And Joseph went up from Galilee to Bethlehem with Mary, his wife, who was expecting a child. And she brought forth a son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. And the angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds and said, “I bring you tidings of great joy. Unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
“There’s a problem with the angel,” said a Pharisee who happened to be strolling by. “Angels are widely regarded as religious symbols, and you are on public property where such symbols are not allowed to land or even hover. And I have to tell you, this whole thing looks very much like a Nativity scene – that’s no no too.”
Joseph, eager to avoid confrontation, offered a suggestion, “What if I put a couple of reindeer over there near the ox and donkey?”
“That would definitely help,” said the Pharisee, who knew as well as anyone that whenever a savior appeared, judges usually liked to be on the safe side and surround it with a deer or woodland creatures of some sort. “Just to be safe, throw in a candy cane, a couple of elves and some snowmen, too. No court can say no to that.”
Mary asked, “What does my son’s birth have to do with snowmen?”
“Snowpersons!” cried a young woman, changing the subject before it turned dangerously toward religion. Off to the side of the crowd a Philistine was painting the Nativity scene.
Mary complained that she and Joseph looked too tattered and worn in the picture. “Artistic license,” he said. “I’ve got to show the struggles of the poor and homeless in a greedy, uncaring society in winter.”
“We’re neither poor nor homeless. The inn was just full,” said Mary.
“Whatever,” said the painter.
Two women began to argue fiercely. One said she objected to Jesus’ birth because it showed favoritism to motherhood. The other laughed at the idea of a virgin birth but also said that if it encouraged non-traditional family types and single motherhood then she was all for them.
“I’m not a single mother,” Mary started to say but she was cut off by a third woman who insisted that swaddling clothes are a form of child abuse since they restrict the natural movement of babies. With the arrival of 10 child advocates, all trained to spot infant abuse and manger rash, Mary and Joseph were pushed to the edge of the crowd. There they heard arguments break out over how many reindeer (or what mix of reindeer and other seasonal symbols) had to be installed to compensate for the unfortunate religious meaning of Jesus’ birth.
And old man pushed his way up and knocked over two merchants who had been busy debating whether an elf is the same as a fairy and whether the elf/fairy should be shaking hands with Jesus in the crib or merely standing by jumping around like a sports mascot.
“I’d hold off on the reindeer,” the old man said. “The use of donkeys and oxen as backdrops for Nativity scenes carries the subliminal message of human dominance.” He passed out two leaflets, one opposing manger births as an invasion of animal space and the other arguing that stables are ‘fenced environments’ where animals are imprisoned against their will.
He had no opinion about elves or candy canes. Signs declaring “Free the
Someone said the halo on Jesus head was elitist. Mary was past frustrated and asked sharply to an old woman “what about you? Are you here to criticize the shepherds as prison guards for oppressed animals, or just to say that I should have given up the religion of my ancestors and joined some stupid new age group?”
“None of the above,” said the woman. “I just wanted to tell you that the Magi are here.” Sure enough, the three wise men rode up. The crowd gasped, “They’re all men! And they’re not culturally diverse!”
“Balthasar here is black,” said one of the Magi.
“Yes, but how many of you are gay or disabled?” someone shouted. A committee was quickly formed and decided that an underprivileged lesbian Magi should be added to the group.
A calm voice said, “Be of good cheer Mary, you have done well and your son will change the world.”
At last, a sane person, Mary thought. She turned to see a radiant and confident female face. The woman spoke again,
“There is one thing though. Religious holidays are important, but can’t we just learn to celebrate them in ways that unite, not divide? For instance, instead of all this business about ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ why not just say ‘Season’s greetings?”
Mary said, “You mean my son has entered human history to deliver the message, ‘Hello, its winter?’”
“That’s harsh Mary” said the woman. “Remember, your son could make it big at the midwinter festivals, if he doesn’t push the religion thing too far. Centuries form now, in nations yet unborn, people will give each other overpriced gifts and have big office parties to celebrate his birth. I would think that would be something you would be proud of.”
“Let me get back to you” Mary said and walked away.