"Five more minutes until bed time, little one."
To acknowledge her mother's warning, Lizzie called back, "Okay, Mommy." The little girl was four or five. She was dressed in red flannel pajamas. Standing on her tiptoes to get a better view, she admired the manger scene displayed on her family's mantle.
Singing softly to herself, Lizzie grabbed the porcelain figurine of baby Jesus. His tiny face was radiant with the promise of new life. Lizzie returned the baby to his place in the stable, arranging Mary and Joseph by his side. Mary looked down upon her son with her hands folded in prayer. Joseph, on the other hand, spread his arms wide to welcome anyone who might come and admire the baby.
Lizzie let her gaze drift to the other figures. The Magi were solemn and regal. They were adorned with bejeweled turbans and flowing robes. In their hands, they carried precious gifts. The one camel standing behind them provided mute testimony to the journey that lay behind them all. No less reverent, the shepherds leaned upon their staves. Their sheep rested placidly at their feet. To complete the scene, there was a single donkey, an ox and an angel.
Lizzie moved all of the sheep to one side, so that they crowded against the Magi. Into the vacated space, she set a plastic figure of Winnie the Pooh. Pooh smiled sweetly, but held his jar of honey as if he did not intend to share.
"Okay, Lizzie," the little girl's mother called from another room. "Time for bed. The sooner you get to sleep, the sooner Santa will get here."
Smiling at the thought of Santa's visit, Lizzie ran towards her bedroom. Before long, the whole family was asleep.
* * *
In the darkness, all was quiet.
Suddenly, one of the Magi shuddered to life. Sneezing violently, he moaned, "Somebody get these blasted sheep out of here." All at once, the other two Magi sprang to life. With their feet, all three Magi tried to force the sheep's withdrawal.
"Hey, watch it!" called an angry shepherd. "That's my livelihood your kicking there!"
"Good heavens, man," protested a Magi. "How can you tolerate these walking dustmops?"
The shepherd retorted, "Those ‛dustmops' — as you call them — put food on my table. If you don't like them, then why don't you scram?"
"Yeah," echoed another shepherd. "We don't need you here. The whole lot of ya, with your Armani bathrobes and your Rolex turbans — who needs ya?"
A Magi stroked his flowing beard as if pondering something of great weight. "Hmm," he said. "Let's see. We come with precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What did you fellows bring again? Oh, yes. Wool on the hoof. If anyone is expendable in this little scene, it is you."
"Don't give me that ‛Three Kings' baloney," one of the shepherds shot back. "If you three are kings, then I'm Moses. Magi, the Bible says. Magi. You're a bunch of stargazing, new age looneys."
The Magi stiffened. In his proudest voice, one Magi said, "Yes, we did follow a star. It was a sign from God, you base villain. How dare you challenge our right to be here. God led us here with a star. It was God I tell you — the very hand of God!"
"Oh there's a point," one of the shepherds laughed. "You saw a star. What did we get boys?" Narrowing his eyes, the shepherd pronounced the next word as if it were unassailable: "Angels. A host of angels, lighting the sky with glory and song. You get a low-flying satellite. We get a chorus of divine messengers. Don't talk to us about signs and wonders, you palm-reader. You two-bit prestidigitator."
"We're in Matthew!" shouted a Magi.
"Well, we're in Luke"
"Matthew comes first."
"Waaa!" bawled the baby Jesus.
"Oh, bother," said Winnie the Pooh.
"You're upsetting Jesus," Mary said. The Magi and the shepherds were instantly contrite. They gazed at the floor and blushed with embarrassment. Clearly, no one wanted to upset Jesus. Jesus lifted the baby into her arms and rocked him back and forth until he stopped crying.
"We're sorry," said the Shepherds.
"Yes," agreed the Magi. "We too apology for the inappropriate behavior we have displayed on this sacred occasion. We humbly ask your pardon."
One of the Magi bent down to pat the nearest sheep. "Nice sheep," he said. "Lovely animal."
"Come on, sheep," called a shepherd. At the shepherds' urging, the sheep retreated away from the Magi. The flock huddled together at the feet of the shepherds.
Still looking stern, Mary said, "You should know better, all of you. Here you are, in the presence of Christ, and all you can think about are your differences. You stand at the fulcrum of history, arguing about how you got here. You should know better."
After laying the sleeping baby into his bed of hay, Mary softened her expression. "Don't you know?" she asked. "What matters is that you are here together. This miraculous birth has shattered the barriers that separate us. What are kingdoms now? What are classes? What are generations? Rich and poor, young and old, man and woman, Russian, Iraqi, Palestinian and Jew — the one God has loved us all.
"We are united by that love. We are united, knit together into a new body. Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God.
"The Spirit of God dwells within us. The Spirit of God acts through us.
"It is love that unites us. It is love that unites us. It is love that unites us.
"And his name is Jesus."