By Rick Borger
Three first century characters independently talk about themselves. Each person has had some relationship with the Christmas story, and each one is profoundly affected when the Easter story takes place. Themes include family values and the passing on of godly traditions.
(Note: A sister, Naomi, could be substituted for James the brother, in the interest of casting more women, if a few lines are changed. Alternate lines for Naomi are suggested. )
(Jacob, Tamara, and James enter stage left in single file, upstage. They form a line with their backs to audience. James may be off an extra distance to stage left. Jacob turns around.)
Jacob: (Cynical, strolling around downstage) It's a family business. That's what my father says. He was running the inn at Bethlehem before I was even born. So, when he opened up a new inn in the big city of Jerusalem, he left me behind to run his place in Bethlehem. He still owns the place: I just run it for him, while he stays in Jerusalem where the real money is. Of course I get my share of the profit here, but most of the business goes to Jerusalem, especially during the festival times, like the Passover season right now. Still, if things get busy enough, all the inns in Jerusalem generally fill up, and I get some of the overflow. I don't usually have many vacancies this time of year, so I guess I shouldn't complain.
By the way, though, if you're ever around my father, don't say anything about vacancies in Bethlehem during the busy season, or he'll tell you his famous story about the time a king was born in his stable here. It's a family legend. (Turns from audience, back into line. James turns around.)
James: (Quiet, remaining still) In my family, there have always been many stories told. Stories about angels, and Magi, and prophecies. (Turns away. Tamara turns around.)
Tamara: (Excited, rushing downstage) An angel appeared to shepherds at night, telling them the Messiah, the King, was born in the town of David. The whole sky was lit by the glory of God, and then a multitude of angels appeared singing praises. The shepherds immediately headed for Bethlehem to see the baby and his parents. (Freezes.)
Jacob: (Turning, coming downstage) They were just a poor couple, with no place to stay but the stable, but a gang of shepherds come along that night, claiming angels had told them that the heir to the throne of David had been born. (Shrugs.) That's what my father told me.
Tamara: My Uncle Nathan often told this story to all of us; all my brothers and sisters and cousins have heard it. He says it's absolutely true, and we know it is, because he was one of the shepherds that the angels appeared to, and so were my Uncle Joseph and my Uncle Saul. They all went to Bethlehem and saw the baby! Our family has always been shepherds; my grandfather, my father, and all my uncles were shepherds.
Jacob: I don't know how it is where you come from, but in this country, we don't even allow shepherds to testify in court. They're not the most highly respected people. But at least that story gives my father a really good excuse whenever I complain about having to stay in Bethlehem. He says to me, 'How can you complain when you're overseeing the birthplace of the Messiah?'
Tamara: Even though we're only shepherds, all my relatives know that we matter to God, and we all love each other, because we know that God considers each one of us important. God considers shepherds to be just as important as anybody else, because God sent His angels to us, to announce the coming of His Savior.
James: (Turning, slowly walking downstage) Some very important, wealthy people came to see Jesus. A caravan of the most highly respected Wise Men came from the distant east. They announced that they had seen his sign in the stars, foretelling the birth of the king of the Jews. Another story I heard was that when Jesus was newly born, and the parents took him to Jerusalem to be consecrated, there was an old man in the temple whose name was Simeon. He prophesied that their son would some day bring salvation to all Israel, and to the Gentiles as well.
Jacob: So, this week the savior of the world entered Jerusalem. He was riding a donkey, father said, and the crowds were all around him saying, 'Hosanna to the son of David.' Father is convinced this is the same person who was born in his stable. The old man got so excited that he left my mother and sisters in charge of everything, regardless of the Passover season, and rushed over here to tell me to put up a sign saying that this inn was the birthplace of the Great King. He says it'll be great for business. But I'm not so sure.
Tamara: We saw the King, riding a colt through the city, and all the people were spreading their coats on the road, and cutting down palm branches for him, and everyone was proclaiming, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of David.' (Runs back upstage, freezes with back to audience.)
James: Simeon was also supposed to have said to mother, 'A sword will pierce your heart also.' I have no understanding of what that meant. I'm not sure I want to know.
Jacob: The trouble is, this donkey rider is controversial. I've heard a lot of talk about him. The authorities don't believe he's any Messiah, and they're out to get him. It could be very dangerous advertising your loyalty to this king. (Returns upstage with back to audience.)
James: (Walking to stage center) He never was a king to me. He was just my brother, Jesus. I played with him, and did the chores with him, and he didn't seem like anyone special. I think my mother believed in many of the stories about her first-born son. And, at first, the entire family encouraged him in his career as a teacher. He was performing miracles, so there seemed to be something very valid there. But, in time, it went too far. (Walking back and forth) He had absolutely no time for us. Multitudes of people began following him, virtually worshipping him. He finally lost all comprehension of reality. For his own good we tried to seize him, my brothers and I, but we couldn't even get close to him. (or: 'My brothers tried to seize him, for his own protection, but they couldn't even get close to him.') And now the authorities are determined to kill him. (He has walked to stage left, where he freezes.)
(Music or sound effect; nails hammering? Tamara screams.)
Tamara: (Running downstage) How could they do it? How could they nail the King to a cross? How could God let it happen, if Jesus was supposed to be the Savior? (Freezes.)
James: My mother had to watch him die. At least he fulfilled his duty to her, as her first born; he made sure she would be taken care of. He placed her in the care of one of his disciples. I'm the second born (or 'James is the second born'), but I guess he didn't trust his own brothers. (Freezes facing stage left.)
Jacob: (Coming downstage) There had been rumors about him rising from the dead. So the authorities sent a guard of soldiers to watch the body, in case it was stolen, and they sealed up the tomb with an enormous stone. My father and I haven't spoken to each other since. (Freezes facing stage right.)
James: (Only his mouth moving) That stone closed off a lot of things for my family. It closed off people's hopes, and dreams, and a lot of cherished expectations about what God had supposedly promised to do.
Tamara: (Fairly still) I heard that some women want to anoint him with spices as soon as the Sabbath is over, but how will they get past the guards? How could they even roll the stone away? It would take an earthquake to move it. (Earthquake sounds alert all three.) An earthquake!
(All three shout and head for cover. Jacob drops down flat near center stage. Tamara and James run upstage towards stage left, and duck down low, facing away from audience. )
Jacob: (Rising to his knees) Lord God of heaven, I thank you for raising your Savior from the dead, and revealing your power and truth to all Jerusalem, and all Israel. I especially thank you for the salvation of my family, and for the fact that, even when we completely failed to recognize your son, you chose our inn to be his birthplace. We didn't think we needed him to save us from our sins. To us he was only a baby lying in a manger. (Rises to his feet and walking back and forth as he prays.) We always used to hear a lot of religious teaching about the Christ, but it was only a social custom to us. It was a tradition we had been raised on, but we never thought it really had anything to do with us, even if it was true. Even my father, with all his zeal, never understood before that your Christ was sent to earth to change our lives, and to change our family; to make each one of us different and new. (Stops stage right. He turns to watch James. Characters will watch each other and be aware of each other from this point on.)
James: (Walking to downstage center) Everything seems so new. Everything I remember seems different now. Childhood memories keep coming back to me, and I can see how Jesus was always different. He was so quiet and unassuming, I just never noticed that he was perfect. Try as I might, I can't remember a single thing he ever did wrong. He was perfect enough to pay for the sins of every person on earth. All my life I took Jesus for granted; I always thought I knew him, but I never understood what he really wanted for me, and for our whole family.
Tamara: (To downstage left) I always loved to hear the stories of the Messiah from other people in my family, but it's completely different now that I've come to know the Messiah personally, for myself.
James: He came to earth as an ordinary man, grew up, and lived among us.
Tamara: (Approaching James) He gave his life for us all.
Jacob: (Approaching James) He rose from the dead, so that each of us could come to know him as our King of Kings, and our Lord of Lords.
James: (To Jacob, Tamara, and audience) My brethren, the Christ is no longer just a tradition to us. He is not merely someone we were taught to believe in as children. He is a real person to us now; someone we have met, someone whom we know, for he has changed our lives. Because of him, every family on earth can come to know the love of God, and we can all be united in Jesus Christ, our source of eternal life. Let us continue to tell the stories of his birth and of his life. The stories will always be new, because the Christ will always be alive.
(In his last speech, James is a church elder formally addressing a congregation. His sister, Naomi, would speak more simply: 'My brethren, our Christ is no longer just a tradition to us. He's not just someone we were taught to believe in as children. He's a real person to us now; someone we have met, someone whom we know, because he has changed our lives. Because of him, every family on earth can come to know the love of God, and we can all be united in Jesus Christ, who is our source of eternal life. So let us continue telling the stories of his birth and of his life. The stories will always be new, because the Christ will always be alive.')
© Copyright Rick Borger
All rights reserved.
This play may be performed free of charge in any not-for-profit situation. However, in return the author would appreciate being notified of any performance. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org