Advent Firesiders

Grow Up! (2018)

Every Christmas Eve, until last year, as the organ at King's struck up after the last Carol, I closed the door and hurried to the Nativity Service. But last year the demand had grown so great that the Service was staged twice, with its carol singing, Mary and Joseph, shepherd boys, angel girls, innkeeper, Herod and kings and, if we were lucky, a donkey, all dressed for the occasion.

In itself this development can only be applauded; who would not welcome an increased attendance at Nativity Services? The nub of the issue is whether attendance by adults and older children at Nativity Plays replaces attendance at Midnight Mass and Christmas Communion because, if attendance is falling, then Christmas church observance is shifting away from the Eucharist towards the children's Nativity Play. There are, it seems to me, three ways of improving the situation.

First, Nativity Plays should be public, definitely outside church; in the street when the weather is good and in civic spaces when it is not; and this should not be counted in any way as Church Observance.

Secondly, although there is great value in children taking part in Nativity Plays, they really do need to be de-celebritised; the use of cameras to film shepherdly boys and angelic girls has surely gone too far! At the same time, in order to develop Incarnational theological awareness we should have adult Nativity Plays, perhaps in the tradition of the Medieval Mystery Play; the birth of Jesus is, after all, a pivot of human history which represents a critical movement from Old Testament Messianic hope to New Testament Messianic fulfilment.

Thirdly, and joining together the two previous points, we have to stop caving in to Christmas sentimentality and infantilisation. How can the secular world make any sense of the birth of Jesus if we do not link this effectively to the Crucifixion? If we read a biography of a great figure we do not expect the account to stop abruptly at the end of its childhood. Tasteless though it may seem to mention the Crucifixion in the same sentence as the Incarnation, that is the Christian package where the first is the necessary precondition of the second.

When it comes to Christmas, then, we all need to grow up!