Bethlehem Refuge

By Johannes B. Kelder


A short (20-25 minute) one act Christmas sketch set in the pub connected to the inn in Bethlehem on the night that Jesus was born. There are four characters: the pub owner (a disaffected Jew), his young assistant, a rather dogmatic religious Jew, and a mildly inebriated patron. Although Joseph and Mary do not appear on the set, their presence is nonetheless quite apparent. The action takes place in three scenes: The first portrays the arrival of the expectant couple, the second the intrusion of the Bedouin shepherds from the hills, and finally, the resolution scene where the characters reveal the impact of their encounter with the nativity. The dialogue explores the effects of the mysterious birth of a "special child" on the four characters, only two of whom actually see it. Levit, the innkeeper represents those with a 'religious' background who have been wounded by institutional religion. Those who never seriously questioned or challenged presuppositions, perhaps reverting instead to various escapes, may relate to Elias. Yonas is typical of those who defend the institutional status quo, and are consequently consigned to miss the 'visitations' of God. Yousef is a rather normal youth; witty, carefree and impressionable.


Levit the Innkeeper: Middle aged amateur philosopher. Rather cynical, yet with a strong, deep commitment to justice. Skeptical of most religious and political institutions which causes him to make snide comments.  Quite insightful to the human condition, idealistic in a way, and passively sympathetic to radical zealots. He enjoys holding forth to the seated, captive audience in his inn.
Yousef: Works for Levit, helping in the bar, and looking after the guests' camels and donkeys.  In his late teens, early twenties, playfully witty, artistic and insightful . Has an almost father/son relationship with Levit. (Also is the musican between scenes.)
Yonas: In his late 30's.  Sympathetic to Herodian/religious institution.  Believes that radical change is too risky.  He is religious. He is uncomfortable with Elias, and Levit, feeling they are irreligious.
Elias:  Age: 50-55. Drinks a bit too much, but has a kind of residual (perhaps shallow)Jewish faith.
Other Patrons (4-6) have non-speaking roles.
NOTE: Scenes are separated by musical interludes played by a cast member. Yousef is scripted to do this, but another cast member could do it.


The pub of the local Bethlehem inn.  Sparse furnishings - a rough wood counter.  One or two tables with patrons form an official part of the set, but there are perhaps another ten to fifteen similar tables where members of the audience have been seated, giving a sense that the entire audience is part of the set.  There is at least one door - to the outside.


(SETTING:  Yousef is cleaning cups at the counter.  Levit enters with a flourish...)
Levit: (Strides in, annoyed, agitated, shouting back to the just closing door) It’s not my problem!  I tell you, I don't have any more rooms. Read the sign. It says: 'NO VACANCY'. If you want to complain, go complain to the Romans! My hotel is FULL. (Door slams. Levit turns to Patrons) What's wrong with these people anyway? Right, so I am an IDIOT, This is how I run my business: I have all these vacant rooms, so I put up a sign in three official languages saying 'NO VACANCY'.
Yonas: It's not their fault, Levit.  There just aren't enough places to sleep.  That's the problem.
Levit: : The problem is I didn't put up a sign in ancient Hebrew. I should know better, that's the only language those guys know how to read.
Yousef:  See, you should have worked harder in your Hebrew class.
 (Levit reaches over, gets a pitcher of wine and begins to serve his guests.)
Levit: (Ignoring Yousef's comment)  You should’ve seen them! (mimicking a pompous Pharisee) 'We are descendants of David from the synagogue in Alexandria and we have travelled for three days.  The law of Moses stipulates that you must provide refuge for your brother in need. We insist that you fulfill your obligation.'
Yousef: You do that well, maybe they'll let you join their club.
Yonas:  Of course you know they are right! Every Jew has an obligation to give shelter to a brother in need.
Yousef: What on earth would possess all these people to come to a God-forsaken little town like this?
Elias: What do you mean God forsaken? This is a very famous place. It's King David's hometown. Those of us who are (with a flourish) 'in the lineage of David' have come here to be counted.
(There is a knock at the door - Yousef goes out to check)
Levit: (to Elias) So you and all these people claim to be descendants of King David?
Yonas: (to Elias) Now, wouldn't David be proud of offspring such as yourself?
Elias: (Still holding forth, pompously) Well may you laugh, but I tell you: the great Son of David is going to be born right here in Bethlehem.
Levit: According to all those 'great scholars'' in Jerusalem...
Elias:  No it isn't! It's what God has promised.  It's in the Prophets...
Levit: Prophets?  Elias, why do you believe everything they tell you?  Nobody knows what's in those old scrolls!  Those so-called experts and lawyers, they just make up whatever suits them.. ...and people like you, like dumb sheep, you just eat it all up.
Elias:  Hey, I'm not saying that I believe everything they say. But, someday God will do something for his people.
Levit:  You better hope He does. Because this bunch of leaders we have up there now sure aren't going to do anything!
Yonas: There you go again, Levit.  With you it's always the leaders that are to blame! Why? They do their best to get a decent life for the Jewish people.
Levit: For the Jewish people?  Those leaders spend all their time fighting among themselves over the few little scraps of privilege that the Romans throw out to them...  They're like trained falcons, pillaging their own people for the benefit of the Romans.
Yonas:  The Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans.  Great nations have always just been tools in God's hand for our own good.   Look at our history!
Levit: Oh yes, come and look at our glorious history.  Look how we have shaped it and made it look like the world revolves around us!  Our history has been domesticated, like all those little sheep out there on the hillsides. (Yousef has returned and is standing facing Levit.) You should be looking at our FUTURE, but you and all those Rabbis don't want to look at the future, because you don't have a clue what to do with it.  The future frightens you, because you know that you cannot domesticate the future.  And that's why you invent a Messiah to come and tame it for you. (to Yousef) What's the problem?
Yousef: It's a man and his wife, Levit. They look pretty desperate. They need a place to sleep.
Levit: Everybody is desperate these days, Yousef,  I told you, we don't have any room!
Yousef: Levit, she's pregnant! I think they need some help.
Levit: Lots of women get pregnant. It seems to be the fashion these days. Just tell them 'Sorry, we can't help you.'
Yousef: You better see for yourself.
Levit: Look, I don't need to go out there. You can handle it.  Just be firm, Yousef.  Say: 'Read my lips - I'M VERY SORRY, NO ROOM!'  OK?
Yousef: I just can't do it Levit.  Please, you'll have to handle this one yourself.
Levit: All right, I'll do it myself. (He stomps off.)

(Levit has just returned...)
Yousef: So Levit, that couple, I expect that you sent them off with your usual flair?
Levit: Well, she was a bit more pregnant than I thought she would be...
Yousef: But, no problem for you, 'No room... Read my lips... Right?'
Levit: There are times, Yousef, when I am appalled at your lack of compassion.  You can't just treat people like animals. You don't just chase them off into the wilderness.  (Yousef gives an incredulous look at the others.)
Yousef: Very impressive sermon, Rabbi, so you offered them the use of your bed for the night?
Levit:  (Sheepishly) I’m… letting stay in the stable for the night.
Yousef: The stable?? You put a pregnant woman in the barn with a bunch of horses and camel dung?  Talk about compassion?  What benevolence and self sacrifice!
Levit: I know that it probably wasn't too suitable for a woman in her condition.  But they were quite insistent that it was fine.  And they actually seemed grateful. Tomorrow we'll find them a decent place to stay. It's just for one night.  It'll be fine... Just close the gate for the night Yousef! (Yousef exits) Gentlemen! It’s time to call it a night!
Elias: Top me up, Levit, it's a long dark road ahead.
Yonas: The Scriptures say: Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine.
Elias: It also says: He that is void of wisdom despises his neighbour: but a man of understanding holds his peace.
Yousef: Levit, you'd better come out here!
Levit:  Come out?  What for?
Yousef: There's a mob out there! Bedouins down from the hills!
Levit: Bedouins? What are they doing here?
Yonas: They don't usually come into town at night! Watch out! They'll rob you blind!  (To Levit) Better get rid of them!
Levit: What do they want?
Yousef:  I can't figure out what they’re saying… I think they're looking for somebody.
Elias:  Who can understand them?  They talk so strange!
Levit:  Find out what they want, Yousef, but keep an eye on them.
Yousef:  They're heading over to the stable...
Levit: The stable...   That woman is in there!  (Everyone suddenly concerned.) Look after the bar Yousef! (Levit rushes out to check.) (To the others) You guys stay here...
Elias: Yousef, how about one more little splash,  we'll call it a nightcap...  (Yousef moves over with the pitcher)
Yonas: He's had enough, Yousef... (Yousef pauses...)
Elias: Why don't you try minding your own business?  That's the trouble with you, you're always trying to make everybody else live like you do. Walking around all the time, chasing your own outstretched finger!
Yonas: At least I can walk.
Elias: What's wrong with 'Live and let live'? (burp) But that's not good enough for you.  You won't be satisfied until everybody else in the world is miserable, like you.
Yonas: Talk about miserable?  You wait and see how you feel tomorrow morning!
Yousef: Come on you two!  Knock it off!  Levit is outside trying to deal with a mob, and you guys are fighting about tomorrow's hangover...
Elias: Nah, Levit will be  all right.  He knows how to take care of himself.
Yonas:  That's easy for you to say! With that rabble out there?  By now they might have beat him up and robbed him.
Elias: (exasperated) Oh come off it. Those people are hairless...  ah.. harmless.
Yonas:  You just can't trust them! Yousef, I suggest you go and check on Levit.
Yousef: Look, I'm sorry, but I can't leave the bar.
Elias:     Don't worry, Yousef, no problem. I'll go out and check.(He begins to get up)
Yonas: You? (Pushes him back) You'd probably trip over the threshold.  A man in your condition should not be sent out on such a job.  Better I should go.
Elias: (applauding) Right!  Go ahead!   Save the city of Bethlehem from the bloodthirsty marauding  shepherds from the Judean hills. Yousef, why don't you bring that pitcher over here and pour me a little splash?

(Elias is sitting in the pub.  Yousef is cleaning up the bar, wiping out some goblets. Levit and Yonas enter, slowly, deliberately.  Yonas sits down in his seat.  Yousef greets)
Yousef:  Finally! You're back!  You guys were gone a long time, what happened to you?
(Levit wanders into the bar, picks up a cup, pours some beverage into it and detachedly stares into it.)
Elias:  Well?  Tell us. What was going on out there!
Yousef:  Did you figure out what they were looking for?
Yonas:  Believe it or not, they were looking for a baby.
Yousef:  A baby? A whole mob of Bedouins come storming down from the hills into our yard, looking for a baby?
Elias:  Is that true, Levit? You're having a baby? (Levit nods)
Yousef: A baby?  Hold it a minute... Has that woman out there had...?  (Silence...)
Levit: (Pensively, shaking his head) Yes, Yousef, she had her baby.
Elias: (to Yonas) So what was so strange about a woman having a baby?
Yousef: I've never seen a baby being born before.  What was it like?
Yonas:  You know Levit, she must have already been in labour when you sent them out to the barn.
Elias: What's going on?  Why are you guys acting so strange?
Levit:  (Shakes head in amazement.) She knew what was happening...   And she didn't say a thing.
Elias:  What is this, some kind of riddle?  What is this with the shepherds and the baby?
Yousef:  Yah, how did they even know there was a baby?  Here we are, 50 yards away and we didn't even know about it.  So what were the shepherds doing here?
Levit:  Apparently the Bedouin had seen some kind of vision, of angels singing and telling them to go into town and find a baby in a barn.  Something like that.
Yonas:  So they said.
Levit:  Well, so they believed.  Whatever it was, something happened to them. Who knows?  Anyways, they came into town...
Yonas:  Right!  And when we came in, they were all huddled around the feeding trough like they were in some kind of trance! Like zombies.  I've never seen anything like it.
Levit: They weren't in a trance, Yonas.  They were just gathered around the baby!  They just seemed overwhelmed, kind of in AWE...
Yousef:  You look like YOU'RE in awe right now.  Did you guys see a vision too?
Yonas:  Not me! Maybe Levit did...
Yousef:  Did you Levit?
Levit:  No.  I...  I just saw people who were obviously experiencing something...   I don't know what was happening in that room, but it seemed to be something very special, almost sacred.
Yonas:  Sacred??  Get a grip on yourself Levit! They were a bunch of foreigners kneeling down around a BABY!
Yousef:  Kneeling down?  Why were they doing that?
Yonas:  Who knows Yousef?  They're all pagans!
Levit: I'm not sure.  ...they kept talking about angels: 'The angel said to come here.. and the angel said this and that...  ...the angels were singing...
Yonas:  Those kinds of people are always imagining things.  They're ignorant and illiterate! What would they know about angels?
Elias:  So what do you know about angels?  If angels only visit perfect people, why did they visit Lot in Sodom?
Yousef:  It's amazing that the parents would allow people to do that!
Yonas:  My point exactly!  What parents would allow such a blasphemous thing to continue?  This whole thing is wrong, totally wrong!  It should have been stopped! What kind of father permits this?  And you, Levit, what did you do?
Levit:  Hey, I offered to clear them all out of there, but the father said that it was all right.  In fact, it seemed to me that , well... they had sort of expected it.
Elias:  That's very strange!  So he didn't seem to mind to have a room full of strange people?
Levit: It was really quite astonishing!   All these poor, illiterate peasants... But so joyful,  their eyes full of tears, smiling and singing.
Yousef:  So why were they so happy?
Levit:  I don't know for sure, Yousef.  Maybe they saw this baby as, (he hesitates) ...a special baby...
Yousef:  You mean like....
Yonas:  Oho, now it's 'a special kind of baby...'  Stop this foolishness, Levit!  It's one thing to criticize leaders, but starting to believe this... this is blasphemy!
Levit:  Get off your high horse, Yonas!  I'm not 'believing' anything!
Yonas:  Look, you can say whatever you want.  It's your business!  I don't know what's happening out there, but if it was my place, I would kick the whole bunch of them out.
Yousef:  Why are you letting them stay out there, Levit?
Levit: (Levit is silent for a moment) When I was a little boy, my mother used to take me up to Jerusalem every year, to the Temple.  And I remember seeing the High Priest, all dressed up in his robes, with all those sparkling jewels, that beautiful turban on his head.  I was completely captivated!  I remember asking my mother: 'Mama, when Messiah comes, will he be dressed up like that, Mama, like the High Priest?'   One time I remember trying to get close to him, squeezing through the crowd, just to touch his robes, to look into that face.  But one of the guards saw me and started shouting at me and chased me away.  I will never forget the feeling of shock and disappointment.  I sat at the Temple gate and cried and cried... And while I was sitting there crying, the guards came and chased some other people away from the gates.  They were all dirty and covered with rags and a guard was beating them with a stick, like dogs.  When I asked my mother about it later, she said that they were lepers and were not allowed to be in the Temple.  And then I thought, When Messiah comes, will he chase people away?
Yonas:  They were only doing their job, Levit. The Law is very strict!  No unclean things in the Temple.
Levit:  They're not things, Yonas, they're people.  Besides, where were they supposed to worship?  Or...   Do you think that God didn't want them to worship?
Yonas:  Of course He does.  But the Scriptures say they must be cleansed first.
Levit:  That's what Mama said too.  Anyway, the next morning I stood up and announced: Mama, when Messiah comes, he won't chase lepers away, he will do like Elisha the Prophet, He will cleanse them.
Yousef:  Is that when you stopped going to Temple, Levit?
Levit:  (With a soft laugh) No, I was only 8 or 9, I was just a little boy?  But you know, I never did look at the High Priest in the same way again... But when I saw those Bedouins tonight, all tattered and dirty, scurrying out of my way, like dogs who know too well what it's like to be beaten.  Then it all came back to me, those lepers at the Temple, and the guards.  I remembered the fear, the whack of that stick, the shouting, the shame and pain in their eyes.. But, tonight, when I was out in the stable. When I saw the joy on those faces and listened to the singing, I realized: These people too have longed and looked for something.  And maybe they found it...
Yousef:  ...and no one chases them away.
Levit:  Yes, Yousef, no one chases them away.
Copyright Johannes Kelder, all rights reserved.
This script may be used without payment, provided no charge is made for admission to the performance. In return for free use, the author would like to be told of any performance. He may be contacted at