And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill
country. – The Gospel of St. Luke.
We just read those words and go, “Ok, cool. Virgin pregnancies. And Medicare pregnancies. That’s normal, it’s Christmas.” Maybe we better rethink Christmas.
It’s like one church’s nativity scene: they had a living nativity one day a year during Advent … it was a little manger scene in the parking lot you could drive by. It was filled with straw and live animals and people dressed as Mary and Joseph and the other typical nativity characters. It was usually pretty cold so the shifts only lasted 20 minutes before new folks would step in. One year the pastor’s wife was helping the different folks get dressed when a 7 year-old boy came in from his shift. The pastor’s spouse asked him how he had liked being a shepherd in the nativity scene. “It was ok,” he answered, “but I think next year I wanna be a pirate”.
You remember, right? The pirate that was at the birth of our Lord.?
This of course is absurd, but let’s be honest, a pirate was just about as likely as a Drummer boy. Seriously, the Little Drummer Boy? It’s the perfect example of weird things creeping into nativity scenes. Like when along with the sheep and goats you occasionally see a pig in a crèche scene as though there were swine at the birth of our Jewish Lord. Maybe the worst are those awful nativities that include a pious little Santa Claus kneeling at the manger.
Placing drummers and pigs and pirates and Santas in nativity scenes is inappropriate if not just Biblically illiterate. But, but, but: is a drummer boy any less strange than a magi? Think about those astrology-obsessed sharp-dressed gypsy dudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel. Whoa.
All that to say, does our over-familiarity with the Christmas story prevent us from understanding how weird it really was? I mean, if it involves virgin pregnancies and old ladies from the hill country and soothsaying magi and rank shepherds and fearsome angels and celestial choirs and God being born as a refugee in straw and mud then who’s to say a pirate or a drummer is so weird? Don’t miss Christmas in all its weirdness.