People love stories. A good story can make you cry – and some people will be crying this Christmas when Mr. Carson bows his head slightly, takes a step back, says ‘Thank you, My Lord’, and leaves the room, before placing the shutters across the windows of Downton Abbey for the last time. Whatever else we want to say about Downton Abbey, it has been a story that has engaged very many people for 6 series. The Christmas Story, on the other hand, has been engaing people for almost 2000 years.
One of the great things about Downton Abbey has been the subplots, the stories around the lesser characters. The Christmas Story has these as well; the Wise Men going to visit Herod en route to Bethlehem, obviously sussing out his negative intent towards Jesus, and so deciding, as the Bible puts it, ‘to return to their country by another route’; an angel telling Joseph about Herod’s intentions, and so the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph – having done one journey by foot do another, fleeing from evil in order to keep their family unit safe, and to give them the chance to fulfil their potential. Even God’s Son needed time to develop so that He could fulfil his potential.
Indeed, this part of the story has become so very real during this year, and the migration across Europe. As onlookers, we can feel helpless, and all that we can do is to pray for those in this terrible situation and for those who are trying to do something about it. Those who disregard human rights so much that they cause the awful situations, as in Syria, are acting just like Herod did. Can we really imagine what it is like to come to the conclusion that your family will be better off if they leave home, pay to cross the sea on a dodgy dingy, and then try to walk for months on end hoping that the grass will be greener on the other side?
For Christian people, one of their tasks each Christmas, is to remind people about the story of Jesus’ birth, and to encourage them to remember something about it. Just helping people to remember the name, Jesus, is crucial.
Churches and their people have different ways of doing just this. One example is the ‘Stable Trail (or ‘Journey to Bethlehem’), which took place once again in Botwnnog this month. The Rev’d Richard Wood, the Ministry Area Leader of Bro Madryn on the Lleyn Peninsula takes up the story. “It took a day to transform the interior of St. Beuno’s Church into a collage of scenes from the Christmas Story. Gazebos, bales of hay and barrels helped to create Mary’s house, Herod’s palace, the Shepherd’s fields, the Inn in Bethlehem, as well as the Stable, of course. The Angel Gabriel then led children around the Church, and its
people, (in costume, of course) became the characters who told their part of the Christmas Story, and invited the children to ask questions and engage with the Christmas Story. Over three days we’ve had 8 schools and 150 of their young people here. What then adds to the whole experience is when you go to one of the schools who have been on the ‘Stable Trail’ and the pupils come and show you the follow-up work which they have.’
Naomi Wood, the Diocese of Bangor’s Children, Youth and Family Ministry Enabler for North Meirionnydd commented, ‘the Journey to Bethlehem gives the people who take part a simple way to share their gifts and talents, and enable the
mission of God’s Church. We all have gifts and talents which we can share, and what better way is there for any Christian person to help other people to know the story of Jesus’ birth and to remember our Lord’s name. The story and Jesus’ name, that is what Christmas is all about.’’
Canon Robert Townsend