comprehensive study of the chapter, brought sudden memories boiling into my consciousness from a time long ago where that same question could have been leveled squarely in my direction. The moment the ancient words from King Darius left my lips overwhelmed me, and I needed time to compose myself while I fought to hold back tears.

I pretended I had something in my eye even as the question was met with a resounding ‘Amen!’ from the majority of the class, accompanied by smiles and generally good feelings all around. After all, He certainly can deliver when needed.

These are fearless answers from a safe distance—a Talladega faith travelling on a narrow, forty-mile-an hour county road. But there is another light for asking this question and it is one we do not like to talk about. Ask about deliverance to one who stands before an open casket regretfully saying goodbye to a loved one. Ask them if He can deliver a broken, disheartened soul in those moments. The boss calls a meeting in his office and begins the conversation with “I regret to inform you” and it goes downhill from there. Standing in the unemployment line with thoughts of mortgage payments and insurance skating across your consciousness, you find yourself asking the question, “Is He able to deliver me?” What is the answer when put forth in a courtroom, as a marriage is dissolved and the lawyers haggle over details for child support and visitation rights? The doctor frowns and states, “I don’t like what I’m seeing in your x-rays, we need to schedule some further tests.” A spouse is confronted with the unthinkable: “We’ve drifted apart and I no longer love you.” Can He still deliver from the lions in these situations?

The question may burn, but it burns to be answered.

No matter how secure we think we are in this life, the truth is we are merely a heartbeat away from our own proverbial lion’s den. Life is hard. Life is tough. We live in a fallen world among other sinful descendents of Adam and Eve. It’s bound to get messy or even… worse.

The surety of Darius that Daniels’ G_d could deliver in verse 16 was not so certain later that night when the proof was in the pudding. Likewise a ‘sunny day answer’ pales during our own dark, sleepless nights when our faith is tested by troubles and trials that will still be there—only bigger—when morning’s light finally (mercifully?) arrives. And we long for the answer in the same manner, with our own familiar and lamentable cry: “Is my G_d able to deliver me?”

As I write this from my living room, a comforting flame emanates from the fireplace and the dogs lay curled listlessly under my chair. Outside the temperature has dropped and I’m alone tonight; but there is nothing to fear here. I am safe and warm. Divine deliverance, though much appreciated, is not searched for nor needed in this comfortable hour even though, right now, I am certain it is and always will be there.

I find myself writing in a mindset not unlike Darius before he regretfully gave the command to execute Daniel’s sentence and cast him into the lion’s den. “Thy G_d whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.” This is a statement of fact as sure as water is wet and ice is cold—the G_d we serve can and will deliver us.

The winds of change have begun to blow across our nation, and the breeze is beginning to build into the ides of something possibly much more sinister looming just over the horizon. We face an uncertain future, all of us. Now is the time to be thinking, to be making sure in our own hearts, because Darius’ question will be asked soon enough to all of us and we’ll need to trust in our very own answer:

Is He able to deliver us?