Every month in the Parish of Felixstowe a group of parishioners gather for a Sunday Singles Lunch. Today there was entertainment between the turkey and the plum duff courses. How many carols can you spot in the script?
(Our thanks go to Adrian Stokes the author for giving permission to reproduce it here.)
Round the Back in Bethlehem
Matthias The innkeeper had had a rotten day. Bethlehem was crammed with visitors;
His best rooms were commandeered by Roman officials who demanded room service and bossed everyone around;
the grand Sadducees who had booked them first were blaming him and bossing everyone around except the Romans;
and a group of Pharisees wanted hot and cold running water to wash away the defilement of such a mixed collection of Travellers.
Everyone eise was boasting about being descended from King David, or grumbling that Royal David’s City was nothing like the pictures in the brochures. There was even a party of foreigners from some northern isiand, muttering through long droopy moustaches about holly and ivy and mistletoe, whatever that was.
To cap it all, Caesar Augustus had decreed that the whole world should be taxed, bang in the bleak mid-winter; snow had falien, snow on snow, and people were tramping the stuff all over his nice clean ﬂoors.
At last he had closed the bar, and seen the last customer off to bed, saying, with as much grace as he could muster,
Innkeeper: God rest ye merry genﬂemen…
Narrator: He climbed upstairs, and with a short but fervent prayer for a silent night, tumbled into bed. Hardly had his head touched the pillow when, ding dong merrily, the doorbell rang. Down he went, to find a bedraggled couple with a little donkey.
Innkeeper: Sorry, no room.
Narrator: The man looked so downcast that Matthias did not immediately slam the door in their faces. He caught the kind brown eye of the donkey and seemed to detect a jerk of his head towards the back of the inn
Innkeeper: Oh, all right, you can share the stable with your donkey. You’d better sign the register. Name?
Innkeeper: You one of those born of David’s line, then?
Joseph: Oh yes, David begat Solomon, and Solomon begat Rehoboam, and Rehoboam begat Abijah, and Abijah begat Jehoshapghat, and Jehoshaphat…..
Innkeeper: Never mind all that. I’d better get you a couple of blankets. The earth’s hard as iron out there and water’s like a stone.
Mary: You mean we must spend the night where oxen feed on hay?
Joseph: Don’t worry, at least it’ll be quiet away in a manger
Narrator: So the innkeeper settled back into bed while they took the donkey and the blankets around the back. He had just snuggled down when a tremendous burst of singing filled the room. Cursing noisy neighbours, he tried to make out where it came from. It seemed to be up in the sky, and it was all about Peace on Earth.
Innkeeper: Fat lot of peace here!
Narrator: Feeling very little goodwill towards anyone he buried his head under his pillow and eventually the music faded and he dazed off.
It felt like half a minute later when the doorbell rang again. He shot downstairs.
A collection of shepherds stood outside.
Shepherds: We’re looking for….
Innkeeper: No lost sheep here!
Shepherds: That’s as may be. We were watching our flocks by night, all seated on the ground, when…
Innkeeper: Get on with it! What are you looking for?‘
Shepherds: A lowly cattle shed?
Innkeeper: Well, I’ve got a shed round the back, but it”s got people in it.
Shepherds: We know. That’s why we’re here you see, we bring glad tidings .of great ……
Narrator: Matthias had had enough.
Innkeeper: Round the back!
Narrator: He shouted, and slammed the door.
Back in bed he tried counting sheep, thinking’at iast‘ ‘All is calm,’ when suddenly all was bright. There was a whoosh and his room was filled with light. He dashed to the window, looked East, and saw a star just moving round; the corner to the back of the inn.
He was still looking out, when he saw some camels approaching.
Innkeeper: This really is the limit! It must be past three o’clock.
Narrator: He stamped downstairs, flung open the door and bellowed,
Innkeeper: Do you know what time it is?’
Magi: Well, according to our calculations, we rather think it’s the dawn of a new era
Innkeeper: Wise guys, eh?
Magi: You could say that. But actually we three kings of Orient are. Bearing gifts…
Innkeeper: Well, you can’t park your camels there.
Magi: Where then?’
Innkeeper: Round the Back!
Narrator: Just then, Joseph re-appeared through the snow, which was now deep and crisp and even.
Joseph: Er, can I have another blanket, please? Ox and ass are doing their best, but it’s still pretty cold for the baby.
Innkeeper: Baby? That’s all I need!
Joseph: You couldn’t be more correct.
Narrator: Sore affrayed and grievously bewildered, Matthias fetched another blanket and stamped round the back, shouting.
Innkeeper: Here’s your blankety blanket!
Narrator: he stopped in his tracks when he saw a dozen pairs of eyes staring at him. Everyone was clustered round, full reverently on bended knee.
Angel: Hark! This is the first Nowell, and we’re hailing the heaven-born Prince of Peace. So come, let us adore him.’
Innkeeper: W-w-what on earth are you talking about?
Shepherd: Calm down mate. It’s tidings of comfort and joy; you’ll see.
Narrator: and he nodded towards the manger. There was the baby, all neatly wrapped in swaddling bands.
As the innkeeper tucked the blanket round the child, his scowl vanished. When Mary smiled her thanks, he suddenly felt very small. He went and knelt behind the kneeling donkey, in the dark, round the back. And that is why you never see him in Nativity pictures.
Adrian Stokes in ‘Seasons with The Spirit’ ed. Ruth Harvey. Copyright © 2002 Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
Churches may reproduce this freely if this copyright notice is included and no charge is made.