Two Christmas reflections – Pádraig McCarthy
A Nativity Play – with a difference
The following is an account of a nativity play in a black township in South Africa which should make all of us sit up.
The opening scenes were along the usual lines.
The parish priest, Fr Gerard Fitzsimons, who after a hectic day had been reluctant to attend, takes up the story:
In Act 2 when I saw three figures approaching, I immediately thought that they were the Wise Men from the East, but no, these had come and gone for I saw their presents near the Crib.
These were three strange characters:
One was dressed in rags and hobbled along with the aid of a stick.
The second was naked except for a tattered pair of shorts and was bound in chains.
The third was the most weird. He had a whitened face, wore an unkempt grey wig and an Afro shirt.
They were certainly no wise men or kings.
As they approached, the chorus of men and women cried out, “Close the door, Joseph, they are thieves and vagabonds coming to steal all we have”. But Joseph said, “Everybody has a right to this Child, the poor, the rich, the sad, the happy, the trustworthy, the untrustworthy. We cannot keep this Child for ourselves alone. Let them enter”.
The men entered and stood staring at the Child.
Joseph picked up the presents the wise men had left.
To the first he said, “You are poor; take this gold and buy yourselves some food, clothes and a place to sleep. I have a trade. We will not go hungry. We do not need it.”
To the second he said, “You are in chains and I don’t know how to release you. Take this myrrh, it will help to heal your wounds and the chaffing on your wrists and ankles”.
To the third he said, “I don’t know the source of your mental anguish but take this frankincense. Perhaps the smell will sooth your troubled spirit”.
The chorus again cried out, “Look at him. He has given away everything that was meant for the child. He has no right to do that”.
Then the first man addressed Joseph, “Do not give me this gift. Look at me. Anyone who finds me with this gold will think I have stolen it.”
The second man said, “Do not give me this ointment, I am used to these chains. I am strong because of them. Keep it for this Child because one day he will wear our chains”.
The third man said, “I am lost. I have no faith at all. In the country of the mind I have lost contact with God. Will this incense cure my doubts? Incense will never bring back the God I have lost”.
The three men then addressed the Child.
“Little Child you are not from the country of Gold and frankincense. You belong to the country of want and disease and doubt. You belong to our world. We want to share these things with you”.
The first, taking off his ragged shirt said, “Take these rags. One day you will need them when they tear your garments and you walk naked.”
The second man said, “I put my chains at your side. One day you will be led out in chains, but on that day you will undo the chains of many people”.
The third man said, “I bow before you. Take all my doubts, my depression, my loss of faith in God and man. I am not able to carry them alone. They are unbearably heavy. Let us share them. When you grow up you will take them all and bring them before the throne of God.”
The three men then bowed and walked away with confident, upright gait.
The director came on and explained, “The three men now go away like people who have been relieved of a heavy burden. They know that they have found a place where poverty, slavery and the loss of God can be taken away by a little Child. They go away happy, free and full of hope. You and I can feel the same freedom and happiness here with the Babe of Bethlehem”.
The above first appeared in St Joseph’s Advocate, the magazine of
the Mill Hill Missionaries, in December 2005.
The Other Stocking
Gilbert Keith Chesterton
What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my mind and fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.
As a child, I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not even worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good – far from it.
And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed towards me. What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.
I have merely extended the idea.
Then, I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking. Now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.
Once, I only thanked God for a few dolls and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea.
Once, I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside.
It is the large and preposterous present of my self, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of particularly good will.
Quoted in: Spiritual Literacy – Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life.
By Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat. Scribner, 1996, page 267.