The nativity play is often very much part of the preparations for Christmas. Yet, we come to the nativity with mixed feelings. Perhaps, we have been involved in the production of the nativity play, all the children are off sick and we are not sure how we are going to manage! Maybe we look back with fondness and remember a time when we were playing an important part like Mary, Gabriel or a King, and it made a great impression of us. On the other hand, we may be emotionally scarred by not being given a leading role and had to settle for a minor role like a donkey or a sheep and still resent the person who got a better character. I guess many of us might have missed out on the whole thing and it is either a source of relief or a great sadness.
Putting aside personal involvement, I guess most of us have seen several nativity plays and have different memories of them. They often range from very simple with very young children to very accomplished with both adults and children. They can be set in a traditional way or a more contemporary way, yet we recognise the same underlying story. It is often a personal connection that makes one play stick in our minds. I always think of my father in law, as one of the kings in splendid robes bringing gold as a gift. The story often has amusing dimensions, some intentional and some unexpected. There must be a huge catalogue, characters dashing off to the loo, or really not getting on with their fellow actors, or spotting a parent and being completely absent in the middle of the play. The grumpy innkeeper, who has no room at the inn and would rather be safely tucked up in bed usually makes for a colourful character.
Yet, behind the happy outward story, there are some quite painful truths that are easily forgotten. Mary and Joseph were traveling home yet there is no welcome or mention of the family to help out. It was Mary’s first child, she would have been very afraid of what was about to happen to her. There is no mention of a midwife to help with the birth. Complications with births were life-threatening events for both mum and baby. When you understand some of the dangers involved and social isolation, the celebrations of the safe arrival of the baby and mother doing well resound from heaven to earth. The shepherds witness it first hand and are moved to find out more. The people of the East see a star and travel to find out more of what has happened.
If you see a nativity play this year, will it be just like a Christmas decoration that is got out every year and put away for the rest of the year? Or like the shepherds and wisemen will we be drawn into the story and be able to give thanks to God for Jesus Christ, who lived like us?
Rev. Martin Wood. The Rectory, Church Lane, Cheriton Bishop EX6 6HY 01647 24119 (Tuesday to Sunday) firstname.lastname@example.org