Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thought for the Day (December 22): True Nativity

Thought for the Day by John Bell:

I don't believe that Mary would have ridden a donkey. What's more I don't believe that Jesus was born in a snowstorm. The average temperature in Bethlehem these days is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nor do I believe that the baby was laid in hay and surrounded by animals. I mean, it might have been 2000 years ago, but people understood the rudiments of hygiene even then.

What's worse. I don't believe in the innkeeper or his wife, in the cattle shed or in the shepherds bringing a lamb. What use would it be to a baby?

And to cap it all and risk accusations of atheism, I don't believe that either the baby or the little town of Bethlehem was silent.

And I don't believe these things because they are all understandable but fanciful accretions courtesy of Victorian carols, Christmas cards and school nativity plays performed for the benefit of parents' cameras. None of the things I disbelieve in appear in the Bible including the silent night. All we know about Bethlehem is that it was crowded out. People would have been drunk or partying or both.

What then are we left with? An almost single-parent mother giving birth to a boy in an alien village in occupied territory at a time when one in four women and one in three babies died at the point of birth. There was no one of importance in attendance, and the vast majority of the outside world, if surveyed, would have said that the event held no significance for them.

The risk of dying during labour, of being exposed to the elements and ignored by the public is precisely what Christmas celebrates. The presence of a God who relates to us not from the immunity of heaven but from the insecurity of earth. This is about the costliness of love, not the confection of sentiment.

copyright 2008 BBC

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