Summary: Christmas Eve parable -- kind of silly and serious at the same time -- poking a little fun at my own Scandinavian heritage. From the beginning the trained observers have failed to recognize the significance of the Nativity.
The Middle East is a troubled place. And, really, this is nothing new. The land that we call Israel or Palestine has been characterized by instability for as long as we can remember. The players change but the game is the same. It’s all very complicated -- hinging on geographical and political realities.
Right now it wouldn’t hurt to have a few of those peace keeping troops hanging out in Bethlehem. Thigns are pretty tense tonight -- although the Israeli troops have pulled out.
You know, there were international peace-keepers -- monitors -- on duty at the time of the first Christmas. Now, I know that this isn’t common knowledge but I have very reliable information that has been passed down from the Scandinavian side of my family.
As you know Scandinavians are big into peace-keeping these days. And this has always been the case. It’s a part of our heritage. It’s in our genes. Anything that you’ve heard about Scandinavians pillaging and plundering is total misinformation. The Vikings were on peace-keeping missions and they’ve been vilified by the various factions they were sent to monitor. If any group has been victimized by revisionist history it is the Scandinavians.
Well, anyway, whether you believe it or not there were peace-keepers on duty that first Christmas Eve. And some of them were Scandinavians. Some were Germans, some Canadians, some French – but lots were Johnsons, Ericksons, and Petersons.
And so I have it on good word that there was one particular Scandianian intelligence officer on duty that beautiful terrifying night – a young captain named Johan. No he didn’t have a last name. Swedes didn’t figure out that it would make life a lot easier to have a last name until sometime in the 19th century. So he was simply known as Johan.
And it was Johan’s task to gather intelligence on people and troop movements in and around the small town of Bethlehem. And it was no easy task because the Roman Emperor Augustus had declared a census. So all the men had to travel to their family hometowns to register. This meant that there were a lot extra people on the highways and byways – which meant there were extra Roman troops out.
And the Jewish King Herod – didn’t want to be outdone by the Romans – with whom he had a tenuous peace. So he was moving troops around, too. This also meant that the zealot revolutionaries who would have been happy to cut the throats of either a Roman or a Herodian were out, as well.
So Johan had no easy task keeping track of who was going where and when.
That night, the captain was filling out some paperwork at the barrack office when word came that there was some kind of commotion in a shepherd’s field a kilometer – maybe two – outside town. He grabbed his blue beret, walkie-talkie, and his field pack and rushed toward the scene.
About a kilometer out he encountered a group of five befuddled shepherds who started telling him some wild story about angels and a barn. They kept pointing toward the sky.
Now, the truth be known, Johan wasn’t very good at the Aramaic language. And he wasn’t really understanding all that much of what the excited shepherds were saying. As best he could figure out it had something to do with the unusually bright star that was shining that night. Maybe they thought it was some kind of omen. Maybe they saw it as a sign that they should attack – although the shepherds didn’t seem like they were gearing up for a fight. To the contrary. He couldn’t tell if they were running from something or going somewhere.
As the shepherds finished their story -- as disjointed as it was -- and then headed off toward town, the peace keeper hung back a bit and decided that he should follow them from a distance. As the pastoral contingent approached town they started stopping at all the stables behind the houses. They’d poke their heads in – then out – and quickly turn toward the next barn -- all of which were built around the large rocks and caves which dot the village.
It didn’t take long before they found what they were looking for. (After all, there weren’t that many barns in Bethlehem. The song is rightly named – “O LITTLE TOWN of Bethlehem”).
Johan stood around the corner of the doorway hoping to hear what was going on inside. But between the lowing cattle and the excited voices it was hard to make it out. He eased in just a little bit closer. Then he heard it. It wasn’t loud but it was definitely a crying baby. Was this some kind of baby shower?