Jerusalem, like a vain woman, was adorned for the coming feast of Pentecost. Branches and flowers lined up the streets, torches were lighted by the walls, and the children of Israel segregated their first harvest as an offering in the Temple, in thanksgiving to God for the new harvest….
A long time had passed, but no one could ever forget what Mary had shared with us during those days….
Mary: I remember it was still night when Jesus was born. It took a couple of hours more for the sun to rise to the mountains and rid the cold, black sky of Bethlehem of those stars…
Mary: Right after I had given birth, the cave was filled with all the Galileans who were in the encampment…. They came then left, to see the baby and to congratulate Joseph and me…,
A Woman: Praise God, and what a beautiful little boy! For a first born, he really is…!
A Man: Now you know, Joseph, once a thief, always a thief…. See to it that the rest will come out as beautiful and well-formed as this!
Another Woman: So it’s their own thing, huh? Thanks! What about the mother?… Some men… and how they brag…!
Old Woman: I believe this little Galilean will wage much war… what with the way he was born…!
Man: But the mother is okay, isn’t she?
Old Woman: Let the mother rest…. Don’t make her talk… Wet her lips, will you, Annette?… The poor woman has perspired a lot….
Woman: You should’ve seen the father. He was more scared than the ass of Balaam!
Another Woman: Look how the babe sucks his mother’s milk…!
Man: Hey, little man, don’t be a glutton, the spring won’t run dry…!
Another Man: Hey, folks, it’s not every night that a child is born… one was born tonight… and this calls for a celebration… Hik! Let music play and let wine flow…! Hik!
Woman: Unless you yourself get some wine, nothing much remains of it….
Man: Much or little, tonight we celebrate…. Hik!… Nobody sleeps tonight!
Old Man: Anyway, soon the cocks will crow…. For once, let’s all have a sleepless night…
Woman: Well, I’m so sleepy I could drop dead…
Old Woman: Well, you can take a nap on that straw… if you clean it of the animal manure.
Man: Why talk of sleep now, buddy…? C’mon, Tina, belt out a song, and let the fun begin!
Woman: Okay, okay, lemme see… Here goes… “Hail to the most beautiful / like the pilgrim’s flower / let her live in pain / giving birth to her first babe.”
Man: I’ve got something better… “Little lemon, little lemon / you have stopped blooming / weep no more little boy / no one will love you ever.”
Mary: Near the cave, on the other side of the palm grove, some shepherds were spending the night quietly, tending their sheep. They had built bonfires to keep themselves warm and protect themselves from wolves. They took turns guarding the fire…
Cheph: For heaven’s sake, what noise is that?!… I’d say it’s coming from yonder, from the cave…. That’s weird… at this time… Listen well, Cheph…. Yeah, I hear music for feasting… Hey, Samuel, Sloppy, wake up boys…!
Sloppy: What the hell is going on?… I dreamed I was eating a plate of red beans and….
Samuel: And what?… the wolves came?
Cheph: Hey guys, I ’ve got good news…. Don’t you hear what I hear?
Samuel: Yeah, but… what feast are they celebrating tonight?
Cheph: I dunno, but, it sounds so near…. Hey why don’t we go see for ourselves!
Sloppy: Hmmm…! If there are pretty lasses, we still have time to flirt with some of them!
Samuel: Well, let’s go before it gets dawn!
Cheph: And before they run out of wine!
Sloppy: Let’s bring the sheep…. Sheep!…. Sheeeeep!…. Let’s goooo!
Mary: I was very tired, I couldn’t open my eyes… Half-awake and half-asleep, I could see those who were sleeping in the corners of the cave… They were muddled up in their blankets, lying on the damp straw on the ground…. Outside, my countrymen were dancing and singing…. You know fully well that any occasion is a good chance for the Galileans to get excited…. Joseph who was also singing with gusto, would take a peep every now and then to wink at me…. The shepherds came with their flock when it was almost dawn….
Woman: “Praise God in heaven / and on earth / let there be peace in the world / for those who fulfill their work.”
Man: “And for those who fulfill their work / let them rejoice too. Because God loves the people / day and night.”
Cheph: Hey, you, young man, what’s the occasion here, huh? You’re making a lot noise. You took away half of our sleep…
Man: Why, didn’t you hear the good news, my friend? A fellow-countrywoman has just given birth tonight!
Sloppy: So what?… The women of Bethlehem do that everyday, but we don’t make a big fuss out of it…
Man: But this is different…. A Galilean born outside of his land must be welcomed with high esteem…. Besides, we owe it to ourselves to celebrate, after a long, long trip, man!
Cheph: And where’s the baby?
Man: He’s there inside the cave, behind the palm grove…
Cheph: You mean, in “my” cave…. This place belongs to me and my sheep.
Man: Hey old man, don’t be a grouch…! Come, so you, too, can see him and give him a toast…. There ought to be some dates and wine left…
Cheph: Leave the sheep in this clearing, guys…
Man: Hey friends, these shepherds are here to celebrate with us!…. They heard our music, so they rushed here…!
Cheph: That’s right… Where’s the baby’s father?
Joseph: I’m the one, old man.
Cheph: Is he your first-born, son?
Cheph: I hope you’ll have many more. Show me your baby…
Mary: When the shepherds entered, the cave was filled with people…
Cheph: Where’s this lady who sneaked into my cave to have her baby…?
Mary: I’m here, grandpa… Why don’t you give my baby your blessing?…
Cheph: May God bless you, son! He’s very good-looking…. Not one of my sheep has had a lamb as beautiful as your son, woman.
Mary: The old shepherd with the gray beard went close to Jesus and caressed his head…. The other two, young and robust, tanned by the sun of Judea, did the same… They were probably his sons.
One of them went near Joseph…
Sloppy: Here, take it. This is my present to him.
Joseph: What’s that for?
Sloppy: A little lucky bell. We hang it on his neck when a lamb is born. This will counteract bad luck and the animal will grow strong and properly bred…. Put it on your son…
Joseph: Well, I….
Sloppy: C’mon, put it on, man. It won’t do him any harm…
Cheph: Listen to me, you strangers: I just thought that if this child is born in a shepherd’s turf, then he’ll become a shepherd too.
Old Woman: That was exactly what I was telling them outside.. if he was born where the sheep are, then a shepherd he’s got to be…
Joseph: As far as I’m concerned, it won’t really matter, whether he is a shepherd, a carpenter or a fruit vendor, or whatever I can teach him…. What matters more to me is that he grow up to be strong and to be able to fight hard for our country…. Do you know how we shall call him?… Jesus, the fighter.
Cheph: I like the way you speak, young man!… We are in need of fighters, because our country is like a lost flock. Our leaders aren’t bad shepherds, they are extremely bad!… They gratify no one but themselves… They milk us like cows, shear us, put the yoke on our necks and in the end… have us beheaded!… But they say everything will turn out fine in the end….
Samuel: But if God does not lift His cane to lead us to the right path…!
Sloppy: Yes, buddy, how God wishes His little child to be one of those leading his flock to where there is good pasture…. How I wish so, too!
Woman: Well, well, you’ve been here arguing if the boy will be this or that, but not one has even thought of reading his luck…. Am I right?
Old Woman: Well, you are… Let’s see… will you tell Charlotte to stop dancing and to come inside, as she is the expert in this matter…
Cheph: And how do you do that, woman?
Old Woman: We, who come from the north, read it in the palm of the mother’s hand.
Samuel: Well, we shepherds do it with the umbilical cord of the child.
Old Woman: What?… Holy God, this we have to see!
Man: Palm or umbilical cord… it doesn’t really matter…. What is important is you make a prognosis of the boy…
Woman: Let’s see what’s in store for this Nazarene!
Mary: An old, wrinkled woman, with silver rings hanging from her nose and wrapped in a dark blanket, slowly went near the pile of straw where I was lying down…
Charlotte: Gimme your hand, Mary… your right hand…. “If you wouldn’t grow up, my child / if you remained a child, / but time will pass/ sooner than a wink….” Will you bring that lamp closer, my child, so I can see… so I can see…. This is the footline… Yes, it says this boy will cross the country northbound and southbound and then, vice-versa.
Man: Then he’ll have to use up lots of sandals!
Woman: Psst!… Quiet, man, this matter is a serious one…!
Charlotte: This is the heartline…. I see several children… Mary’s son’s gonna have a lot of children… as many as the mature grains of wheat in a spike…
Woman: Hey, Mary, your house will be too small for your grandchildren!
Charlotte: Now, the money line… Hmmm! It’s blurred! I suppose, if this child does not make it in a raffle, then he’ll have to walk down the street with his hands covering his private parts….
Man: Old woman… that’s how we’ve always been in this country… hik! walking like Adam did before the great sin…! Hik!
Woman: More prognosis, please, Charlotte…!
Charlotte: You still want more?… no, let somebody else do it. I’ve already said a lot for free!
Man: I’d like to see how this is done through the umbilical cord, as the shepherd has claimed…. Tell us, old man, how do you read one’s luck this way?
Cheph: Where’s the cord?
Joseph: Must be some place here…
Cheph: Go, get it!… Without it, no prognosis can be made!
Woman: Look, it’s here!
Cheph: Let’s go outside… this must be done in an open field!
Cheph: See?… The cord is thrown upwards while everybody prepares to catch it…
Cheph: Whoever catches it will have good health, good fortune and love!… Here goes!…
Man: I got it!… I got it!
Woman: Again!!!! Again!!
Cheph: Ha! Bring it here, son…. Whoever catches it this time, will have a hundred years of happiness!… Here goes!…
Mary: From the cave, where I lay over the pile of straw, I could hear the laughter, the applauses and the excitement of the party organized by the Galileans and the shepherds. They said my son would bring them good fortune and deep inside me, I was praying the same from God…. It was already dawn when my eyes became heavy and I fell asleep, while holding Jesus close to me….
Old Woman: “The night has gone mad / because my countrywoman gave birth to a baby / and in the feast we had for him, / the night had caught us.”
The surrounding areas of Bethlehem were appropriate for pasture. Those were the same fields where David had nourished his sheep before he became king of Israel. Until now, the Arab shepherds lead their flocks through the vast terrains surrounding Bethlehem. Outside the city, in the so-called “shepherds’ field,” there is a church in the form of a Bedouin tent which reminds those shepherds from Bethlehem of their enthusiastic celebration in honor of the newly-born babe from Galilee.
The shepherds from Bethlehem, like the rest from other parts of Israel, were not “affectionate, charming and sweet,” as they are generally portrayed in stories about Christmas. They were not only men from the lowest social ladder, they were also considered “dangerous” elements. The shepherd was a real outcast in that society. He was regarded as a delinquent, a thief, and a cheat. Although there were no proofs, they were always suspected of leading their animals to properties not their own and of stealing part of the produce of their flocks. Some “religious” communities had prohibited purchase of wool, milk or young goats from them. In disregard for a number of important texts of the Old Testament, where God and His Messiah are represented as shepherds, or of the traditions showing Moses and David as shepherds of their flocks before becoming leaders of the people, the literature of Israel, specially that of the time of Jesus, is replete with very critical judgments against the shepherds. If the gospel of Luke presents the shepherds as the first to know about the birth of Jesus, he is not only providing us with a historical information, but basically he contributes to us a theological element. It is not a coincidence, much less a poetic detail, but it is a clear indication from the beginning of the gospel of who were beside Jesus, who were around him when he was born, and for whom he was born. The good news, the joyful news was received by the shepherds, who readily understood they had a liberator in their midst. Those men, poor and despised, represented in their poverty the people to whom Jesus would proclaim the gospel. Those “poor of Yahweh” had nothing but hope in the Lord, the desire to be free from centuries of oppression. As in the text of the annunciation to Mary, Luke, in this narration, employs the angels once again as messengers of the news of liberation. If, in biblical language, the figure of an angel is used, the purpose is to give solemnity to a given moment, to highlight the importance of the narrated event. It is very important that the awaited Messiah be born among the poor and refer to his community, the “least of all” as the first; and that “it is necessary” that the angels should appear. Matthew, the other narrator of the infancy of Jesus, who also wants to underscore the universality of the message of Jesus – vis-à-vis his countrymen’s nationalism –, would say that wise men (with another religion) from the Orient came to Bethlehem. This would show that Jesus did not come to solely liberate Israel but all the peoples of the earth, that he would break barriers among nations. A manifestation of this is inspired by the prophecies of Isaiah (Is 49:12 and 22-23; 60:3-6). The mention of a star is a reminder, at the time the gospel was written, of an old prophecy of a foreigner, who, in the beginnings of the history of Israel, saw a star, announcing the coming of a king, who was to rule all the lands of the earth from Israel (Num 24:15-19). The birth of a child is a reason for celebration in all cultures. Surrounding this event is an infinity of popular customs. Burying the placenta in the cultivated land, asking God for fertility, or sprinkling mother’s milk over the furrows of the land for good harvest are some of the many rituals involving childbirth in a number of towns. The Nativity, a feast deeply rooted in the Christian tradition, ought to look for more profound, popular roots, in order to get closer to the origins of Jesus. An excessive and artificial consumption, utter extravagance that is common these days, have nothing or little to do with the birth of that child, who was himself surrounded by great joy and celebration, but never by pomp.
Through the angels, Luke gives a proclamation that is traditional song and acclamation among the Christians: “Glory to God in heaven and peace to men on earth,” whom He loves so much. This, in synthesis is the meaning of the birth of Jesus for mankind. The “glory” of God throughout the Bible is the revelation of God’s authority and Holiness. In this poor child, born like the rest, amid a group of rejoicing countrymen, is found all God’s glory, His definitive revelation. From now on He is there, amid the people, from whom we must seek God, where He wanted to reveal Himself. Jesus’ birth also signifies “peace.” In the Bible, the word “peace” is one with the richest of meanings. Peace (“shalom” in Hebrew) may be translated, for example, twenty-five ways in Greek. Peace is health, salvation, joy, contented life, complete life, full life; well-being, material and spiritual prosperity for each one and for the community. All this is what that child born in a cave for the sheep has come to bring us, and for whom the shepherds of Bethlehem had feasted with great rejoicing.