Conrad Gempf: 5th Sparrow

January 2001
After the presents
Previous 5th Sparrows

Comment on this column NOW THAT IT'S OVER, we see that it doesn't have much to do with real life. Shepherds, tales of angel songs, three wise men on camels, gifts and a perfectly adorable baby boy poking pudgy arms out of the feeding trough.

After the presents comes the hard edges of the real world. It's nice to have a break – a change is as good as a break – but it's not long before the real pressures return. That's how Joseph and Mary felt it to be, anyway.

They came to be in Bethlehem because of real life bureaucratic bullying – a census, the need for accurate figures for effective taxation. And the scene change in Matthew 2:12-13 is nearly cinematic. Fade out from waving farewell to the exotic foreigners... fade in to real life: fleeing in the night from an oppressive government – the rich and powerful out to protect their vested interests and crush the rest.

There is no fairytale standing up to fight. Joseph and Mary run.

YOUR PRESENTS still bedded in tissue paper in their boxes – how many will stand the test of real life? How many will find a home? No matter how glaring the ties or ill-judged the socks, few presents could clash with lifestyle as did those ornate boxes of spices and the heaviest metal, gold, to those peasants on the run. Were those things sold – returned – to pay for their immigration journey?

Who says Christmas doesn't have much to do with real life? The scandal of the Christmas story is that despite the "unreal" trappings that attend it, underneath the supernatural angels and the superficial tinsel, we find not a fairytale prince in a castle of gingerbread and marzipan, not a Greek god-baby teething on thunderbolts, but an inconvenient baby and terrified parents doing the best they can to stay alive under a violent regime that couldn't care less about them.

It is to this situation, our situation, that the Saviour comes. Not to be a deliverer from outside, but first to be a friend and companion alongside.

The Christian Christmas story has lots to do with real life; has exactly to do with real life. Myth, that day, was born as fact, born in history. Both realms shuddered at the impact and were never quite the same again.

Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.

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