Last night as the Village Variety Show came to a close and we gathered up our and headed home Rachel reminded me I was taking Sunday School tomorrow. Perhaps the red wine had made me more laid back for I merely said “Oh!” That particular nugget of information had never made it into my diary.
But Liz and I are made of sterner stuff. Nine years running Sunday School on our own and three as rota members has given us teflon skin and an ability to think standing on our heads let alone our feet
We rocked up to church this morning with a song to the tune of “We’re all going on a Summer Holiday”, a fabulous (I can say that because it was Liz’s idea) craft where we put Christ back into the Christmas Cracker and my story.
Inspired by the Christmas cards created by my talented friend Carrie I rewrote the Christmas story. When we tell it in Sunday School we have lots of breaks for discussion and some of the discussions are way off the radar and reveal an understanding in very young children that is so often missed as we “try to do it our way”. So here is our modern nativity. We thought it was rather a scary story, it’s not pretty pretty at all.
Not far from here, in an ordinary town, full of ordinary people just trying to get along lived a girl called Maria. She was 17 and was keeping her fingers crossed for good A level results.
Maria had a boyfriend called JJ. They had been going out for years and were engaged but had kept it a secret because they knew everyone would think they were too young. Maria kept her tiny ring stuffed in the back of her old teddy bear.
JJ was going to university at the end of the year, hundreds of miles away and Maria was scared, worried that JJ would meet somebody else. She wandered along the canal and watched the children feed the ducks, then sat on a bench and cried quietly. She noticed a man sit down next to her. Nervous, she shuffled further along. He didn’t move. Eventually he spoke.
“Don’t worry, it will be fine, better even than you expected. However, bad things seem there is good to be found in everything.”
“Weirdo” thought Maria and shuffled right to the end.
“Don’t be afraid, it’s a special baby, God’s baby. Trust JJ he’ll know what to do.”
At that point Maria leapt up before he turned dangerous. The baby bit worried her though. She knew she wasn’t pregnant, she couldn’t be. But she knew girls who had been, had left school. Lived on their own in horrid flats with screaming babies. She bought a pregnancy test just in case.
Telling JJ was the hardest thing she had ever done. She saw the hurt in his eyes, his sense of betrayal. No matter what she said, he didn’t believe her Baby of God story. And to be honest she wasn’t sure she did either.
As the baby grew Maria started wearing looser clothes, smocked summer dresses. But she couldn’t hide it forever. The taunting started at school. Slut and tart were the least of names. She began to cry herself to sleep every night wondering why she had let it go this far and what she was going to do.
JJ was lonely without Maria, but he wasn’t going to bring up some other guy’s kid and anyway how could he trust Maria again if she was sleeping around before they even got married. His mates had gone to the pub but he wasn’t in the mood so he walked home. He was joined by a man who fell into step alongside him. JJ walked faster, the man did too. He slowed down, so did the man.
“Hey” he swung round. The man put his hands up in the air.
“It’s okay! I’m not going to do anything. I’ve just got a message. Take Maria with you in October; marry her, look after her and the boy. He is special, he is God’s child. They are both going to need you.”
“I suppose his name is Jesus?” replied JJ sarcastically.
The man smiled. You choose the name, God knows it already. And then he disappeared.
And so early one morning before anyone else was up Maria crept out and walked to the station where JJ was waiting for her. The journey was long. A bunch of drunken football fans heading for Wembley roared noisily. Then their second train was cancelled and by the time they found another it was full. Maria was exhausted and sat on the floor amongst the rubbish and dirt.
It was late afternoon when they arrived at JJs new hall of residence. Everything went well until the woman at reception noticed Maria.
“No overnight guests” she looked pointedly at Maria’s bulging stomach.
“Fine,” said JJ. I’ll leave my things in my room and we’ll sort something else for tonight.
They had no money for a hotel and sat in a café making their pot of tea last as long as possible.
A man at the next table took pity on them. He had made his tea last over an hour and looked as if he had spent many years living on the streets.
“You don’t want to be out on the streets, not in her condition. There’s a bus shelter behind the bus station, we don’t use it much. The drunken lads tend take the piss, but I reckon they’ll leave you alone and it’s a roof over your head.”
By now JJ and Maria would have slept in a stable if it was offered, and they followed the directions to the shelter. It was cold but it was dry and they had warm clothes. They curled up in the corner together when it began. The baby was coming.
As Maria cried out a face appeared at the door. It was the man from the café. He had some friends with him.
“We’ve brought some blankets and some tea”
“And whisky!” cried another.
“Oh my, it’s coming” called another and a woman pushed forward and took control. With the help of whisky, blankets, hot black tea and the few supplies JJ and Maria had brought Maria gave birth to a baby boy.
They laid him in the box they had brought the blankets in.
While all this was going on a strange glow had begun to appear above the bus shelter. Three old men, lecturers at the university saw it. Long abandoned by their colleagues for their whacky ideas about the second coming they looked at each other and grinned.
“We’ve come to worship the king” said the first lecturer, a bit sheepishly, never thinking he really would say the words.
He pulled off his wedding ring and gave it to JJ.
“For the baby”.
The second felt in his pocket for the bottle of expensive bath oil he had bought for his wife and handed over his gift.
The third had been to a funeral and was wearing a black tie. It was silk and had belonged to his grandfather. It was special but somehow he thought it belonged to the baby now and handed it over.
Silly story isn’t it? It’s not really true. It couldn’t happen here? Could it? And if it did, what would you do?