Monday, December 11, 2017

Why we need a new (old) story

First posted on Facebook, 11 December 2017:

The other day, I wrote that Jesus was born in the house Joseph and Mary were living in at the time, and not in a stable at the back of an over-full inn as our traditional English nativity plays present it.

But why does it matter? Why do I care so much about how the story is told? Well, here are three reasons:

Firstly, the traditional Nativity presents Joseph as incompetent. And as Matthew shows us that the righteous man Joseph is hand-picked by God to raise his Son, this traditional depiction presents God as incompetent in his choosing. Whereas the Gospels, taken together, present a long and careful planning.

Secondly, the traditional Nativity presents Mary as helpless. Whereas Luke presents her as a feisty theologian who sings a song—often called the Magnificat—so revolutionary that it has been banned in many countries around the world. Read it for yourself. It tends not to be sung at Nativities.

Thirdly, the traditional Nativity presents Jewish people as inhospitable, failing to provide (anything more than the most) basic care for a woman at her most vulnerable. This perpetuates anti-Semitism. It is true that as an adult Jesus’ teaching divided the community, but as a child he was welcomed by the people of Bethlehem—welcomed as the son of a descendant of king David in the small and fiercely proud community from where David had come.

Fourthly (yes, consider this a freebie), the stories we are told as children are the stories we hold on to. Hence the cultural resistance to hearing and telling the story of Jesus’ birth in any way that confronts our nostalgia.

Is that enough to be going on with?


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