Advent Firesiders

Typology (2006)

If we conflate the human dramatis personae of the Nativity story from Matthew and Luke we have a typical split which would be recognised today in large parts of the world: at the top there is an autocratic ruler who can sentence young infants to death at the wave of a sceptre who hobnobs with some other kings and highly literate officials and at the bottom there is the Jesus family and some shepherds. The nearest to a middle class representative is the innkeeper with his fleeting and harassed appearance; but that's it.

The problem for us with this typology is that none of the people are anything like us: we're not kings nor aristocrats; we are aware of shepherds through One Man and His Dog but of course contemporary shepherds are much better off than their New Testament counterparts; the nearest we get to carpentry is the occasional foray into B&Q and so the only real point of contact for most of us is the innkeeper which was all right in some golden age when pubs were cosy community centres that happened to sell beer; but now, with binge drinking, inn keepers are quite another thing!

I wonder how we would take to a Nativity story which featured a delegation of high street traders instead of shepherds and a trio of County Councillors instead of Kings? Would this bring us closer to the point of the story? When there was no middle class Luke and Matthew had to take what was going - Luke was interested in the poor, Matthew in kingship - and these were supposed to represent the whole of society but now most of our society is middle class do we need a new tale?

The trouble with distant iconic figures like shepherds and kings is that a culturally vital story can fade into fairytale and become unreal and disconnected with us. Most of our contemporaries, if they think about the Nativity at all, think about the innocence and vulnerability of a baby but they don't have the incarnation on their minds and they never get as far as the Cross.

So here is my edited account with some traditional, as opposed to Scriptural, bits thrown in:

There were traders in the bazaar keeping watch over their goods by night when an angel appeared bringing them good news of the birth of a king in nearby Whitehawk. Today a saviour is born to you and this shall be a sign; you will find him wrapped in rags and lying in a basement. And the traders said to one another let us go and see; and they found Mary and Joseph and the baby cowering in a basement. And they emptied their shops and brought all the goods to Whitehawk and paid a deposit on a starter home for the Jesus family.

And behold there came wise men from Chichester in the West to Brighton saying, where is our new born saviour for we have seen his story in the Argus and wish to pay tribute to Him. When the Mayor of Brighton heard this he was troubled and all his Councillors with him; and he gathered together the spin doctors and media consultants and he demanded to know how they would handle the story. And they said to Him it was a story waiting to happen. So the Mayor sent the wise men on a private visit to Whitehawk and asked them to report whether the birth would de stabilise the Council. So they went as the Argus had instructed and found the young child in his new starter home and they presented him with a baby bond, a Body Shop Voucher and funeral insurance.

No. This is a story too far! Although it is as familiar to us as the Luke and Matthew accounts would have been to their readers. What was ordinary then has become outlandish and iconic now. Still, there has to be a way of making the story real or it will soon be as meaningless as the Hobbit.