It all came together in last night’s final episode of the BBC’s ‘The Nativity’.
Jupiter, Saturn, and Regulus came together in an improbably brilliant and sudden conjunction.
Mary and Joseph came together in a somewhat contrived joining of hands as she gave birth to her first-born.
The shepherds came together to greet the new baby, as did the three Magi a few moments later.
As with the previous three episodes, there was something rather thoughtful and human about the reactions of the various participants. Chief among the doubters were a shepherd who regained his belief in God and in the promised Messiah, and Joseph, who had been giving Mary a very cold shoulder right up until the moment of birth.
At least it made you ask, ‘How might these people have felt at the time?’
I’m very content with the idea that the sending of the Magi and the shepherds to visit the new-born Jesus was intended (in part, at least) to confirm and sustain the faith of Mary and Joseph.
Everyone’s doubts are finally laid to rest as the Magi quote verses from John’s Gospel (!) to the effect that the new-born baby is ‘the Word made flesh’ and is ‘the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’. Mary prefers to view her son as ‘the light of the world’ (this is the explanation she gives for naming him ‘Jesus’, even though Joseph had explicitly been told that he would be called ‘Jesus’ because he would ‘save his people from their sins’, Mt 1:21).
As with previous episodes, more careful attention could have been paid to the biblical text, and rather less to legendary accretions. Not only do the texts not say that there were three Magi, or that their names were Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, or that Jesus was born in a stable, but neither they indicate that Mary was at the point of giving birth when she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem (what we are told is that she gave birth while they were in Bethlehem). Nor do they say that the shepherds and the Magi all came at the same time (those who assume the the shephered visited Jesus in a stable should note that the Magi came ‘to the house’, Lk 2:11).
But my biggest problem is that doubt and fear are given too much emphasis; faith and joy too little.
Just as, in the previous episode, no mention was made of Mary’s joyful and triumphant song of praise (the ‘Magnificat’), so in the last episode there was no reference to the appearance to the shepherds of the ‘great company of the heavenly host [who] appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”‘ (Lk 2:13f).
And then, going back to Joseph’s alleged doubt and anxiety about Mary’s behaviour right up until the moment of birth, Mt 1:24 informs us that he had already accepted what the angel had told him in a dream, to the extent that ‘he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.’
My verdict, then? Not an insult to the Christian faith, as Stephen Green of Christian Voice has unwisely claimed. But a thoughtful and thought-provoking, if ultimately unsatisfactory, mixture of biblical truth, legendary accretion, and confabulation.
I give it six out of ten.