With not an ounce of admiration or affection, Fred and Pete sat looking at the Vatican’s 2020 Nativity scene.
“I have no clue what to do with this,” said Fred.
“Nor I,” said Pete.
“What were they thinking? Another faux pas for Papa Franco.”
“Faux pas? Is that all this is?” said Pete. “How about a middle finger from the Holy Father to all of us Latin-loving, conservative Catholics still faithful to the church? 2020 was trash, and he tops it off with 1960’s garbage in the middle of Rome. Goodness, at the Vatican, you would think beauty and reverence would reign on Christmas, of all times.”
“I know!” retorted Fred.
“I can think of a thousand Nativity Scenes that would have been better than this one. I can’t enter into the spirit of the Christmas season at all with this. There is a rich history of Nativities that they completely disregard.”
“Yes, I think of Caravaggio, von Honthorst, or even Giotto. Those are closer to the truth and beauty of Christmas.”
“Yeah. Get this, though: can you imagine if we could actually go back and see the original Christmas? Wouldn’t that be amazing? I mean, how moving would that be? To see the actual Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus. That would be a spiritual experience, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh, that would be amazing! To kneel at the manger of the sleeping child. To see Mary’s glowing face looking in adoration at him. Joseph nearby. What a scene. If only.”
The Original Silent Night
No sooner had these words passed Fred’s lips than the angel Gabriel appeared before the two of them in a flowing white robe.
“Be not afraid, Pete and Fred.” said Gabriel. “I bring you tidings of good news. God, in this Christmas season, has granted your request.”
The friends looked at each other, confused and wondering if the other saw what they saw. As they pondered these words, Gabriel continued.
“You shall both go back roughly 2000 years to the very night the Savior was born. None shall be able to see you.”
The two dedicated Catholic men giggled a little with excitement. How would this change them? How would it transform their lives forever? They could only guess.
Instantly, they found themselves in a field. They saw a few clay homes, and then, off in the distance, a small fire lit in what looked like an enormous cave.
“Do you think that’s it?” said Fred.
“I don’t know,” said Pete. “Isn’t it supposed to be a stable?”
“Yes, but, well… I don’t see anything else around.
“We might as well check it out.”
The two trudged stiffly through the mud. It had just rained, and their shoes slipped a bit as they made their way.
Finally, they got to the cave, and though it looked nothing like the wooden stables they always saw depicted, there indeed were a man, woman and child with animals.
“This must be it,” said Pete.
In the Stable
Yet, it was not the scene they had envisioned in their minds. Mary was sprawled out on the hay, mouth open and drooling. Her feet were caked with mud. Joseph was snoring behind a bail of hay.
Baby Jesus was sleeping, but just then a cow came up and licked his face, at which point the child woke up and started crying.
Mary briefly half-opened her eyes, only to close them again and fall back asleep as the child continued to cry.
“We should do something. Jesus is crying!” Fred exclaimed. But soon, they realized they could do nothing. When Fred tried to pick up the child, his hands went through him. They could only spectate.
The crying went on for a few minutes as the couple, exhausted, slept on.
Pete began to get more and more uncomfortable. This was not what he had been hoping for. On the contrary, the longer he was there, the more frustrated he became with, of all people, the Virgin Mother.
“When will she wake up?” Pete wondered. This went on for a good half hour until some visitors came.
Fred could smell them before he saw them or even heard them. They were the shepherds in the story who had received the message from the angels about the newborn.
The men walked up to the child, their dumb, simple faces staring at the crying baby. They looked as confused about what to do as Pete and Fred did. Then the dirtiest one came, picked up the child and tried holding him.
Joseph woke up to all the commotion and instinctively thought the shepherds were trying to take the baby. He started yelling at them, at which point Mary woke up and began taking the child quickly from the shepherd’s arms.
“What is happening?” cried Pete.
The arguing went on for a few minutes before the shepherds could finally convince Joseph that they didn’t want to steal baby Jesus, but he still looked warily at them. Mary began to feed him, and the child finally started calming down.
Finding the Meaning
Fred and Pete had no idea what to do with all of this. They both found themselves on the one hand frustrated that the reality in front of them did not at all coincide with the 2000 year history of fine art they had in their heads. On the other hand, they began feeling a twinge of guilt for expecting it to.
The plain fact that slowly manifested in their minds was that the first Christmas appeared to have nothing of the Christmas spirit in it. They had to stretch their imagination to connect what they were seeing to some moral lesson or deeper understanding of God.
Instead, they sat irritated at everyone there.
Minutes went by as nothing happened. Everyone began to ease a bit, and Joseph began talking carpentry with the shepherds and the shepherds began talking sheep-herding with Joseph. Mary, after feeding the baby, put him in the manger and fell back asleep again somewhere deeper in the cave. No one was looking at, or even cared to look at, baby Jesus who was now sleeping contentedly.
“Do they not see the Son of God in front of them?” Pete said. “This is the holiest night of all nights!”
A sinking feeling came over Fred and Pete. The two men looked at each other and realized they were thinking the same thing. The real Nativity filled their souls with about as much awe and wonder as the Nativity scene they had left at the Vatican.
“I have to look hard at this in front of us to find some deeper lesson,” Fred said gently.
“But the lesson is there,” said Pete. “That is still Jesus. That is still Mary and Joseph. All of it means the same thing.”
In an instant, they found themselves back at their bench, looking at the cylindrical Mary and Jesus with the astronaut and lit mountain line.
And as best they could, despite the difficulty, they tried to find the deeper meaning in it all.
©2020 Catholic Anonymous