On Christmas Night

[The play opens with a CHORUS of voices which is heard faintly as a background 
for the COMMENTATORíS words.]
 	From distant Bethlehem there comes a voice 
	Across the shadowed years, 
	To tell again of that fair night, 
	When heavenly hosts 
	In angel chorus sang 
	Above the hills where shepherds watched their flocks, 
	And earthly ears first heard the words:
 		Glory to God in the highest 
		And on earth peace, 
		Good-will toward men.
[CHORUS is heard singing "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks." As the words 
of the hymn fade away, the COMMENTATOR speaks again.]
 	The stars hang low and bright against a moonless sky, 
	Across the hills 
	The clear air brings the sound of little bells, 
	Borne by grazing sheep.
	Upon a knoll, three shepherds sit, 
	Their cloaks about them,
 	Their crooks etched black 
	Against the studded sky.
 	There is a strange peace upon the land this night.
	A peace that stills men's lips, 
	Or makes the spoken word come softly, 
	As when a babe is sleeping 
	And there is need for gentleness.
[The sound of BELLS, far off and close at hand, is heard, and then the cry of 
the LOOKOUTS floats from hill to hill, growing ever fainter.]
FIRST LOOKOUT. All's well!
THIRD LOOKOUT. All's well!
FIRST SHEPHERD. All's well? There's little need to keep the watch, a night 
like this.
SECOND SHEPHERD. There's not a thing astir, save our own sheep.
FIRST SHEPHERD. And they're more restful than's their wont--whatever be the 
SECOND SHEPHERD. We might better call the others in, for all the good they're 
FIRST SHEPHERD. And make a fire. I'm hungry, and it's none too warm, here upon 
the hilltop. What say you?

THIRD SHEPHERD. [Gruffly] Be still, Nathan. Hold your tongue!
SECOND SHEPHERD. But why? It's lonely by oneself when nothing moves to hold 
the eye or occupy the mind. Let Nathan call.
THIRD SHEPHERD. Be still, I say.
FIRST SHEPHERD. But nothing threatens to keep them on the lookout, Levi.
THIRD SHEPHERD. When danger threatens least is the time to be more alert for 
it, my lad. Besides, I do not like this night.
FIRST SHEPHERD. Not like this night?  There's not been a kindlier night in 
months for all the chill that's in the air. So still, so clear. See how the 
stars shine down as if God were almost of a mind to make the earth and heaven 
SECOND SHEPHERD. Why, one can see the lights of Bethlehem aglow from where we 
sit to-night, and it's a long way off, across the valley.
THIRD SHEPHERD. The town is filled with those come for the taxing. The inn can 
hold no more, they say. With so many strangers in the land, it were better to 
attend our flocks as on less strangely peaceful nights.
FIRST SHEPHERD. Come, Levi, what strangers are among us will remain within the 
towns. There's something more upon your mind or you would let me call the 
lookouts to us, and make the long hours of the night less tedious for all.
FIRST LOOKOUT. All's well!
THIRD LOOKOUT. All's well! 
FIRST SHEPHERD. Hear, Levi? All's well, and not a sheep moves upon the 
hillsides. What's on your mind?
THIRD SHEPHERD. There's nothing on my mind. But deep within me, Nathan, is the 
need of keeping on my guard, to-night.
SECOND SHEPHERD. But why? You're not afraid? Or have the Voices come to you 
while all alone?
THIRD SHEPHERD. The Voices do not come to simple men like us.
FIRST SHEPHERD. They did in olden time.
THIRD SHEPHERD. They do not now. Nor am I frightened. But the very air is 
charged to-night with meanings I can feel, but cannot grasp.
SECOND SHEPHERD. Meanings of what?
THIRD SHEPHERD. That, I've said, I cannot say, except to know that this night 
may reveal to men new paths, new ways of life, new love--I know not what I 
say, and yet the truth seems just beyond my reach.
FIRST SHEPHERD. Levi, it's not the world's end you're hinting at--afraid to 
come right out with it?
THIRD SHEPHERD. No, no! The end cannot be until God comes to earth again, as 
was foretold of old. I tell you I do not know what's come upon me, save that 
it has come, and grows greater with each moment that we sit here. I do know 
that I crave all things in their accustomed places, and those whose duty is to 
watch, to watch. Hold! See yonder star.

SECOND SHEPHERD. The great one that's been moving ever westward these past 
weeks? It seems bigger than it's ever been, to-night.
FIRST SHEPHERD.  And almost overhead.
THIRD SHEPHERD. It does seem as if it were stopped above the lights of 
Bethlehem. See how that long beam points downward to the town.
SECOND SHEPHERD. Its light's so strong it casts a glow about us here. See 
Levi's cloak.

FIRST SHEPHERD. [Wonderingly] I see. Each little hair of wool is picked out 
with the light that fishes make when they break water on black nights. Look! 
It's about your cowl, too.
SECOND SHEPHERD. And yours, too, Nathan. Levi, what means this thing? Can one 
star shed such light ?
FIRST SHEPHERD. The dawn's far off, and yet the sky grows brighter. 

SECOND SHEPHERD. The light's not in the sky, but 'twixt the sky and us. Levi--

THIRD SHEPHERD. It comes not from the star, but from something in the air 
about us. See! It glows with new strength. Look! Look! Above us here. The sun, 
full-risen, is revealed. 

FIRST SHEPHERD. May God protect us!
SECOND SHEPHERD. Let us go from here.
GABRIEL. [His voice is heard a little way off] Be not afraid! Fear not!
THIRD SHEPHERD. Who spoke? What voice commanded "fear not"?
FIRST SHEPHERD. I heard no voice.
SECOND SHEPHERD. No word was spoken, Levi. Come, let us flee this fearful 
place before it is too late.
THIRD SHEPHERD. Stay. My eyes are blinded by this light, but my ears heard one 
commanding us to fear not. The words came from above, where it was brightest.
GABRIEL. [Gently, as the night wind breathes faintly and is gone] Be not 
afraid, good shepherds. I come not to harm you.
THIRD SHEPHERD. There, the voice again. Did you not hear?
FIRST SHEPHERD. I heard no sound, and I stay no longer here.
THIRD SHEPHERD. (In exultation) I see, I hear. 'Tis the angel of the Lord 
descending on us. Upon your knees. Through Heaven's own light, he comes. Upon 
your knees, bow down your heads. Such joy cannot be meant for mortal eyes.
GABRIEL. Rise up, good folk. I come not to bring you harm, hut bearing tidings 
of great joy. Still your fears that your hearts may rejoice.
FIRST SHEPHERD. 'Tis so! An angel fair stands here before us, and all the 
world's revealed as bright as mid-day.

SECOND SHEPHERD. No noon-day ever saw such glorious light. See, he bears a 
trumpet. His shining wings fold down; his feet are come to rest upon the 
ground we stand on.
THIRD SHEPHERD. Be still, you two. He is not come to listen to the wonderment 
of simples such as we.
GABRIEL. Arise, arise, for unto you and to all peoples a King is born. Christ 
the Lord, Himself, is come this day to David's city, Bethlehem. The Christ, 
new-born, has come to earth to cleanse men's souls of hate and lead His flocks 
upon new paths of love.
SECOND SHEPHERD. Can my eyes play me false, or my ears tell me what they do 
not hear?
GABRIEL. The Lord, this night, hath given thee new sight and hearing both.  
Then see and hear, and in both believe; rejoice that first among all men these 
tidings have been brought to you.
THIRD SHEPHERD. My heart rejoices and my soul believes.

GABRIEL. Then take this as a sign that you shall know Him. In Bethlehem shall 
ye find a babe, full wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.
[The beat and rustling of a multitude of WINGS is heard growing rapidly in 

SECOND SHEPHERD. Levi--Nathan. The heavens now open to our sight.

THIRD SHEPHERD. Be still, be still. God's angel hosts appear.

[The SOUNDS are stilled. There is a pause, and then is heard a great CHORUS of 
voices singing "Gloria in Excelsis," now in full volume, now fading as into 
the distance, now swelling again, and at last growing fainter as if the 
company of singers had swept on to carry their joyous message throughout the 
land. After the last faint trace of song is gone, there still is heard the 
distant beat of swiftly moving wings and then this, too, is heard no more. 
There is a pause.]
FIRST LOOKOUT. All's well!
THIRD LOOKOUT. All's well!
SECOND SHEPHERD. They are no more. Night seems the same, and yet is new the 
world we live in.
FIRST SHEPHERD. They went as twilight goes, as they had come like dawn. Levi, 
have we dreamed this thing?
THIRD SHEPHERD. No dream was this, my lads. Dreams are not made to make the 
heart exult as ours do now, or teach the mind that which our minds contain.  
Come; the course is clear. Go we across the valley to see in Bethlehem this 
thing the Lord has now revealed to us. We'll take what gifts our meagre stores 
provide, and they'll be welcome since they are for Him. Nathan, call the 
lookouts in. Our flocks are safe to-night.
FIRST SHEPHERD. Heigho! Heigho! 
FIRST LOOKOUT. All's well!
THIRD LOOKOUT. All's well!
[The cries of the LOOKOUTS fade imperceptibly away. The CHORUS sings "Go  
Down, Go Down to Bethlehem." As the hymn ends, the COMMENTATOR speaks.]
	This night 
	Upon the road from Herod's capital, 
	Three wise men ride their camels 
	Guided by the star 
	That hangs before them. 
	Their quest is known well. 
	The King they seek, 
	New-born to rule the world, 
	And lead all men to righteousness. 
	From far off in the East they came 
	To Herod's court, 
	Searching the One, 
	Who should be King above all Kings, 
	And brother to the least of men.
	King Herod heard and bade them on their way, 
	To seek and find and bring the word to him 
	That he might worship also. 
	Now, the pad of camels' hooves 
	Sounds softly on the earthen road; 
	Behind, trail donkeys laden high with gifts. 
	Each king the silence keeps, 
	Deep in his own thoughts, 
	Until, between them and the star,
	And hurrying through the night, 
	Are seen three shepherds 
	Each bearing, tucked beneath his cloak, 
	A lamb of this year's dropping. 
	The wise men slow their pace--
FIRST KING. Rein in!  
SECOND KING. And why, Melchior, when the goal's so near? Our star droops 
lower, see.
THIRD KING. And has come to rest beyond the hilltop. Why pause now?
FIRST KING. See, before us there, where the road slopes up to mount the crest. 
What men are those who seem in such a haste?
SECOND KING. 'Tis hard to know for sure. Shepherds, mayhaps, if those are 
crooks that show against the sky.
FIRST KING. And why should shepherds leave their flocks at night?
SECOND KIND. I know not that. It may be that they have some mission in the 
THIRD RING. Whatever be their mission, it can have naught to do with us. Thou 
dost not sense some danger, Melchior?

FIRST KING. Nay, but the opposite. These shepherds, if they should shepherds 
be, may be concerned with us, and us with them.
THIRD KING. But in what manner? We know but one concern; to find and worship.  
FIRST KING. And these shepherds may be sent to guide us on our way. Did you 
not notice?  One moment the road lay clear before us. Then, on a sudden, these 
three appeared from nowhere. 

SECOND KING. They came in from that hillside.
FIRST KING. With feet so swift and on such purpose bent that even our worn 
beasts attended. It's my mind we should hail them.

THIRD KING. Then hail them, Melchior, although for me the star is guide 
enough. The night grows no younger while we pause here. Hail them, and let's 
resume the quest.

FIRST KING. (Calling) Halloo, ahead----
THIRD SHEPHERD. (Distantly) Who calls? 

FIRST KING. Three travellers who seek your aid.
THIRD SHEPHERD. [Nearer] Come quickly then. We must be on our way to Bethlehem 
and have no time to spare.
FIRST KING. Come. Give the beasts their heads.
THIRD SHEPHERD. [Close at hand] What men are you who venture on the roads at 
night without a guard?
FIRST KING. And how are shepherds strayed from their flocks while darkness 

THIRD SHEPHERD. Our flocks are guarded as they never were before. How, Nathan, 
shall these strangers hear our news?
FIRST SHEPHERD. Since our tidings are for all the world to know and knowing to 
rejoice, these merchants should be told, Levi, and then, upon our way again.
SECOND KING. We are not merchants, but men from out of the East, come 
uncounted leagues to worship at the throne of Him born King among you, and 
bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

SECOND SHEPHERD. Born King among us? Levi, can it be the same?
FIRST KING. What are these riddles that you speak? What is this news you hold 
from us?
THIRD SHEPHERD. We speak no riddles, sir, nor hold back news. The things we 
saw this night were not to puzzle men, but to make all things clear to them.  
The Christ is born in Bethlehem.
FIRST KING. How know you this? 

SECOND SHEPHERD. Our eyes have seen it.
FIRST KING. The Christ? Himself?
THIRD SHEPHERD. Nay, but the true word of His coming. Within the hour, upon 
that hilltop yonder, there was revealed to us the Angel of the Lord, and all  
His heavenly hosts, telling of a babe born in Bethlehem this day, whose rule 
will mend the world, and shed heaven's love upon the earth. We hasten now to 
lay our simple offerings before Him in the manger where He rests; to sing His 
praises, and to tell all of His coming.
THIRD KING. How shall ye know Him? 

THIRD SHEPHERD. By a sign revealed. A babe we'll in swaddling clothes, deep 
cushioned in a manger.
FIRST KING. A manger?
THIRD SHEPHERD. So it was told to us. 
FIRST KING. But how shall ye seek this manger?
THIRD SHEPHERD. In Bethlehem beneath that star which hangs so low and bright. 

SECOND KING. Our goal is one. 

THIRD KING. It must be.
FIRST KING. These shepherd folk, in one short hour, have learnt all we've 
pondered on these years. 

SECOND KING. Learned greater truths: they speak of Heaven's rule of love to 
come, while we thought but of kings.
FIRST KING. Good shepherds, let us join you. We, too, bear gifts to Him you 
THIRD KING. We, too, would sing His praises. 
SECOND KING. And rejoice with you to gaze upon His face.
THIRD SHEPHERD. Our gifts are poor, I fear, to place beside your own. Lambs of 
the spring, some bread and cheese--
FIRST KING. The giver's greater than the gift he brings, my friend. We pray 
thee guide us thence to Bethlehem.
THIRD SHEPHERD. Then swiftly come. My heart is great with longing, and my eyes 
ache to see our Lord.
FIRST KING. Lead on, good friend. Be yours the right the first to kneel before 
[The KING'S voice dies away, and there is heard the SOUND of the restless 
movement of beasts of burden as the small party moves away. The noise gives 
way to the CHORUS singing "Come, All Ye Faithful," and then the COMMENTATOR 
speaks again.]
	At Bethlehem, this night 
	The Inn is filled 
	With folk come for the taxing, 
	When each man must be in his own place, 
	As ordered by the Romans. 
	Seeking shelter for Mary and her babe, 
	Finds all doors closed to him 
	And no place for the child 
	Save in a stable.
	Here, in the manger of an empty stall, 
	The babe is placed, 
	Beside the kine, 
	Whose warm breath cheers the air He breathes. 
	Down from a beam 
	A feeble lantern hangs, 
	To light the face of Him who sleeps 
	And tell the two who watch 
	He is in peace.
	So great the joy and wonder 
	Of the twain, Joseph and Mary, 
	That though a heavenly chorus 
	Fills the air about, 
	They do not hear.

[CHORUS. Again the strains of "Gloria in Excelsis" are heard, sung softly, as 
a background against which come the words of JOSEPH and MARY.]
JOSEPH. The night is still. All at the Inn across the way are quieted and gone 
to bed. I'll bar the door.
MARY. There is no need. No one will venture here at this late hour of the 
JOSEPH. None but some travellers refused admittance to the Inn as we ourselves 

MARY. Then let them enter. Naught can ever come to harm the child or us.
JOSEPH. 'Tis true. We have no need of locks. Still, I'll close the stable door 
and keep in what warmth there is. You are not cold?
MARY. Not with the warmth that glows within me.
JOSEPH. I'll put more straw upon the floor. No? Then [I'll] move the beast 
from that next stall and place him farther down the stable.
MARY. Sh! He sleeps. See, Joseph, the God-child sleeps. His head upon my 
breast, and one small hand clutched tightly on my finger. See?
JOSEPH. I am afraid to look.
MARY. But be not so. The babe is born to drive all fears away, and bring love 
in its stead. Was such not told us? Look upon His face and see how sweet it 
is. Never in all this world, before, has woman been so greatly blessed. To be 
chosen from among all women, to bear the One who shall bring God's rule to 
earth and make all life sweet and kind. Sh! He moves. Sit down here on this 
stool beside me.
JOSEPH. I cannot, Mary. Such great excitement doth consume me of the meaning 
of Him resting in your arms that I cannot be still. Is there nothing that I 
can do to aid your comfort?
MARY. Nothing.

JOSEPH. To know that mankind's hope is here among the cattle in this lowly 
place, and to know that you and I, among all peoples, only know it.
MARY. Sh! Sleep, my pretty one, sleep, my little one.
JOSEPH. He looks not unlike all other children look when they are born, and 
yet we know that He will change the world. O, would daylight come, that I 
could go upon the hilltops and shout my knowledge wide, that men might come 
and worship Him and you.
MARY. Not me, but Him alone. I am but an instrument of earth.
JOSEPH. Nay, Mary, mankind will cherish you as they do Him. The world forget 
you? Favored among all women?
[The singing of the CHORUS has been growing fainter and fainter, until now, it 
is heard no more.]
THE VOICES. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou 
among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of 
God, pray for us sinners now, and in the hour of our death. Amen.

MARY. He wakes. Did you hear the sound of voices?
JOSEPH. There were sounds. Without, I thought. I hope someone comes that I may 
proclaim the news to them.
MARY. There is no need. The Lord doth not intend the coming of our Saviour 
secret. All men must know, but by what means I know not. Look, Joseph, His 
eyes are open. See how they contain all knowledge that there is.
[The muffled VOICES of the SHEPHERDS and the WISE MEN are heard, and then a 
KNOCKING on the door.] 

MARY. There's someone knocking.
JOSEPH. Place the babe again within the manger while I see, in case--well, we 
know not who this may be.

MARY. Your dread that harm may come to Him is groundless, but I do your 
bidding. See, he's deep within the clean straw once more. They knock again.  
Go, Joseph, and learn who it may be.
JOSEPH. Who knocks?
THIRD SHEPHERD. [Faintly]  Three shepherds, simple men and kind, come to see 
if this be the place the Christ-child has been born.
MARY. They know! They as well. Our fondest hopes are now confirmed. O, bid 
them enter. Give them welcome.
JOSEPH. Enter, good shepherds. This is the place ye seek.
SECOND SHEPHERD. Is there truly a babe, new born, within this place and rests 
He in a manger?
JOSEPH. The babe is here, within the manger as you say. There, beyond His 
Mother, Mary.
THIRD SHEPHERD. 'Tis as the angel told. Come all, and worship. That which we 
sought, is found. The babe is here.
ALL. Blessed be Mary, Mother of God! Blessed art thou among women.
THIRD SHEPHERD. Sing His praises, that the Lord on high may know our great 
[A CHORUS of men's voices--the SHEPHERDS and WISE MEN--sing "Hark, the Herald 
Angels Sing."]
FIRST SHEPHERD. Where is the babe?
MARY. Come closer that ye may all gaze upon His face, and from His own eyes, 
learn the truth of all that's been foretold, and come to pass. Come closer, 
JOSEPH. Be not so fearful.
THIRD SHEPHERD. We would not disturb His rest. 

JOSEPH. He is awake. Here in the manger in this stall. Come closer.
FIRST SHEPHERD. See, Levi, His eyes are as blue as heaven's own dome itself.
SECOND SHEPHERD. There is that same light about His head we saw upon the 
hilltop. Can you not see? 

THIRD SHEPHERD. The Christ lies in a manger! Truly the world can never be the 
same again. True love must come and all sin go.  
FIRST SHEPHERD. Have ye named Him yet? 

MARY. His name is Jesus, as was told long, long ago. 

THIRD SHEPHERD. Then to Jesus let us offer our poor gifts, and then upon our 
way, for thou art weary.
MARY. Weariness can never come to me again. 

THIRD SHEPHERD. But simple gifts, I fear, but all we had. Bread, cheese and 
milk to nourish Him through you --

SECOND SHEPHERD. Lambs whose soft coats will help to keep Him warm--

FIRST SHEPHERD. Our cloaks we give and wine for the christening--

MARY. See! He would make to take your gifts Himself. No, no, thou art not big 
enough, my little one.

JOSEPH. Who are these men in raiment rich now come among us? Came they with 
you, good shepherds?

THIRD SHEPHERD. They joined us on the road, but they knew, too, the portent of 
this heavenly night, and of the holy star that shines above this roof.
FIRST KING. Three wise men from the East are we, kings whose inner wisdom knew 
that He should be born to Israel. These kindly men who knew far more than we, 
guided us the last league on our way. 

SECOND KING. Like them, we hunger for a sight of Him.

MARY. Then closer come. Jesus, He's named, the Christ-child resting here.
THIRD KING. 'Tis He through whom human kind will know salvation.
SECOND KING. 'Tis He in whom all mortals shall rejoice.
THIRD KING. Our gifts, Melchior. There's such joy in this place no man can 
long contain.
FIRST KING. Call the bearers in, and place before Him such gifts the East 
provides. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. Let them be symbols of the love we 
bear Him. In such alone their meaning lies; to Him who hath all things, 
nothing has value for itself but it be of the spirit. Then shall our gifts 
denote thoughts surging in us for which there are no words to tell.
MARY. See what pretty things are brought for Thee.
FIRST KING. Good friends, let us be gone. Our thirst is slaked, our eyes are 
feasted, and our hearts o'erflow. Let us be gone now that we have seen the 
truth, and know it to be so.
ALL. Let us be gone.
[The CHORUS of men's voices sing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" as the 
SHEPHERDS and WISE MEN depart. Their voices have almost faded away when the 
full CHORUS, heard in the first scene, swells louder singing "Gloria in 
Excelsis"--before the song has gained its full strength, JOSEPH speaks, 
JOSEPH. See the babe's face! The glow about your head! The place grows light! 
The Voices singing. Mary!
MARY. Sleep, my little one, sleep.
JOSEPH. Mary, the hosts are come again. The angel's here.
MARY. I see, I know. Sleep, sleep.
[The SINGING reaches an exultant height, then stops and GABRIEL speaks.]

GABRIEL. Joseph, I come to warn thee at our Lord's behest. Haste thee from 
here before dawn reddens in the East. Herod the King knows of the birth of 
Jesus, and fearing, has ordered all first born to be slain throughout Judea.  
Saddle the ass you'll find in yonder stall, place Mary and the child upon it, 
and be on your way to Egypt ere the first cock crows in the yard. Begone, I 
say, and when the time is come for your return, I'll bring thee word. Begone!
JOSEPH. I hear and hearing do obey at once. Mary! You heard the angel's words?
MARY. He sleeps again. See, Joseph, His eyes are closed. His lips are touched 
with little drops of dew. Was ever mother love so rich or happy pride so 
JOSEPH. Mary, make haste; we flee from here to Egypt.
MARY. I care not where. With Him I'll find all paths content.
[A single VOICE sings: "Oh, Silent Night." When it ends, the COMMENTATOR 
concludes the play.]
	And so, through the still hush that precedes dawn, 
	The three go forth, 
	Mary, the child and Joseph, 
	Southward along the trail that Moses trod, 
	To seek the sanctuary 
	God grants from Herod's wrath. 
	So ends our play 
	Of how, in ancient Bethlehem, 
	Upon this night, long, long ago, 
	The Babe was born 
	Whose life first gave 
	To human kind, 
	To guide it on its way, 
	The light of love and kindliness.

Originally broadcast December 25, 1931
as "The First Christmas" over NBC-WEAF