Prince of [Peace] on Earth

Excerpt from “Shadows and Songs”, a musical/dramatic production of the Christian Reformed Church of Western Springs, IL.  In this production I folded the traditional lessons and carols format on top of itself, so that the Old and New Testament readings corresponded (1 and 4, 2 and 5, etc.), and finished with the 9th reading of John 1.  This excerpt is paraphrased from the 3rd reading (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7) and the 7th reading (Luke 2:8-16).

Left – prophet Isaiah, street preacher, carrying a sign (“THE END IS NEAR” on one side and “THE LIGHT IS COMING” on the other) and a bullhorn.  Right – shepherd, in cowboy outfit – nomadic, rough around the edges.

Isaiah: (with conviction – persuading, pleading – very animated) 

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

on them has light shone.

Shepherd: (as if telling a story – a tall tale – around the campfire) That night, we shepherds were out in the field, keeping watch over our flocks.  Suddenly, an angel appeared to us, and glory blinded us, and we were scared out of our minds! But the angel said to us, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Isaiah and Shepherd: For unto you a child is born,

Isaiah: …Unto you a son is given…

Shepherd: …Who is Christ the Lord.

Isaiah: And the government shall be upon his shoulders.

Shepherd: “You’ll know him this way: he’ll be a baby wrapped in rags and lying in a trough.” And suddenly the sky was on fire with angels, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest!”

Isaiah: …and his name shall be called…

Shepherd: (concurrently) It was…

Isaiah and Shepherd: Wonderful.

Isaiah: …Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of…

Isaiah and Shepherd: Peace…

Shepherd: “…on earth, for with you, He is happy!”

Isaiah: Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Shepherd: When the angels went back into heaven, we were like: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and check this out” and we rushed over and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, wrapped up all snug in rags, and lying in a trough, (spreads hands confidently, completing his tale), just like they said.

Reason to Celebrate

Excerpted from “Expect Joy”, a musical/dramatic production first premiered at the Christian Reformed Church of Western Springs, IL. 

Scene: Joseph’s father and brother Joshua enter stage right and freeze in position.  Joseph’s father is at a workshop table (littered with tools, wood; set next to a wooden chair), sanding a block of wood; Joseph’s brother is holding a chuppah (canopy) pole, admiring his handiwork.

Joseph enters from stage left, looking dazed.  Joshua notices him and steps quickly over to him, excited to show him his work on the wedding canopy (chuppah). 

Joshua: Look, I’ve just completed the first half of your canopy!   Dad came up with this great method of hooking the cloth to the top, and I’ve… (somewhat bashful) carved some flowers into it so it’s pretty for the day.  Do you like it?

Joseph stares at him; he is somewhere else.

Joshua: (slightly taken aback, but still excited) Um, well, it’s still in process.  (looks down slightly, but regains composure) Mom’s going nuts, Joseph.  She’s been cleaning like crazy, planning out menus, you know.  She’s really happy. (claps him on the back) We all are.

Father: (regally) Weddings are joyful occasions.  Remember that, Joshua, not happy – joyful.  Nothing so simple as happiness.

Joshua: (looking worriedly at Joseph) Hey.  You OK?

Joseph looks around, waking up – Father is wiping his hands with a rag, Joshus looks at him earnestly.

Joseph: (in disbelief) Mary… (looks down and then up at them again) is pregnant.

Thunderstruck silence.

Father: (dangerously) What did you say?

Joshua: (dumbfounded) But wait a minute, that’s… (trails off…)  Is she sure?

Joseph: (dazed, sits on the chair next to the work bench) Yes.  She knows.  It’s true.

Joshua: A WEEK before your wedding?  I mean… (pauses awkwardly, stumbles) Weh.. well, what did she say? Did she say… (ends rather lamely) sorry?

(Father stoically silent through all of this)

Joseph: She said… (pauses, as if unsure of sharing it with them) she said…

Joshua gestures as if to prompt him to speak.

Joseph: (impatiently) She said she saw an angel, okay?  A messenger of God, saying that this child… this child would be… the Messiah.

Disdain on Father’s face, Joshua is silent, observing Joseph seriously but worriedly.  

Joseph: This angel, he… told her the name and everything, told her that (as if remembering exact words) the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and the baby would be the… the Son of God.

(Pregnant silence)

Father: (controlling himself)  So this is what she said, did she.

Joseph nods.

Father: And, you believe this?

Joseph hesitates.

Joseph: Um.  Yes, I do. (Beat; coughs) I, um, had a dream.

Father raises eyebrows.  Joshua is calculating what just happened.

Joseph:  There was an angel in it.  And he told me to take Mary as my wife.  He told me to raise this child as my own.  He said… that Jesus would save us from our sins.

Joshua: (after a beat or two; almost eager)  You saw an angel?

Joseph: I believe so.

Joshua: (wondering) What did it look like?

Father: (interrupting, thunderously) Enough of this nonsense.  Joseph, you will divorce her.  We will not have a harlot living in our home.  Even (in disgust) associated with our family.

Throughout the ensuing dialogue, Joshua stands awkwardly, still holding the tent, watching in anguish.

Joseph: (trying to persuade) Dad, the dream!  The angel, he said…

Father: (brushing it aside) Do you seriously believe that story?  We all know how this happens.  It’s the same thing, time and again – stray from the law in one iota (gestures with thumb and index finger vehemently) and like that (snaps fingers) you’re on the road to disgrace.  She will not take us with her in that shame.

Joseph:  Dad!  You’ve known her all her life – we’ve grown up together!

Father: It goes to show how little we can actually trust an outside appearance of holiness.  God desires true purity – purity of the heart, Joseph.  Do you want a stained bride?  What does Solomon say about the adulteress? Remember your lessons! “Her feet go down to death; (points) her steps lead straight to the grave.”

Joseph: (fighting back)  I will not divorce her.  I believe that Yahweh has spoken to her, and to me.  I believe this child is the Son of God – the Messiah!

Father: Foolishness!

Joseph: (confronting his father) No!  I will do what the Lord tells me.

Father: (truly angry) You will do what is right!  What is lawful!  Disown her and leave her to her shame!

Joseph backs up slowly, sits with his back to his father, head in his hands.

Father: (softens somewhat, pleading) Son. I know this is disappointing.  There are many other young girls – from good families – that are not (disgusted, can barely say it) pregnant out of wedlock.  Listen to me, son. (beat) “A wise son brings joy to his father.” (puts his hand on Joseph’s shoulder) Don’t be foolish.

Joseph: (somewhat defeated) I have to do what the angel said, Dad.  I just have to.

Father, as if slapped in the face, stands and looks dumbfounded at Joseph for a moment.  He clenches his jaw, angry.

Father: (seething, slowly enunciating) If you will not listen, if you will insist on taking that harlot as your wife, and raising her illegitimate child… directly disobeying your parents and your people’s law, then you shall have nothing to do with this family, Joseph.  Nothing! (exits heavily, slams door)

Long silence.  Joshua slowly crosses the room, tentatively; sets his hand on Joseph’s shoulder.  Joseph is downcast.

Joshua: Joseph.

Joseph stirs, and looks back slightly, almost irritated.

Joshua: Dad forgets.  Yahweh once told Hosea to seek out his (stumbles on the words) adulterous wife.

Joseph shoves his hand off of his shoulder

Joshua (stepping back but defensive): I’m just saying, there’s a precedent!  (take time) What if God is using you to tell a larger story to our people, like Hosea?  What if you’re meant to show them His love for us, His desire for us to return to Him?  What if… you’re paving the way for the Messiah to finally come and redeem us from our enemies?

(Pregnant pause)

Joshua: I’m sorry, Joseph.  What I mean to say is… I believe you.  If you say that God sent you a messenger… I… I believe you.  You don’t lie. (Turns to go, pauses)

Joshua: Hey.

Joseph looks up, but not at him.

Joshua: Mazel tov, Joseph. A baby, no matter whose, is truly a miracle.  And if you say it’s God’s baby… well.  Than that IS a reason to celebrate.

Exit. Lights down. Joseph exits.

Nothing Like a Baby

Excerpted from “Expect Joy”, a musical/dramatic production first premiered at the Christian Reformed Church of Western Springs, IL. 

Scene: Table with cutting board, peppers, hummus and a jar of olives on it, a wad of dough, and a pot with a long-handled spoon sticking out of it.  Elizabeth (in the middle stages of pregnancy) is bustling about chunnering to herself, chopping vegetables and kneading bread at the table.  A chair sits to the side, and one behind the table.

Elizabeth: Oh dear me, so much to do and so little time. Cleaning and baking and cooking – it never ends.  (pauses in the middle of the kitchen, holding her tummy and checking things off)  Bread, veggie, hummus, olives, ah, stew! (goes to pot and stirs vigorously).  And I need to remember to sweep.  (speaks over her shoulder to someone offstage)  I know just what you’d say if you could, Zeke.  (quote fingers) “Why clean? She’s family.” Well, I’ll tell you why – she’s had a rough time of it lately and I want her to feel welcome, and how welcome would you feel if the floor was dirty and dinner was 30 minutes late?

(Finishes stirring and moves to knead the bread – flour on hands.  Kneads zealously.)

Elizabeth: (to herself again) All those arrogant, ignorant idiots and their foolish wagging tongues. (gets violent with the dough progressively, punctuating her words)  All those hypocritical, mean old beards looking down their turned-up noses at that poor girl.  All those twittery flibbertigibbets with air for brains pointing and talking behind their hands like addled hens. We are NOT going to let our John be that way, so help me God.  He will be decent, and upstanding, and clean in manner and dress.  The perfect gentleman.  (to Zeke) And he’ll comb his hair, if it’s the last thing I do.  Couldn’t get you to do it all these years but I’ll eat a grasshopper if I don’t raise a neat boy.

A knock comes at the door.  Elizabeth jumps slightly and turns as Mary enters.

Elizabeth: (outspread arms and rushing to Mary)  Why, Mary, so good to… whooooooo (stops short and sits heavily on the chair).  Oh lordy calm down there… hooooweeee (holds tummy and leans back).

Mary: (concerned) Cousin Elizabeth!  What’s wrong, are you alright?

Elizabeth starts laughing, hearty

Elizabeth: Mary! (chortles) This baby’s doing a jig right now, because of you! (places Mary’s hand on her abdomen)

Mary: (bewildered) Me?

Elizabeth: Cousin Mary, you are blessed among all women to be carrying that child.  And I’m blessed with the great joy of receiving you here, as the mother of my Lord!

Mary: (overcome, tears fill her eyes)  Oh, Elizabeth. (clings to Elizabeth’s neck in relief)

Elizabeth: (hugs her and then tries to extricate herself)  Now then, hon, let me get you a seat. Those of us great with child types ought to look out for each other!

Elizabeth pulls up a seat for Mary.  Mary sits and Elizabeth returns to her work, chuckling.

Elizabeth: How was the journey?

Mary: Well. (she pauses, then looks down)  The hardest part was to the edge of town, and that was over quickly.  It was beautiful the rest of the way.

Elizabeth: (pauses and places a floury hand on her hip, her ire up)  Did those fools at the gate give you trouble again?  I know their daddies and I will give them what for…

Mary:  No, no, only a little.  It’s not new anymore to them.

Elizabeth: (muttering and turning back to kneading) Hooligans.

(moment of silence)

Elizabeth (tenderly) And… how are you, child?

Mary: I’m… I’m okay.  (convincing herself)  They’ll always look at me a certain way, and view me as something I am not.  But I know what I have seen, and I believe.

Elizabeth: (proudly punches the dough) Brave girl. (points at her triumphantly)  You are blessed doubly, to believe that what the Lord has said will come to pass!  (holds tummy; belly laugh) Haha, look at us!  You and me, a virgin and a decrepit old woman, given the joy of bearing children.  (laughs) God certainly works in mysterious ways.

Mary: (smiles, wistfully)  It means so much to hear you say that.  To know that you believe me!  It’s just you and Joseph right now.

Elizabeth: And Zeke! (looks back) Right Zeke?  Haha, he’s still speechless about the whole thing…

Mary: (holding her tummy and hesitant to bring it up) Elizabeth… um, I’ve heard stories about labors since I was a little girl.  Does it… (nervously) is it…  I mean, I know that you wouldn’t…

Elizabeth: (goes over to her, sits and clasps her hands, all floury)  Honey, I have no idea how much it will hurt.  I expect it will hurt badly, unless people groan and scream for the fun of it.  There’s no doubt it will be painful, and no doubt that the pain won’t end for you after he’s out.  But, oh honey…

(leans back)

Elizabeth: There’s nothing like a baby.  And with how these two babies came about (touches each tummy), there’s reason to hope, reason to be brave, and reason to anticipate with joy – not fear.

Mary: (smiling, emotional but confident) You’re right, Elizabeth.  My heart is happy in this – God has promised to save us through this baby.  And He will bring me through it – young as I am.  I am blessed, like you said.  Because He chose me to carry His son, our only hope.

Elizabeth: (chucks her under the chin, rises heavily and returns to stir her pot) That’s the spirit, hon.  You ought to write those words down before you forget them, and read them often to remember your courage.  (yells to Zeke) ZEKE!  Dinner’s ready!  Don’t you be keeping us pregnant ladies waiting.  We wait enough as it is.

Freeze.  Lights down.  Exit.