I have a Christmas play in my mind. To be more exact, I had a Christmas play in mind. But here’s the problem: To the Christian, Christmas is more than a sweet story of a baby born in a stable, shepherds and wise men and a star. That’s the very beginning of the story, one scene. And these things are the meniscus of the hidden drama, not the drama itself.
To me, the Christmas story explored as a drama (with a hard centre and stripped of sentimentality) is as densely layered and dark, as it is amazingly wonderful ; as full of victory and hope, as it is overflowing with sorrow and buoyed up by joy. When I consider the truth of the Incarnation of God, really consider it, I am destroyed , broken, utterly humbled. And excited. So excited.
The day-to-day mention of Christmas, thoughts about that time of year, well, yes, they are the Baby, the stable, the children’s nativity play with five year olds wearing tea towels as headgear. But come on! Grow up, world! This is the truth we hold to – that God, who created every damn thing in the world, came into that world as a vulnerable being of His own creation. Mind blowing. That He came into it to fulfil the prophesies of the Old Testament, over hundreds of years, and to walk steadily and willingly to the cruellest death possible. Think about that : Jesus came into the world as a being of His own creation.
The child born in that stable (and it wasn’t a stable), mothered and suckled by a teenage girl (an ordinary sinful being like me and you), was the eternal Master of everyone. Born to a woman, suckled by her, as helpless as any other new born, He was and is our God. The play I had in mind doesn’t serve any of those truths. Not any of them. And I have three days max to discover the way into that real truth, into the shadows and depth of the Christmas story.
Flip me. No prob then!
So, why am I so anxious to avoid sentimentality? As my Canadian/South African friend would say ‘Define your terms.’
By ‘sentimentality’ I mean emotional manipulation. It’s too easy, if you’re quite good with words, to create an unearned emotional response. Sentimentality has other names – schlock, soppiness, mawkishness. They are death to the truth. TV soaps live by shamelessly exploiting sentimentality, and it’s easy. I could make you cry over the death of a puppy right here and now. It’s called manipulation.
The Christmas story deserves a more thoughtful approach. But I can’t, for the moment, find it.
The problem with presenting yet another stable/baby/awwww-how-lovely story is that it is simply the meniscus of the truth, the fine tension layer between the history and the meaning, and it goes into neither in any meaningful way. When non-believers, those who haven’t yet met with Jesus Christ, hear the usual version of the Christmas story they zone out. It’s become a sort of fairy-tale, a myth, a simplistic and boring, if still charming, children’s story. Easy to dismiss. And the truth of that Baby, the God of all creation, the personification of divine love, the tragedy and triumph of His life, is lost.
The birth of Christ is the moment when history really was split in two, our belief in its importance is as central and visceral as the crucifixion, and the resurrection. They are part of the same story. You can’t have one without the other two. They lean in on each other. They are inseparable. So yes, write a drama about a pretty baby in a simple manger in a lamplit stable with a loving mother and adoring shepherds, but don’t leave it at that – don’t choose the easy and the accepted. Weave into that the truth of a righteous but merciful God, of God’s rescue plan for the world. My Pastor called it that and it just sums it up. ‘God’s rescue plan for the world.’
How to do it justice?
Please don’t tell me that God will enable me, that in my weakness He will be glorified cos, guess what, I KNOW … but I still have to be diligent, to do my best, to avoid the easy route to a commission. And that means first of all praying, and then thinking, and then researching, exploring…. even dreaming about it!
So, tell you what, how about praying with me? Fancy that? Go on… ahhh, go on…..
3.08am, wide awake and struggling with this. I’ve been awake for an hour. I never mind an occasional night of wakefulness – it’s a great time to be self-indulgent, to pray and think and doze and dream, and drink coffee and wonder if there are any biscuits anywhere… but all I want to do tonight is to crack this.
Christmas 2018….. a chance to talk about the greatest kindness of our God. Why can’t I find the words?