Wonderful piece to consider on this second day of Christmas and feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. Hat tip to Bishop Graham Kings (@BishopSherborne).
Around 15 years ago I had the opportunity to be in northern India in December. The churches in Delhi had a remarkable tradition I’d never contemplated before. They had nativity plays, like everyone else. But all the adult characters – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, Herod and so on, were played by grown-ups.
I was flabbergasted. How could the church in India have got it so wrong? Surely they must understand that the whole point of nativity plays is that they be performed by children.
Surely December is to be filled by fathers comforting their daughters with the reassuring words that not everyone can play Mary (and that Third Angel really is the crucial role), mothers finding squares of burlap that look convincing on the head of Joseph without being too scratchy, and Sunday School teachers persuading a reluctant wise man from the east that there’s a subtle but significant difference between frankincense and Frankenstein.
Everyone knows the unique charm of Christmas is lost if adults take it too seriously. I sat there in Delhi and thought, Don’t these people realize that Christmas is really for the children?
But look what happens when you see a nativity play performed by adults in a country like India, a place where to be a Christian is always to experience being in a minority, often to face cultural discrimination, and sometimes to find yourself in a place of physical danger. You start to see aspects of the story that get overlooked when it’s all about a little donkey on a dusty road.
You see for a start that Christmas is about suffering people.