The Nativity has been showing on the BBC, 7pm each evening this week - It has been great. Really good in fact, especially for a generation who haven’t been brought up with the story. They didn’t hear it at school, didn’t see it acted out in nativity plays, didn’t hear it read from family bibles or hear it sung in Sunday school carols.
For the post Christian generation, this series is better than we might have thought. Instantly accessible & attractive to the unchurched in a way that our more well known religious programming is not. No, I’m not knocking Songs of praise, but we’re still not sure who they really make that for, & still not certain who really watches it other than the initiated. About the Nativity, there is no doubt – this is the prime time, One Show slot, picking up all kinds of viewers who have never given any real thought to the Christmas narrative.
Their big hook is the romance, but with it some gritty realism thrown in. We’ve all seen the Christmas cards of Mary in blue robes, gentle, tame & clean animals gazing tenderly at the blond, blue eyed baby who wears a halo. This it is not!
Thankfully, the writers have avoided the tradtitions & gone back to the book. They’ve really attempted to understand some of the terrible pressures on the young Mary who had a tall tale about her pregnancy which no one believed.
They have tried to show the wonder of the travelling wise men – pagan astrologers who believed the Prophets more faithfully than the Jewish scholars. They’ve shown the desperate shepherds, living in abject poverty, under harsh Roman rule, simmering with resentment & revolutionary fervour. They’ve shown a weak, jealous, ulcerated Herod, desperate to hold onto his delegated powers, ready to do anything to maintain his grip.
Nothing warm & glowing here. This is a sad & difficult picture. This is grim reality TV where surely there is no room for faith. This is lonely, friendless, hopeless. Tonight I guess we’ll see Joseph’s turn to be rejected by his family, watch Mary deliver a baby with no help, no Mother or sister, no experience.
The Nativity is so powerful because we begin to see a glimpse of our own tortured lives behind the turbans & the dust. We see our own disappointed hopes, our own painful alienation, our own fear of having walked through life & missed our moment. This story resonates for our generation. It connects, it opens a door in the darkness to an outline of wonderful light. It shows lives like ours which are short, bitter sweet & painful, not romanticised in any way, now opening up to redemption. It brings us to our knees in the dirt, before the God who became a man in order to reach us & redefine everything. Dear Points of View…Can we have more of that on the BBC please?