Blog 19th December 2016
The story of the Nativity is so well known. When I asked ‘Who has been in a Nativity Play?’ at our recent Christmas Assembly at the local High School, fully 90% of the young people put up their hands. How can this story be more than a cosy memory of childhood Christmas? How do we explore it differently?
In her book ‘Hope was heard singing’ Sally Foster-Fulton quotes a Native American storyteller ‘I don’t know if it happened exactly this way, but I know this story to be true.’ One of the ways to explore the truth in the Christmas story is to place the characters in a contemporary setting.
In December 2012 I was in Bethlehem at the beginning of December. I was attending a conference, but there was some limited time off: a chance to wander the town. There are Santas and nativity scenes in Bethlehem all year round, but the Separation Barrier and fear of trouble means tourism is at rock bottom. Yet, somehow, the olive wood carvers are still in business.
In one small dusty shop near the hotel I met a man called Joseph. He told me he was recently married and that his wife had just had a new baby boy. This cause for celebration had a tragic element, however.
Joseph’s wife was a citizen of East Jerusalem, and he a citizen of Bethlehem. He needed a permit to visit her and she was clinging on to the family home despite pressure from the Authorities and enforced clearances. He had seen his baby once.
The enterprising olive carvers have for some time been producing nativity sets complete with a model of the 3m barrier, making the point that Mary and Joseph would not have been able to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
The Wise Men, too, because of war in Syria and tension in Lebanon and Iraq might have been forced to stay home. Not able to travel through Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon along the traditional trade routes.
Possible journey of the Wise Men
The social and political turmoil of the Middle East today finds an echo in the turmoil of the Holy Land of Jesus’ day. The hope of a different future, a future of God’s promised presence ‘Immanuel: God is with us’ enabled Mary and Joseph and the Wise men to overcome barriers and to listen for angel messages and dreams. This is the hope that helps us continue to believe that ‘Nothing is impossible for God’ as we try to open ourselves and our communities to the indwelling of Immanuel.
This Advent and Christmas season
May the story ring anew
May worship become a manger
And the church a stable
And the rumour become a reality
That Christ has come among us.
And all for Love’s sake.