Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Dec. 21, 22 or 23
Christmas calls not just to kings, but to common people, as expressed in the following piece, “We, too, are bidden,” published 77 years ago this week for the old New York World-Telegram. It was written by a personal hero – newspaper columnist and labor activist Heywood Broun, founder of The Newspaper Guild union.
Broun was known for his progressive views and his passionate interests – from sports and books to poker and Christmas – and for hanging out with the “Algonquin Round Table,” including the likes of Robert Benchley, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman and Harold Ross. This column is a gem.
The angel of the Lord said to the shepherds, “And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
They made haste to go to Bethlehem to see the thing which had come to pass. “For unto you,” the angel said, “is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
But as they journeyed to Bethlehem they fell into a discussion as to just how they should find the place where the infant lay. The shepherds were not folk familiar with the town, even though it lay a short journey from the fields in which they tended their flocks. Besides, they knew that many from the country roundabout had gone to Bethlehem in compliance with the decree of Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. Indeed, one of the group grumbled, “In Bethlehem there be many mangers, and how are we to find the one?”
And the youngest shepherd said, “It will be made known to us.”
The night was bright with stars and the way more easy than they had expected. In spite of the late hour many walked in the narrow streets of Bethlehem, and from all the houses there came a clatter. The shepherds stood for a moment in some perplexity as to the appointed place. The noises of the town were confusing to men who had been standing silent under starlight.
And suddenly, the volume of voices increased, and down the street there came a caravan of camels. Upon the backs of the beasts sat great bearded men, and with them they brought sacks of precious stuffs and huge treasure chests from distant kingdoms. The air was filled with the pungent tang of spice and perfume.
The startled shepherds stood against the wall to let the cavalcade of the mighty pass by. And these wise men and kings seemed to have no doubt as to their destination. They swept past the inn and dismounted at the door of a stable. Servants took the burdens from the backs of the camels, and the kings and the wise men stooped and went in through the low door of the stable.
“It is there the child lies in the manger,” said one of the shepherds and made as if to follow, but his fellows were abashed and said among themselves, “It is not right that we should crowd in upon the heels of the mighty.”
The youngest shepherd spoke up, insisting, “We, too, are bidden. For us, as well, there was the voice of the angel of the Lord.”
And timidly, the men from the fields followed after and found places near the door. They watched as the men from distant countries came and silently placed their gifts at the foot of the manger where the child lay sleeping. And the shepherds stood aside and let the great of the Earth go out into the night to take up again their long journey.
Presently they were alone, but as they had no gifts to lay beside the gold and frankincense, they turned to go back to their flocks. But Mary, the mother, made a sign to the youngest shepherd to come closer. And he said, “We are shepherds, and we have come from the fields whence an angel summoned us. There is naught which we could add to the gifts of wise men and of kings.”
Mary replied, “Before the throne of God, who is a king and who is wise, you have brought with you a gift more precious than all the others. It lies within your heart.”
And suddenly it was made known to the shepherd the meaning of the words of Mary. He knelt at the foot of the manger and gave to the child his prayer of devotion and of joy.
[PICTURED: Illustration of Heywood Broun by Rob Smith Jr.]