Thursday, December 19, 2013

Matthew 1:18-25    
There are so many people in the Christmas story.  

The combined tea towels and pillow cases of several families would scarcely cover all the shepherds and angels needed to complete the cast of a Christmas Pageant.  Nor is it all nineteenth century invention either, like so many of our Christmas traditions.  There are, in fact, a lot of characters in the stories from Luke's and Matthew's Gospels.  Some of them are mere bystanders, only incidental to the main action.  Others play a central role, enabling (or perhaps even trying to impede) the main action of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

When Tony Jordan, a writer of popular British television, was tasked with writing the screenplay for the BBC's take on the Nativity in 2010 he struggled with the tradition which dressed all these extra characters in "big square beards with sackcloth wrapped around them".  Early television and movie renditions of the Nativity story merely fitted them in where there was space - like we might arrange a set of crib figures, shepherds and Wise Men on a too-small coffee table.

Looking for "the story within the story" he struggled with the characters of "the others" for weeks.  
Late one night, bleary-eyed and with an overflowing ashtray, he came to the realization that the other characters, major and minor roles, were important *exactly because* the son of God came for them - "for you" says one of the angels to a shepherd on a hillside in Jordan's screenplay - this all happened for you.    

And so, as we do every year, we take our place in the tableau.  We read somebody else's words and recount deeds and events which took place during this or that Census in the eastern end of the Roman Empire a long time ago.  We may play the role of one of the major or minor characters in the story, or read the words of the Prophet Isaiah or St John the Evangelist from the lectern, but that's not who we are.  We live here and now, caught up in the lives and relationships we know so well.  

We are us.  All these things took place and were accomplished for us and for others like us.