Over Christmas lunch, with the other monks who live locally, conversation turned to a recent BBC TV programme called “The Nativity”. For me, it is not often possible to watch TV, but one elderly monk recommended it as, ‘one of the best presentations he had seen’ of the Christmas story. That was good enough for me, and so, using the ‘BBC I-Player’ over the past three days, I have managed to watch all four episodes, each lasting half an hour.  I found them absorbing. 

Of course, the story is so very well known to a good proportion of the lay population, and to we religious; firstly, there are the accounts of the Nativity in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, and then, secondly, one must add the many years of contemplations of these accounts throughout decades of repeated Christmas liturgical celebrations to arrive at anything like a summation of one’s knowledge of the subject. The totality of this experience may lead one to disagree with, for example, the interpretation of Mary that was inculcated into this TV series; yet such programmes certainly make one reflect – and further contemplate – the story surrounding these age-old events.  I believe this to be even more the case, for anyone who has been given the grace to visit the Holy Land.


Art Pictures (1) the Nativity (Martin Schongauer 1475-80) and (2) St. Joseph with the Child Jesus (Guido Reni c. 1635) 

As always, there are the age-old questions. For instance, take one aspect – how did St. Joseph cope with the challenge God put before him? He is portrayed by Matthew’s gospel as a God-fearing, just man, who found himself on the ‘horns of dilemma’, whether to follow the set, cultural, pattern of his fellow God-fearing Jews, or to follow the direct inspiration from God – this under-pinned and strengthened by his respect and growing love for Mary. In the final analysis, he acted against his own judgement, because he followed the advice given by an angel. His role in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus is crucial, because had he not taken Mary, his betrothed, into his house, it is likely she would have been killed. She was pregnant before marriage, and the punishment for an adulteress was death. And, what about Mary – how could she explain what actually happened? 

In the film, Joseph is a young and attractive young man, utterly in love with Mary; he is portrayed as rather stubborn, a man who did not readily yield to advice from his wife, and only comes to believe that Mary is to be the Mother of a divine child, at Bethlehem, when Mary was about to be confined.  The drama makes us aware of the struggle Joseph had, and again this is quite helpful – not so much as regards the accuracy of the portrayal of the struggle, itself – but as regards the fact Joseph felt, and had to deal with, that inward turmoil.   There is a strange passage in St. John’s Gospel that makes me wonder if the illegitimacy – from the human point of view – of Jesus, was a continuing ‘back-drop’ question in his public life: 

They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘if you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.’ They said to him, ‘We are not illegitimate children; we have one Father, God himself.’ (John 8: 39-41 and continue reading) 

One other point, among many, comes to mind. In the film, we are presented with THE most important intervention of God, in the history of mankind, and yet the events appear so mundane and ordinary. The people of Bethlehem and Nazareth simply continue to go about their own affairs, unaware of the greatness – the enormity – of what is happening in their midst. That phenomenon is also very much akin to our own experience, in today’s world. Each day, momentous events happen amongst the hum-drum of our daily lives: and again God is wont to ‘intervene’ – to enter into the situations we are in, and does so when we turn to Him in loving acceptance and when we are proactive in the doing of his will.  This is so in the little details of our lives, especially, in the relationships we have with others, but also in everything else as well – in the time we turn to Him with love in our hearts, in the time we pray, in the time we turn away from self-will, and so forth. A baby was born, in squalor, to the indifference of most people and the hostility of others, and that was the most important event in the long history of the cosmos. The Pope, in his recent publication called ‘Verbum Domini’, (on the ‘Word of God’), writes the following in a section called, ‘The Cosmic Dimension of the Word’: 

When we consider the basic meaning of the word of God as a reference to the eternal Word of God made flesh, the one Saviour and mediator between God and humanity, and we listen to this word, we are led by the biblical revelation to see that it is the foundation of all reality. The prologue of St. John says of the Divine Logos, that “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:3); and in the Letter to the Colossians it is said of Christ, “the first born of all creation” (1:15), that “all things were created though him and for him” (1:16). 

Yes, our lives are very precious, and in all the everyday experiences we have, we can find God.  May our ears, our hearts, our minds be attentive to all God is doing for us, and may we follow St. Joseph – an essential actor, in the real sense – in ‘The Nativity’, the real story of how the ‘Word Became Flesh’.  He is THE model for all fathers, whatever the circumstances occurring within our families today.