This image of the Christmas nativity is typical – and unrealistic. Palm trees don’t grow near Bethlehem due to its high elevation close to Jerusalem. The wooden shelter shown is remote from any village – yet more likely was a cave cut into a hillside adjacent to a village. And the radiance beaming out from baby Jesus could light up the entire night sky – yet only a few shepherds took any notice.
The challenge of Christmas is that it is been so buried beneath layers of cultural wrapping that it’s hard to get close to the original story. Luke’s version – as captured in this nativity scene – highlights the angels’ message to the shepherds, which is probably a parody on announcements of Caesar’s birth. In Matthew’s version, again there is irony as it is astrologers from the pagan East who recognise the birth of a king rather than the local Jewish leaders. Who is Jesus for you? A misunderstood Palestinian peasant? A Jewish prophet and wise teacher? Or is he the promised Messiah and Saviour of the world? How will you respond to this innocent and vulnerable baby?