A Christmas ADVENTure
The plot unfolds
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to consider the place of the Christmas story in the big picture of Christian belief.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and five readers.
- You will also need a copy of a typical thriller-type novel.
Leader (holding up a copy of a thriller-type novel): I love a story full of suspense, where the plot is revealed in stages, keeping the audience guessing every step of the way. It may be a novel, say, by Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin or Val McDermid. (You may have an example from a novel currently in vogue among the students.) It may be a TV drama such as Line of Duty or a blockbuster film. I love the way the writer twists and turns the plot. At first, it looks as if it’s going in one direction - the evidence is clear - and then, with a jolt, a new possibility arises. It’s not until the end, the denouement, that we can be absolutely sure of the facts. Yet, looking back, we find that the evidence was there all the time.
It’s a good idea to look at the familiar Christmas narrative in the same way. We know what happens at the end of this story, so we’re cheating a bit, but it’s the way the story is revealed that’s interesting. It begins with a nation that was longing for a leader, someone who would lead them out of captivity to a position of power and authority. The clues about who this leader would be were revealed by several spokesmen, who were called prophets.
Reader 1: My name’s Jeremiah. I prophesy that the future leader will have royal blood. He will be a descendant of King David, the mightiest king of Israel.
Reader 2: I am Isaiah, the most significant prophet of Israel. I say that the future leader will be like a powerful light, attracting the other leaders of the world to him.
Reader 3: I’m Micah. I prophesy that the future leader will be born in the humble town of Bethlehem.
Reader 2: Isaiah again. I prophesy that this leader will be a powerful ruler, but will also act like a tender and attentive shepherd.
Reader 4: My name’s Zephaniah and I prophesy that the future leader will be the leader of a strong, defensive army. He will save the nation from whichever enemy attacks.
Reader 5: Then there’s me, Zechariah (not to be confused with Zephaniah). A surprising fact about this future leader is that he’ll be gentle, a peacemaker, a humble man who will be seen riding on the foal of a donkey.
Leader: See what I mean? There are so many apparent contradictions about the future leader. Will he be powerful or humble? Will he be open to other nations or opposed to them? Will he display his military strength or be a peacemaker? It all depends on what you wish for. Some people emphasized one prophecy, whereas others emphasized a different element. So, when Jesus appeared as a tiny baby, born in a stable, and grew to be a homeless teacher who was more interested in caring for the outcasts of society than defeating the occupying Roman forces, many people could have been confused. It might explain a lot of the opposition that he faced. He didn’t live up to everyone’s expectations. How could he? The prophecies appeared to be so confused and contradictory.
Yet the clues were there all the time. It’s just that it needed the whole of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to make them plain. The prophecies about humility and shepherding were clearly demonstrated in his life, particularly the three years that Jesus spent as a teacher and miracle-worker. Christians believe that the prophecies about power, glory and worldwide influence are more a picture of Jesus’ influence since his death and resurrection. However, they need to be taken together. It’s necessary to see the whole picture to understand what Christians believe about Jesus.
Time for reflection
Leader: As we approach Christmas, on which parts of the story might we focus? It might be that we’re attracted to the baby and all that he represents in terms of innocence, fragility and the chance of a new beginning. Maybe we fancy a new start. We might recognize the way in which Jesus was born among ordinary people like you and me, so it’s easy to identify with him. It might be the three Magi and their symbolic gifts that strike us: gold, frankincense and myrrh signify that Jesus would grow to be a prophet, a priest and a king. It might be that we see similarities between Joseph and Mary and the refugee families we see daily on the news. It might be that for us, Christmas is inseparable from Easter when, Christians believe, Jesus was crucified and brought back to life by God the father.
Alternatively, it might be that the story of Bethlehem, the birth of a baby and people’s reactions to it is merely a dim background to holidays, parties, eating, drinking and presents. Some people might suggest that that’s rather like spending time watching only adverts rather than the main programme. As we approach this Christmas, during the season that Christians call Advent, why not spend a little time on the central story, unravelling the mystery?
Thank you for the anticipation of Christmas.
Remind us of the full story of the baby born to a king.
May we be able to see the big picture.
‘Soon and very soon’ – an example of this song is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5KIwGk_gAY (3.53 minutes long)