A Christmas Play

(A stable filled with animals. Several people are gathered reverently around a baby lying in a feeding trough. Enter Innkeeper in his night robe.)

INNKEEPER: (gruffly) What’s going on here?

JOSEPH: Oh! Good evening!

INNKEEPER: We’re way past good evening.

JOSEPH: Yes, I realize it’s quite late. But we had the baby.


JOSEPH: Well, she.

INNKEEPER: Your wife.

JOSEPH: My, um, betrothed.


JOSEPH: It’s not like that. It’s… it’s complicated.

INNKEEPER: It usually is.

JOSEPH: Let me explain…

INNKEEPER: Who are all these other people?

JOSEPH: They’re… shepherds.

INNKEEPER: I didn’t give them permission to stay in my…

JOSEPH: They’re not staying. They’re just visiting.

INNKEEPER: They look like they’re posing.

JOSEPH: Posing?

INNKEEPER: They’re not acting natural.

JOSEPH: Actually, they are. “Acting natural” is sort of an oxymoron. If you’re acting, it implies you’re doing something artificial. Whereas, if you’re behaving according to your nature, you’re not putting on an act at all. (Innkeeper stares at him.) Maybe I didn’t explain that very well, but in any case, what they’re doing is quite…

INNKEEPER: What they’re doing is not natural. This is a stable, not a theater.

JOSEPH: Yes, but don’t be surprised if someday there will be many plays featuring this very scene.

INNKEEPER: Oh, I admit it’s all very theatrical. Babies born in barns, unmarried homeless couples, naive rustics, and heartless innkeepers to be sure. But what for? What’s the point? Plays have to have a point.

JOSEPH: This one will, I assure you.

INNKEEPER: I don’t want to be part of a bunch of existentialist nonsense.

JOSEPH: Certainly not. Drama was originally supposed to be a meaningful religious experience. Everyone seems to forget that. Just as they seem to forget that life is supposed to be a religious experience, and not, as you say, a… a…

INNKEEPER: A bunch of existentialist nonsense.

JOSEPH: Exactly.

INNKEEPER: I’m not opposed to realism, but it has to be believable.

JOSEPH: Well, you can see that this is real.

INNKEEPER: But if it were on stage, nobody would buy it. It’s not believable.

JOSEPH: But if something is believable, that means it has to do with belief. But belief has to do with faith, and faith implies that something is not immediately believable.

INNKEEPER: But the purpose of a play is to tell a story well enough that an audience will accept it as true.

JOSEPH: Which first requires a willing suspension of disbelief. You see, faith precedes understanding.

INNKEEPER: You’re taking this theology thing a long way.

JOSEPH: It is also one of the purposes of theology to go a long way.

INNKEEPER: (pause) Is the baby alright?

JOSEPH: Yes, he’s fine. Thanks for asking.

INNKEEPER: I mean, even the baby is not acting natural. He’s not acting like a baby. And if you’re going to stage this thing, where are you going to get a baby to act like that? You’re going to have to use a fake baby.

JOSEPH: Art requires the artificial. It will be part of the challenge and part of the pleasure of putting on this play. It’s one of the reasons people enjoy putting on plays. They like getting dressed up.

INNKEEPER: (pointing to the shepherds) They’re not dressed up.

JOSEPH: But the actors who portray them someday will be getting dressed up. Dressed up as shepherds. In fact, someone will even say that men try to be kings, but they dream of being shepherds.

INNKEEPER: Someone will say that, huh?

JOSEPH: A good play is theology getting dressed up. It takes an idea and puts it in the flesh, as it were. It acts out the story without a lot of sermonizing.

INNKEEPER: Which is what you’re doing now.

JOSEPH: Sermonizing or acting out the story?

INNKEEPER: Either way, I’m still not getting the point.

JOSEPH: The baby is the point. The shepherds aren’t posing. They’re worshipping. They’re not “acting,” because the most natural thing for man to do is worship. They are worshipping the baby.

INNKEEPER: Why would they be worshipping a baby?

JOSEPH: What would you say if I told you that his mother is a virgin, that his real father is God Almighty, and these shepherds were told to come here by angels from heaven?

(Long pause.)

INNKEEPER: I’d say you’d better clear out of here by noon.

JOSEPH: (sighs) As you wish. But take one last look and just imagine it with music.

DALE AHLQUIST is President of the American Chesterton Society, editor of Gilbert!, host of the EWTN series The Apostle of Common Sense, and chairman of the Chesterton Schools Network.

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