SIMON – grandson
MARK – grandfather
MIRIAM – mother of Simon, daughter of Mark
CLAUDIUS – friend of Simon
HERA – mother of Claudius
ANNA – friend of Miriam
NATHAN – husband of Anna
SIRUS – middle-aged scribe
MATTHEW – Follower and scribe
PHOEBE - leader of the church (Followers of the Way in Phillipi)
LUKE – Follower and scribe
HANNAH – leader of the church (Followers of the Way in Corinth)
Setting – all three scenes take place indoors and in a simple set of chairs as people chat.
The scenes are in distinct time periods decades apart; you can distinguish their differences with a sign stating the approximate year.
A NARRATOR could introduce the play with words such as these:
Mark was the first to set down an account of the life of Jesus. He never mentioned anything about where or how Jesus was born. If Jesus had had a miraculous birth that fact would certainly have been included. So how did the account of a special birth come to be created? Let's peek in on a Hebrew family about thirty years after Jesus had been killed by the Romans.
SCENE ONE (65CE?)
SIMON – Tell me more about Jesus. You always tell me what he would have done and you tell me that I should do what he did, but I don't know his story. Everybody has a story. I was born in Bethsaida and we have lived here where I help in the pottery shop and you and mother teach me and I play with Claudius. That's my story so far. What was Jesus' story?
MARK - Jesus was a great teacher and such a special person that we can't believe that he died, let alone that he has been dead for 30 years now. He radiated such a powerful spirit and his words and actions seemed so authentically of Yahweh that some of us believe that he was immortal and his life spirit is eternal. He touched so many people so deeply that we live as though he accompanies us every day and knows our thoughts. He was truly a special spirit among us even for such a short period. I never met him, but the people I know, trust and love have shared their impressions of him. What he said and did remain so vivid to them that I sense that I know him personally.
SIMON - Such an impressive person must have had special powers and have had a special birth.
MARK - Not necessarily. He always said that we his followers were to go out and heal just as he did. He never claimed anything special for himself, but said that the realm of Yahweh's love was already here and that we could choose to live as if Yahweh were our ruler in stead of the Emperor and Roman authorities.
SIMON - Claudius says that the Emperor had a special birth – his father was a god. Is the Emperor more important than Jesus?
MARK - Not in my life. Jesus is the most important person in my life – after you my boy, and your mother.
SIMON - Well, I think if Jesus was so special he must have had a special birth then – one at least as impressive as the Emperor or one of the prophets that claim to have been born of a virgin.
MARK - Jesus is special enough to have been born of a virgin and announced by angels.
SIMON - I thought so. [jump up] Wait till I tell Claudius. Thanks Grandfather.
[Simon races off stage.]
MARK - Now wait a minute. I didn't say … Oh, that impatient boy, he's run off again.
[Mark leaves the scene.]
[Claudius enters and starts to play with something. Simon rushes in.]
SIMON - Claudius, my grandfather says that Jesus had a special birth and that's what made him special.
CLAUDIUS - Oh, what was special about his birth?
SIMON - Jesus was born of a virgin.
CLAUDIUS - Do you mean he had no father?
SIMON - I'm not sure. We always talk about Joseph being his father. Anyway he was so special, that angels told everybody when he was born.
CLAUDIUS - Angels? What are angels?
SIMON - They're the messengers of Yahweh. They wear white robes and have big white wings and you can't see their faces they shine so brightly.
CLAUDIUS - We have messengers from Zeus, but they aren't that bright.
SIMON - Anyway, Jesus is more important than your Emperor, 'cause he had a virgin birth AND angels.
CLAUDIUS - Wait till I tell my mom. See you tomorrow.
[Claudius leaves and then Simon wanders off.]
[Simon comes in and sits down. Miriam enters with a bowl. She pours Simon some soup and sits beside him.]
SIMON - Mom, grandfather says that Jesus was so special that he had a virgin birth and angels told folks that he was special when he was born.
MIRIAM - Jesus was certainly special, Simon, but I haven't heard about anything special about his birth.
SIMON - Well, you just ask Grandfather, he'll tell you all about it.
MIRIAM - Yes, I will ask your grandfather about that. Now finish your supper and get off to bed.
[Simon hugs him mom and leaves.]
[Mark enters for his soup.]
MIRIAM - Father, what is all this talk about Jesus having a special birth? Something about a virgin mother and angels announcing that he was special.
MARK - Oh Simon said that did he? Well he was asking about Jesus and how important he was. He wanted to compare Jesus to the Emperor who is said to have had a god for a father. I was just saying that Jesus was important enough that he could well have had a special birth such as having Yahweh for a father and angels declaring that he was special. Jesus seems more like Yahweh than any priest I've known.
MIRIAM - Well, I just don't want Simon thinking that we know all the facts because none of us were there when he was born and I've never met or heard of anyone who was. His mother certainly never said anything unusual happened.
MARK - Facts are one thing, but in the realm of ideas it helps to think of images and have visions.
MIRIAM - As Joel said, "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions." [Joel 2:28.29]
MARK - That's always true. Now leave me to my evening meditations, daughter and the peace of Yahweh accompany you until morning. Shalom.
MIRIAM - Shalom, father.
[Miriam leaves in one direction and Mark in another.]
[Claudius and his mom, Hera, walk together into the scene.]
CLAUDIUS - Simon says that Jesus was born to a virgin and that angels talked about how special he was when he was born.
HERA - Really? How strange that I had not heard of that before.
CLAUDIUS - He says his grandfather told him that and he's old, very old, so he should know.
HERA - I suppose so. They believe in a different god than we do and who knows what is true. Off you go, I have work to do.
[Claudius leaves in one direction and Hera in another.]
[Nathan enters and lights a candle. Anna follows with a scroll for him.]
ANNA - Have you heard what Simon's grandfather is saying?
NATHAN - What?
ANNA - He is saying that Jesus had a special birth – that Jesus's mother was a virgin and that angels sang at his birth.
NATHAN - Angels from heaven or walking on earth as they did when they visited Lot?
ANNA - I don't know which. Does it matter?
NATHAN - Well it's always comforting to get the story right because we have to tell it over and over again.
ANNA - I suppose it does matter. I'll ask Mark myself.
[Anna leaves in one direction and Nathan in another.]
[Mark enters with his scroll and pen. Nathan joins him in a moment.]
MARK - I want to impress upon new people just how special Jesus was. If they have already heard of the Emperor having a god for a father, then I just thought we could point out that Jesus was even more important than the Emperor and not only had Yahweh's soul and spirit but was the son of Yahweh.
NATHAN - He certainly had all the indications of speaking as Yahweh would in the tradition of the prophets. He certainly demonstrated the unlimited love of Yahweh to everyone. He was a window on divinity for me that is certain and so I would not be surprised if his birth were special. I just haven't heard anything about his birth until now.
MARK - Well, I'm not saying I was a witness nor have I ever heard anything about his birth. I'm just saying that he was such a spirit-filled person that he could well have had a special birth. At least as spectacular as some of the sages we hear about in the stories from the Greeks and the people from Gilgamesh.
NATHAN - Before he was born, his mother must have had an idea of how special he was going to be.
MARK - How would that happen?
NATHAN - Well, the same angels who proclaimed him to be special at his birth should have told her ahead of time to be especially careful during her confinement.
MARK - That makes sense. Angels before, during and after. Yahweh would do such a thing.
NATHAN - I would and Yahweh is wiser than I am.
MARK - Yes, Nathan, I'd have to concede that.
NATHAN - As wise as I am, I still need to study the Torah and so I'm off to do that. Shalom.
[Nathan leaves in one direction and then Mark leaves in the opposite direction.]
[Nathan enters with Sirus. They wait for Mark to join them from the opposite direction.]
NATHAN - Mark, I want you to meet Sirus. His parents are traders and have gained enough wealth to educate him. He's been taught in the court how to read and write.
MARK - I'm happy to meet you and wonder if you can teach such an old man how to write.
SIRUS - If I can't do that I can write what you tell me. I have heard a lot about Jesus and I am certain that there are many people who cannot meet you and the other followers who would be enriched by hearing about the teachings and actions of Jesus. You who have almost direct connection with him are aging and dying. There is a need to capture your recollections and I am eager to write them down for the future generations.
MARK - What are you proposing?
SIRUS - I'm wondering if you would take the time to tell me all the things that you can remember that Jesus said and did. He seems to have had a profound effect on people who met him and on you who know some of the Followers of the Way.
MARK - My memory is not what it used to be, but I have told these accounts so many times that I suppose I could repeat them without any effort and others can correct anything that I miss. When do you want to start?
SIRUS - Not today; I haven't brought my writing tools with me. I didn't know what your response would be, but I'm glad that it meets with your approval. Can I come tomorrow morning?
MARK - Yes, that would be good.
SIRUS - Then I will leave you in Yahweh's care.
MARK - Shalom.
[Sirus leaves in one direction.]
NATHAN – I thought it would be good for the two of you to meet. Sirus seems quite determined to help.
MARK – You were right to introduce us. He may be very helpful in getting the life of Jesus down for future followers to read. Well, old friend, I'm off to bed now. May angels watch over you as you sleep.
NATHAN – Shalom to you too.
[Nathan and Mark leave in opposite directions.]
[Mark enters and waits for Sirus to enter from the opposite direction.]
SIRUS - Mark, we have spent months recording these events and sayings and you seem satisfied with the order in which I have placed them. There is just one thing that I wish we could write and that is something about Jesus birth, youth, childhood. He seems to have come out of nowhere.
MARK - Well as far as any of us knows he did just come out of nowhere. Nazareth and Galillee are associated with his past but nobody knows anything about his birth. I can't put anything into my account that has not been told to me.
SIRUS - I understand. I just wish we could flesh out the story of his life more.
MARK - Many others probably do too, but the fact is I can't do that. I must go to the synagogue now. I wish you well in your writing. Bring me what you have completed when you can.
SIRUS – I will. Shalom.
MARK – Shalom.
[Sirus leaves and then Mark leaves in the opposite direction.]
SCENE TWO (80CE?)
[Try different chairs and table to denote a decade later.]
[Matthew enters and sits at the table with a scroll. Phoebe enters.]
MATTHEW – It's been 15 years since Mark wrote about Jesus and we've learned more from others we have talked with. It seems to be time we wrote a more complete account. I propose that we try to place Jesus in the tradition of the Scriptures and recognize him as being of the lineage of David our great ancestor. A descendant of King David should have been born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of David, and it would make as much sense to place Jesus' birth in that town as any other. It would assure people that he was born of David's line. Ancestry is everything, they say.
PHOEBE - What about all the stories that he was born of a virgin and that angels foretold it and also sang at his birth.
MATTHEW – I think those elements add to the image of a great spirit being given birth among us. Mary must have been filled with the Holy Spirit of Yahweh to have given birth to such a wonderful son. It also makes sense that she was informed of this special child before he was born so she didn't take any risks and lose the baby. Joseph must have also been told, especially since she would have been pregnant without having been wed to him. He would have put her away as an unclean woman, if he had not been told of the special child within her.
PHOEBE - There is also a prophesy in Isaiah – "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu-el." Isaiah says that with that sign great things shall happen as have never before been seen. That has certainly happened since the birth of Jesus. I suppose he is the Immanu-el.
MATTHEW – I wondered about that connection, but it does make sense. It shows that Jesus is part of the unfolding plan of Yahweh to continue to deliver his people from oppression and oppressive ideas. Life has not been easy for us since Jesus dies, but we have a new vision of Yahweh as a loving parent and a vision of a community of sharing and caring unlike any we have envisioned before.
PHOEBE - I like that connection; it's like a prophesy fulfilled and will further connect Jesus and us his followers with the Hebrew faith we are sometimes suspected of undermining with our radical revisioning of the image of Yahweh and how gentiles are to be welcomed without circumcision.
MATTHEW – I'll add that to my account of his birth. Mary shall be instructed to call him Immanuel.
PHOEBE - Matthew, there is another point that we have long discussed and that is that with all the attention around his birth – star of significance, magi travelling though Herod's court with gifts, there must have been some reaction by Herod. He must have felt threatened to hear of a new king born in one of his territories.
MATTHEW – Yes, that almost seems obvious. I wonder what his response would have been.
PHOEBE - If I were as crafty as he seems to be, I'd pretend to want to offer my best wishes also and that way discover where this threat was and have it removed.
MATTHEW – You mean find Jesus and kill him.
PHOEBE - Precisely.
MATTHEW – The magi are no fools; they wouldn't tell Herod for fear of just such treachery.
PHOEBE - Yes, but he could have them followed or take some other measure to head this threat off at the start.
MATTHEW – It would have to be an immense undertaking.
PHOEBE - What do you mean?
MATTHEW – I suppose that if he was not certain where this boy was born, he would have to order the death of every baby boy in the territory.
PHOEBE - It makes an appropriate parallel with Moses since it is similar to what the Pharoah did in Egypt to subdue our ancestors.
MATTHEW – A slaughter of innocents to expose how cruel and corrupt the Roman tyranny was.
PHOEBE - Precisely.
MATTHEW – You have given me much to think about, Phoebe. I will ask you to leave me now so I can get these ideas down before they are lost to my recall. Shalom.
PHOEBE - Shalom to you, Matthew.
[Phoebe leaves in one direction and Matthew in another.]
SCENE THREE (90CE?)
[Try different chairs and table and perhaps a lamp to denote a decade later.]
[Luke enters with a different scroll and then Hannah enters.]
LUKE – It's been 10 years since Matthew wrote his account of Jesus and his life. We need to retell the story for new believers.
HANNAH – Just where in Bethlehem was Jesus born? Certainly not in a home of a wealthy person. He must have come from very humble beginnings to have had such a passion for the destitute and the despised. I wonder if he was even born in a house or just out in the open on the roadside perhaps.
LUKE - Jesus was from Nazareth.
HANNAH – Yes, but Matthew had him born in Bethlehem to prove that he was of David's lineage and also to fulfill Micah's prophecy "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel."[Mic 5:2]. How are you going to get him from Nazareth where his parents lived and raised him to Bethlehem. Matthew never addressed that.
LUKE - Well, I could find some state imposed reason why they were required to travel the 7 to 10 day trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
HANNAH – You could blame it on an Emperor again. They were always making oppressive orders.
LUKE - Yes, let's say that Caesar Augustus commanded that a census be taken and each man had to return to the place of his birth to be registered. Joseph could need to travel to Bethlehem and he'd have to take Mary with him.
HANNAH – Being great with child she couldn't walk the whole way. He'd better borrow a donkey for her to ride on. When her time came to be delivered, Joseph would also need to locate some shelter for Mary.
LUKE - With all the folks who were also travelling to be registered there would be no rooms to stay in at any inn or hostel.
HANNAH – Joseph might have found a shelter in a livestock feeding manger in a field. They're common enough.
LUKE – That would certainly be lowly enough and the hay would be a comfortable place to lie down and give birth.
HANNAH – You speak as a man; no woman I know of would welcome such a birthing space, but it will serve our purposes in the narrative of Jesus birth.
LUKE – And if we have Jesus born in a manger in a field and the angels appear, then the men looking after the animals will witness this announcement. That would mean that the first people to get the good news of a special child of Yahweh being born would be peasants at work and not the wealthy land-owners. I like it.
HANNAH – How many angels do you think there should be?
LUKE – Since we are announcing the birth of Jesus, there can't be too many.
HANNAH – Who's announcing this birth?
LUKE – I mean since Yahweh is proclaiming the great thing being done, there would be a host of angels singing and such a mighty display that everyone present would be impressed.
HANNAH – As if Matthew's star and magi were not enough.
LUKE – I never thought a lot of those points. I don't understand why he put them in so I'm not going to bother with them in my account.
HANNAH – I'll leave you to your work. It will add to what we have from Mark.
LUKE – Shalom.
[Hannah leaves and then Luke leaves in the opposite direction.]
A NARRATOR could close the play with a comment such as this:
The good news in all of this is that you can be a special person without actually having a special birth. It's your words and deeds that make you a blessing to others. So this is the end of our story. By the way, when John came to write his version of the life of Jesus years later, he didn't bother with any of this birth account or embellishment; he just said that Jesus was the living word of God. O that we would all would be that. Amen.
Copyright © 2000 Charles M. Bidwell