Jesus and the Elves

by John Leo

	And Joseph went up from Galilee to Bethlehem with Mary, his espoused wife, who 
	was great with child. And she brought forth a son and wrapped him in swaddling 
	clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. 
	And the angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds and said, "I bring you tidings of 
	great joy. Unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." 

	"There's a problem with the angel," said a Pharisee who happened to be strolling 
	by. As he explained to Joseph, angels are widely regarded as religious symbols, 
	and the stable was on public property where such symbols were not allowed to land 
	or even hover. 

	"And I have to tell you, this whole thing looks to me very much like a Nativity 
	scene," he said sadly. "That's a no-no, too." Joseph had a bright idea. "What if 
	I put a couple of reindeer over there near the ox and ass?" he said, eager to avoid 
	sectarian strife. 

	"That would definitely help," said the Pharisee, who knew as well as anyone that 
	whenever a savior appeared, judges usually liked to be on the safe side and 
	surround it with deer or woodland creatures of some sort. "Just to clinch it, throw 
	in a candy cane and a couple of elves and snowmen, too," he said. "No court can 
	resist that." 

	Mary asked, "What does my son's birth have to do with snowmen?" "Snowpersons," cried 
	a young woman, changing the subject before it veered dangerously toward religion. 

	Off to the side of the crowd, a Philistine was painting the Nativity scene. 
	Mary complained that she and Joseph looked too tattered and worn in the picture. 
	"Artistic license," he said. "I've got to show the plight of the haggard homeless 
	in a greedy, uncaring society in winter," he quipped. "We're not haggard or 
	homeless. The inn was just full," said Mary. "Whatever," said the painter. 

	Two women began to argue fiercely. One said she objected to Jesus' birth "because 
	it privileged motherhood." The other scoffed at virgin births, but said that if they 
	encouraged more attention to diversity in family forms and the rights of single 
	mothers, well, then, she was all for them. "I'm not a single mother," Mary started 
	to say, but she was cut off by a third woman who insisted that swaddling clothes 
	are a form of child abuse, since they restrict the natural movement of babies. 
	With the arrival of 10 child advocates, all trained to spot infant abuse and manger 
	rash, Mary and Joseph were pushed to the edge of the crowd, where arguments were 
	breaking out over how many reindeer (or what mix of reindeer and seasonal sprites) 
	had to be installed to compensate for the infant's unfortunate religious character. 
	An older man bustled up, bowling over two merchants, who had been busy debating 
	whether an elf is the same as a fairy and whether the elf/fairy should be shaking 
	hands with Jesus in the crib or merely standing to the side, jumping around like a 
	sports mascot. "I'd hold off on the reindeer," the man said, explaining that the use 
	of asses and oxen as picturesque backdrops for Nativity scenes carries the subliminal 
	message of human dominance. He passed out two leaflets, one denouncing manger births 
	as invasions of animal space, the other arguing that stables are "penned 
	environments" where animals are incarcerated against their will. He had no opinion 
	about elves or candy canes. 

	Signs declaring "Free the Bethlehem 2" began to appear, referring to the obviously 
	exploited ass and ox. Someone said the halo on Jesus' head was elitist. Mary was 
	exasperated. "And what about you, old mother?" she said sharply to an elderly woman. 
	"Are you here to attack the shepherds as prison guards for excluded species, maybe 
	to complain that singing in Latin identifies us with our Roman oppressors, or just 
	to say that I should have skipped patriarchal religiosity and joined some dumb 
	new-age goddess religion?" "None of the above," said the woman, "I just wanted to 
	tell you that the Magi are here." Sure enough, the three wise men rode up. The crowd 
	gasped, "They're all male!" And "Not very multicultural!" "Balthasar here is black," 
	said one of the Magi. "Yes, but how many of you are gay or disabled?" someone 
	shouted. A committee was quickly formed to find an impoverished lesbian wise-person 
	among the halt and lame of Bethlehem. A calm voice said, "Be of good cheer, Mary, 
	you have done well and your son will change the world." At last, a sane person, Mary 
	thought. She turned to see a radiant and confident female face. The woman spoke 
	again: "There is one thing, though. Religious holidays are important, but can't we 
	learn to celebrate them in ways that unite, not divide? For instance, instead of 
	all this business about 'Gloria in excelsis Deo,' why not just 'Season's 
	Greetings'?" Mary said, "You mean my son has entered human history to deliver the 
	message, 'Hello, it's winter'?" "That's harsh, Mary," said the woman. "Remember, 
	your son could make it big in midwinter festivals, if he doesn't push the religion 
	thing too far. Centuries from now, in nations yet unborn, people will give each other 
	pricey gifts and have big office parties on his birthday. That's not chopped liver." 
	"Let me get back to you," Mary said. 

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