I am probably one of the many bloggers who will write about the new BBC adaptation of the Nativity story, being aired at prime-time every day this week.
I write from a strange position because I have not, as yet, watched an episode! For me, it is the reaction that interest me most (though I will get round to watching them on iPlayer over the break). I was watching a lunchtime chat show and intrigued by their views on the show, and the concept of updating the ‘ancient story’.
The four women on the panel seemed to by split 2 against 2 in their views. Two of them were outraged that a nice story with good moral guidance had been made to look like EastEnders and the others were pleased that the same morals and ideals they had been brought up with had been updated to relate to a younger audience who only really hear the Nativity story as children in school Christmas plays.
The majority of the panel were neither ‘religious’ or would consider themselves to be Christian and yet they all thought that the message of the Nativity was an important one for society – the message: be kind to each other, offer hospitality et cetera.
Forgive me for thinking they may have missed the point a little bit because, in my eyes at least – the Nativity was a little bit ‘EastEnders’ in the scandal it would caused. We have, for so long presented a sanitised version of the Birth of Jesus Christ. Mary was a pregnant teenager, little more than twelve or thirteen and engaged to be married. Her fiancée was not the baby’s Father. Joseph planned to divorce her quietly to avoid further shame. 2000 years ago, being pregnant out of wedlock was no small deal, it brought shame – not only on the woman, but on entire families and communities.
Jesus was born to a teenage mother who had been called by God to give birth to the Son of God. It is scandalous and seemingly ridiculous! And yet millions of people praise this baby, and the man he became as a King.
And the point of the story, is not the generosity of the Wise Men, or the compassion of the innkeeper. It is about the faith of a woman and a man. It is about the God of heaven lowering himself to be born as a human baby, amidst the mess of a stable.
It is the God becoming flesh. Leaving the heights and glory of heaven, for human life and all that it entails. It is that the blameless Man he grew to be died a criminal’s death for the sins of the world and was raised. The Bible narrative is not a fairy tale. It is the story of God working to redeem a fallen and broken world. Reading an interview with the program’s creator, Tony Jordan (writer for programmes such as EastEnders and Life on Mars), it is clear that when he began the project he wanted to ‘send it up’ and produce a parody of the Nativity. Yet, after a few days of researching he decided he couldn’t do it. Something resonated with him. He says in Christianity magazine
“Faith and religion and the teachings of Christ are such a thing of beauty. You know when you hear pure truth? Just something as simple as ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’ the simplicity of that…I genuinely hope people are converted. I’ve shown it to people that have no faith whatsoever, hard-nosed TV kind of things. And one of them said ‘I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think it’s true”¹
The story that so many Christians take advantage of (and I’m one of them) moves people with no faith to thinking that there might just be something in it. It’s moved people to talk about Jesus on prime-time TV and chat shows. If nothing else, that has to be a good thing. To get people remembering the faith which they may not have thought about for 20, 30 years. And if we, as a Church can convey the simple truths Jordan talks about; the Man around whom we revolve our year may come to mean more to people.
For those of us who have been in the church for many years, I think we are in danger of forgetting the beauty of the gospel message and in doing so, the excitement and pain and tears and love that shines from the pages of a story about a Man from Bethlehem who
‘Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,  being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’Philippians 2:6-11.
So let us not forget the ‘scandal’ of Christmas. The scandal of the God of Heaven coming down to earth as a baby, and dying as a criminal to redeem the sins of man.
¹Jordan, T. Profile: Tony Jordan, Christianity Magazine, January 2011, London: CCP, p21-23.