Monday, 24 December 2018

Christmas Past

Good evening, you lovely people. I don’t know about you, but I’m right in the middle of Christmas Eve, and I feel delightful.

I thought I’d share a little story I wrote, this time last year. I was asked to create an alternative take on the Nativity, for reading at a midnight church service. Apparently they read it out, to those assembled. I don’t know what the reaction was - I was miles away watching that episode of Father Ted with the lingerie department. But here it is. I hope it brings your some Christmas cheer. 

Christmas Eve

The Nativity is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I mean, it’s nice. I’m not saying it’s not nice. It’s just…

I was expecting it to be different.

Look. It’s my fault. They tell you not to time travel to points of great historical significance. Not until you’ve done it a few times.

They say, time travel, by all means. We’ve got the technology. Go where you like. When you like. Don’t kill anyone or tread on any butterflies, but go see some history. Just don’t go anywhere really important. Because you’ll be disappointed. Don’t go to Agincourt. Don’t go to see the Beatles at the Cavern.

Don’t go the the Nativity.

Because you’ve got an idea, haven’t you, in your head, of what the Nativity is going to be like. You’ve seen a hundred Christmas cards and displays in shops and adverts on TV. You’ve heard all the carols. You think you’ve got it nailed.

We all know the Nativity. Camels. Kings. Cows. Sausage rolls. Dog in a manger. Something like that. Snow - but nice, warm, glowy snow. Peaceful. Lovely, warm, snowy, quiet Nativity.


For a start. No snow. And yet, somehow, cold. How is that fair? Where’s the lovely warm glow? The lovely, warm, golden glow of Christmas?

No camels. No Kings. A couple of weird, beardy blokes - oh yes. But I’m pretty sure they’re not kings. Or if they are, they’re certainly not Kings of anywhere good. It’d have to be a Kingdom with pretty low standards of personal hygiene.

Plenty of sheep, fair enough. But also, ugh. Turns out sheep are great to look at, on a card, but rubbish when they are next to you, and you can smell them, and they are staring at you with those flat, terrifying eyes.

And plenty of Shepherds, obviously. They’re big lads. I suppose you get used to the idea of the Shepherds being about six years old, with little glue on cotton wool beards. As opposed to large, hairy blokes who look at you like they might kill you. They do not like you insulting their sheep. No. They get quite cross if you call their sheep ‘freakish’. And the language they use certainly didn’t get past the first draft of the Bible.

There’s Mary - she’s younger than I expected. And Joseph - he’s older than I expected. And neither of them are… um… well, neither of them are as white as I thought they’d be. Nothing wrong with that, obviously. But I’m going to be honest, I always thought of them being more or less English. Which now I think about it doesn’t make much sense.

Same for Jesus. Not as white as you’d think. And not as quiet, either. Let me tell you, whoever wrote that thing about “no crying he makes” was, franky, making it up as he went along. No crying he makes? Not for one second did that child stop making noise. He might be the saviour of the universe or whatever, but he was also a gurgling, squawking little bundle of noise and snot.

But I tell you what. It is strange, looking at Jesus. I mean, actual Jesus. I didn’t get very close. I thought that might be inappropriate. But there he was. The most famous person in history, just laying there, gazing about at the world.

I guess he must have been thinking the same as me. What’s all this… stuff? All these beardy blokes and black eyed sheep. And his mum and dad staring down at him, both totally freaked out.

If he is God - that’s what he’s meant to be, isn’t he, “God” - if he is God, then I suppose he must have felt a lot like me. He knows about all this stuff. He’s had a good idea of what it’s all about for thousands of years. But to suddenly be in the middle of it… it’s different. A bit scary. A bit smelly. A bit more real, maybe. And new. Somehow, completely new.

I don’t know how much he knew what was going on, this baby that we sing all the songs about. Was he laying there, thinking God thoughts? “Ah, here I am manifested in human form! To business!” Or was it more like, “I’ve got toes! They wiggle! I knew they did that, in theory, but man it’s fun to actually do it!”?

Or was it just total baby thoughts? Feeling warmth for the first time. Hunger. Pain. A bunch of emotions that don’t have names yet, all swishing about. How do you go from infinite knowledge, to that?

I wanted to grab him. I wanted to shout, “Don’t do this. Go back. Go back to being miles away. All this is better from a distance. I’m only visiting, and already I’m disappointed. How are you going to find hope, here? It’s not magical. It’s not mythic. It’s just a normal place, with some normal people. It’s impossible to get where you want to go, from here.”  

But of course, I didn’t say anything. I left him there, in the middle of that nothing place, and I came back here. Back to Christmas Cards and Advent Calendars. Things that made sense. Songs about a quiet baby surrounded by magical Disney animals.

It’s better. It feels more like the place Jesus belongs. My Jesus, I mean. Not that strange little baby in that cold, impossible world. He doesn’t fit here. And if I sing enough songs, maybe I can forget him for good.

The Nativity is not all it’s cracked up to be. I recommend you don’t go. Stay here. It’s far, far easier.