Such was my five your old son Asher’s opening line in his nativity play at The Coppice school last week. If you don’t recognise the line, you won’t find it in the Bible – he was playing ‘Chef 5’ as he and his cohorts ‘cooked up’ the best Christmas ever, along with Mary, Joseph, Jesus and all the other more familiar cast members.
A few weeks ago he couldn’t have told you whose birthday Christmas Day was – he’d forgotten it all from last year. But the school’s nativity, Sunday school and his JAM after school club have all played their part in etching the nativity into his memory, and this time we think it’ll stay forever.
Do you remember your first nativity? Were you a chef, an innkeeper, a star or an angel, or were you Mary all in blue or Joseph with a tea towel on your heard? It’s all part of the magic of Christmas – the music we sing and hear and the words of the reading from Luke chapter two take us back to an age of innocence when all was well with the world. Or at least that’s how we usually remember it, anyway.
My faith has changed quite a lot since my first nativity memories, but this little corner of the Bible we know so well always takes me back to that childhood wonder. It’s as Christmas for me as mixed nuts and Slade and the World’s Strongest Man, and takes its place right at the heart of the season to be jolly. I’m sure it does for you too.
But it’s quite hard to relate to what we hear about Jesus the rest of the year. Do you find?
The other reading set for Christmas night is very different indeed. Paul’s words from Titus chapter 2 break into our culture of indulgence and self-realisation with a good old fashioned dose of sobriety and self-denial.
“The grace of God”, says Paul, “teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives”.
But this is no Bah Humbug to Christmas, it’s just where faith and real life rub together. The decision to stop short of getting blind drunk because it always brings out the worst in us. Staying our sharp tongue from an attack on a family member we find difficult. A faith which calls us out to live differently rather than just sprinkling a blessing on the life we were leading already.
This passage has memories for me too. Of the faith of my teens when I met Jesus for the first time – eager to serve God in all my life, content to give up anything that held me back. If me at 16 could see the me now I think I’d be disappointed.
So, which Jesus is the real one? The five year old’s nativity Jesus or the angst-ridden teenager’s firebrand Jesus? The one who welcomed outcasts and prostitutes or the one who turned his family away? The Jesus in the manger or the Jesus on the cross.
Surely it has to be both.
If there’s only room in your heart for the nativity Jesus then your Jesus is too small. Perhaps you’ve grown up but Jesus has never grown up with you. In the book of faith you’ve never got past the first chapter. Look a bit deeper and you’ll find Christmas is only the start of the story, and there are many less-thumbed pages to sustain you in the whole of your life.
But if your Jesus is only the Jesus who says no, then your Jesus is also too small. Hear again from the angels of the good news of great joy for all the people, no matter where they are and what state their heart is in. Be glad and merry and awestruck with the shepherds, just like you were five again, as they tumble giddily down to Bethlehem to gaze on the Christ child.
“This is going to be a great Christmas! I wonder what else we need.”
Only Jesus. But isn’t that everything?
Peace be with you this Christmastime.