At Sunday School we are having very interesting discussions which are challenging and inspiring both adults and children. We are thinking about the nativity story behind the Christmas card scene; what it was like for Mary who was probably a young teenager, giving birth for the first time away from home and family; how it would really feel to sleep in a stable; why shepherds were chosen as the first messengers.
It’s fascinating to see what aspects of the story children take for granted, how years of listening and acting have distorted the sequence of why or how things happened.
“Why did Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem?” H asked. “To have a baby,” a child answered with a tone of “duh, don’t you know anything.” Bethlehem has become such an integral part of Jesus’ birth it’s easy to forget that Mary and Joseph hadn’t planned it that way. (That God had planned it that way is something we will probably discuss in our grown-up's evening chat about the Nativity).
The children explained to H that Mary, Joseph and Jesus had then hung around in the stable waiting for three kings, who took a couple of days to arrive because they lived a long way away. That the kings may not have arrived for up to two years later, and probably visited Jesus back home in Nazareth, is something we didn’t expand on as we didn’t want to entirely disrupt the equilibrium of that idyllic crib scene.
We discussed what gifts the kings brought. One well-informed boy knew that myrrh was cream. “Does anyone know when you would use myrrh?” H asked. “When Jesus was having his nappy changed” the next boy (my six year old) answered! It was another wonderful image in our child-interpreted nativity; three wise men presenting the Messiah with a grey tub of Sudocrem.
Sudocrem would probably have been more welcome to Mary at that time, especially considering what myrrh represented. Each of the three king’s gifts has symbolic meaning: Gold, an image of kingship; Frankincense, burnt in religious ceremonies, indicative of Jesus’ divinity and myrrh, part of the ritual of death. “For Christmas is nothing without what happens at Easter,” H said “because Jesus was born to die.” There was a pause, a contemplative silence from the row of six year olds, all frowning.
Intense talking over, we concentrated on decorating gingerbread men to look like the famous people in the Christmas story, most of whom ended up head or limbless.