CFS: Bethlehem



DATE: The reign of Cæsar Augustus, when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, in the days of Herod the king; Tuesday.

COMPLAINT: An anonymous epistle reporting a newborn infant living in unsanitary and possibly unsafe conditions.


COMMENTS: Accompanied by Rookie Agent Zebedee, I proceeded to the scene of the complaint. This was easy to locate as it was directly beneath an unnaturally bright stationary star shining in the night with a tail as big as a kite. (Agent Zebedee was once blown several leagues by a runaway kite and can verify the accuracy of this description.) The light from this star was so brilliant that we were temporarily blinded and had to feel our way around the property until our eyes could adjust. During this time Agent Zebedee fell down a well.

Entering the premises, we discovered the child living in a stable family environment, in the sense that the family was living in a stable. We found the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. He appeared to be in good health, but laying the child in a manger was irresponsible in my opinion. The animals quartered there had not been fed in some time, and a few were licking their chops. Fortunately our arrival served to draw their attention, though this resulted in Agent Zebedee suffering a nasty lamb bite to the thigh and some minor goring by a peckish ox. (See accompanying petty cash voucher to cover poultice expenses.)

The scene was chaotic, with people arriving and departing at all hours and various individuals loitering about. We questioned a couple who identified themselves as the infant's parents. Our suspicions were aroused when Mary, the woman claiming to be the mother, also claimed to be a virgin. (We never even asked.) The account given by her male companion, Joseph, gave us strong reason to believe he is not the child's biological father.

Also present were certain poor shepherds who had been abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. They said a chorus of angels, singing of peace on earth, good will toward men, had instructed them to seek out the child. Their own off-key singing, and some depleted wineskins in their possession, made us think there might be more to it than that. When Agent Zebedee asked the shepherds why this jubilee, they smote him on the head with a crook. They insisted their encounter with the heavenly host had left them "sore afraid," but we think they were just sore about their working conditions. Despite their claim of a supernatural encounter, we felt their decision to abandon their flock was more likely a job action to protest having to work the night shift.

While we were there three adult males arrived, dressed in fine garments and carrying gold and other valuable commodities. They were unable to give a consistent account of themselves--for example, they claimed at various times to be "kings," "magi," and "wise men from the East." They told us they came bearing gifts for the child, but frankincense and myrrh seem odd presents to give a newborn when what he really needs are a decent crib and a binky. We suspect they were actually well-to-do travelers from the nearby inn who went "slumming" for thrills in a rough neighborhood. Either that or they got lost on their way to the privy.

We found an unaccompanied little boy on the premises who was pounding a drum in an apparent effort to entertain the infant. The alleged mother, Mary, nodded as if to encourage this awful noise even though the monotonous rum-pa-pum-pum beat shook straw dust loose from the rafters, creating an unhealthy atmosphere.

Also contributing to this miasma were the cows, sheep, and other animals housed in the stable. They produced a powerful stench, swarms of flies, and substantial deposits of solid waste that Agent Zebedee had difficulty navigating. [See attached reimbursement request to cover one pair of soiled sandals.]

Among the livestock was a donkey named Dominick, brought from Italy as the mascot of a Roman legion. This beast was decked out in a harness of bells that produced a chingety-ching sound to accompany the animal's frequent hee-hawing. This racket alone was enough to prevent the infant from getting any sleep. When combined with the lowing and squealing of the other animals, the incessant drumming, and the raucous singing of the shepherds, the result was a dreadful din that was enough to drive one mad. Indeed, Agent Zebedee began twitching and moaning and made several attempts to put his head through the wall. [See accompanying request for indefinite paid medical leave.] Incongruously, in the midst of this ear-splitting uproar, a little lamb asked a shepherd boy, "Do you hear what I hear?"

The number of people and animals present clearly exceeded the legal occupancy limit set by the Fire Pharisee. The radiant heat from the star, in proximity to the hay and straw stored in the wooden structure, presented a real risk of combustion. (In fact, the seat of Agent Zebedee's garment began to smolder, and he was forced to extinguish it in a trough of water, in fulfillment of the prophets.)

One other thing seemed odd: You have visitors coming and going all night and no one puts something out for people to eat?

CONCLUSION: I strongly recommend that the infant be removed from these premises and placed in the protective custody of King Herod at the palace. Admittedly, our stern monarch has not previously shown much sympathy for disadvantaged children, but since the star appeared he has expressed an intense interest in the number, status, and specific whereabouts of all the newborns of Bethlehem. He maintains his custom of stoning or beheading supplicants who displease him, so the agent assigned the task of appealing for sanctuary on the child's behalf should possess the utmost tact and diplomacy. I suggest Agent Zebedee.